‘I don’t use makeup because I’m ashamed of my disease but because I feel entitled to not be defined by it.’

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“I’m Tiffany Senter. I’m 25 and I live with a disease known as Cystic Fibrosis. As a result, I have undergone two double lung transplants due to reaching end stage lung failure. Through having Cystic Fibrosis and two bilateral lung transplants, I have been blessed with growing close to some of the most beautiful souls. I’m not afraid to reach out to people related to my disease because I’m not ashamed of the wars my body has fought to save itself-it’s not my fault. But at the same time, I struggle to have a voice because I don’t want to cause anymore burden or worry. Especially when I share this illness with some of the closest people in my life.

My main avenue in connecting with others in the C.F./transplant community has been social media. Social media has become one of the most essential parts of my life. Not only has it allowed me to connect with and meet different warriors from all over the world, it has also given me the chance to share my story. I have been inconceivably blessed to have my gift of a perfectly imperfect family; however, loneliness can run deep when experiencing the medical world and feeling as if you have nobody to identify with on a similar level. Our families and close friends who remain by our side as we endure treatment offer an alternate point of view than those of us who live with the reality of our illness(es). This can make meeting others with comparable struggles imperative in our lives.

Woman with Cystic Fibrosis sits with mask on in doctor's office with arm around another woman
Courtesy Tiffany Senter

There are really not enough words to describe the feeling of connecting with companions who constantly motivate me with how richly they take on their life’s battles, about how intelligent they are when it comes to the knowledge of their bodies, and with how humble they remain paying little mind to the hand they were dealt. Companions who offer their gratitude for each day; each breath-because we know how beautiful it is. We have learned to appreciate the small moments-the moments that often catch us unaware until they capture our attention like a kiss on the cheek. Whether that’s from medical-advancements, or in the light of someone who benevolently granted them the ultimate gift; life. Companions who remind me why I fight and companions who encourage me to be the best version of myself; yet, reminding me to be delicate with myself all the while. Companions who awaken and lift me up during my seasons of pain and despair.

Unfortunately, I have had to watch some of my very best friends be buried six feet under. And losing my friends to an unending disease will never become any less demanding. I have started feeling a sense of numbness every time one of my friends pass because it’s almost become normal. Regardless of how I view each individual death, there comes the reminder that I, as well, am one breath closer to my own unique fight ending when considering the truth that there is no cure. With the median life expectancy in the Cystic Fibrosis community at 37 years old, too many people pass away each year fighting this monster. And, every year, the C.F. community comes together and mourns the loss of our fellow warrior(s) for a life that was cheated. For a life that simply deserved so much more. And then with a heavy heart, we pick up the pieces with the understanding that we will fight even harder for not only the ones who have fallen, but their loved ones as well. And despite the fact that I have been forced to learn how to grieve from an unnaturally youthful age because of the brutality of this disease, I stay involved because my comrades’ fight influences me significantly more emotionally and mentally than even my own do.

Through all of this, we remain optimistic for each other and for ourselves. Being optimistic doesn’t necessarily mean disregarding the negative. Being optimistic means defeating the negative. The negative fuels us to strive for more.

Being sick requires a lot of physical work but as I expressed above, mental work as well. Finding and keeping up with distractions your body, mind, and spirit tolerate and respond well to is essential when you’re dying. Whether it’s going down memory lane and reflecting on some of the best moments and reliving your passions or creating new memories and discovering new passions.

It happened to be when I was waiting for my second double lung transplant that I found my new passion- makeup. What began as the inquisitive clicking of a YouTube tutorial, prompted hours and days of studying and practicing. Before I knew it, I had all kinds of cosmetics delivered to my house where I lay fastened to oxygen and feeding tube cords. Excitement filled my heart since this was something I could do at the length of my oxygen tubing. It didn’t require me to be in public where I gambled with getting an infection or endeavoring beyond my physical limits.

Table full of makeup products for woman who has cystic fibrosis
Courtesy Tiffany Senter

The thing about living with end-stage lung disease and all of the obligations that go with that, is that those obligations don’t stop. I needed to keep up a strict regimen, even considerably stricter than previously. Despite everything, I still had a responsibility to appear at my transplant appointments which comprised a variety of tests even before seeing the team. This is where my relationship with makeup truly evolved.

Cosmetics became a way to express myself and helped me adapt to day-to-day life as I battled the ugliness of what had the capability of being my last days. With each layer I would add; primer, foundation, concealer, bronzer, blush, highlighter and powder. A process that typically takes me an hour to an hour and a half because I also like in depth eyeshadow complete with winged liner-sometimes accompanied by luscious lashes. I was dying so I was placing a buffer between how I felt and what I needed to depict to the outside world. Without makeup, I felt uncovered and vulnerable, as if the world could see the story the inside of me would tell if it could speak.

Woman with cystic fibrosis takes selfie with flower crown filter
Courtesy Tiffany Senter

In the darkest times of my illness, it wills me the ability to cover up swollen eyes and dark circles that contrast with my pale skin as I’m undergoing treatment with little to no rest. With makeup, I feel beautiful, confident and alive. I feel bright. Why look like I’m dying if I don’t have to? Gazing into the mirror, I’m able to find beauty in a body that often brings me pain.

Woman with Cystic Fibrosis poses in mirror selfie with her oxygen tank
Courtesy Tiffany Senter

This isn’t to say makeup cures my depression I feel living with a terminal illness or the fear I had in those final days leading up to my transplant call. Because I absolutely still had my fair share of breakdowns and it’s important to feel and process those emotions in their entirety. But it did become my mask.

Closeup of woman with Cystic Fibrosis' full face of makeup
Courtesy Tiffany Senter

I don’t use makeup because I’m ashamed of my disease but because I feel entitled to not be defined by it. And makeup gives me the tools to pull myself together. For me, it’s been a way to reflect my creativity and when circumstances are hard, it’s a way to distract myself and hide the raw emotions of my mental, emotional, and physical struggles. The power of makeup has been a nice reminder that through my suffering, the true me is still in there.

Self-consideration gives us the consent to pause. Through connecting with others going through a similar challenge or through focusing on our passions.

My hope is that everyone, whether they’re ill or facing other challenges, can become a part of a network and can see their beauty. Because our battles don’t characterize us. But instead assemble us in various ways individually and together.

At the end of the day, we are not the casualties of our circumstances or conditions, but champions in the manner we handle them.”

Woman with Cystic Fibrosis sitting on floor next to her oxygen tank and bottles of pills
Courtesy Tiffany Senter

This story was written by Tiffany Senter, 23, of California. Submit your story here, and subscribe to our best love stories here.  

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