The Quest to Outrun CF, by Emily Schaller

Emily Schallerphoto“If you’ve got it, flaunt it.” This is of course a famous song from the hit Broadway musical The Producers, and a song that has stuck with me for years since seeing the show. It also came to mind immediately when I saw the title of this blog. Perfection! Of course Meg didn’t ask me to guest blog about my love of Broadway and musical theatre. No, I need to tell you what I flaunt and how I flaunt it.

Cystic fibrosis (CF). This is what I flaunt. I was diagnosed with CF in 1983 when I was 18 months old.  Being diagnosed with a chronic illness at such a young I have only known what life with CF is like. Growing up I was a super active kid just trying to keep up with my two older brother and their friends, not ever really understanding what CF was. Sure my parents pounded my chest back and sides to loosen that mucus up, and I took enzymes when I ate, but I never needed to focus on CF. In third grade I had my aha moment though. While running onto the playground during recess I had a coughing fit. Right then I put the CF puzzle together and realized that it was not going away. I would be coughing for the rest of my life, and this is the reason I was seeing my doctors and nurses every few months for check ups. But after I realized this I kept on running and have not stopped since.

Over the years I started to notice CF more. New breathing treatments were coming out that were helping me breathe better and keep bugs in my lungs at bay. At the same time I was coughing more, going into the hospital for IV antibiotics more often and watching my lung function slowly decline. Also I was eating like a machine trying to gain and maintain any weight that I could.

This was a pivotal moment in my life both physically and mentally. The effects of CF were sinking in just as I was planning for my future, working on Broadway of course. This was way before Facebook and other networking sites. My family, friends and I were essentially navigating and dealing with CF with no real opportunities to share my fight with other CF patients like we can so easily today.

By the time I was in my mid 20’s I was in the hospital quite a bit treating lung infections. I was doing everything the doctors were prescribing but was still getting sick. This is when I decided there is more that I can and must do to turn my life around. So, after being a couch potato and terribly unhealthy eater for so many years I decided to run and do the lifestyle change thing. This was not easy and running a block was where I started. Eventually I worked up to a 5K and just in those month of training to do so, my lung function increased to the highest numbers I could remember seeing in years. I felt great! Also I started eating a more whole foods based diet.

With this new recipe for success I was only going into the hospital once every year or two. Once I knew this was all working I started cycling a lot and running even further. One half iron distance triathlon, eight half marathons, thousands of miles of riding and hours of yoga later, I am at the best place I have ever been. Also I am on a brand new drug that treats CF at the cellular level and essentially helps to alleviate symptoms before they happen. Combine this all with my now vegetarian diet and I am feeling better and stronger than I have ever felt in my entire life.

In 2007 I founded the Rock CF Foundation (www.letsrockcf.org) that focuses on raising funds for CF research and spreading CF awareness. While working on Broadway would have been super amazing, I’m glad I figured out what my true calling is. The coolest thing right now is being  able to tell my story all over the country to audience large and small.

If I can inspire just one person to be ok with who they are and what they are flaunting, then I know I’ve done what I am supposed to do!

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