‘You won’t live past 15 years old.’ I never stopped believing in myself.’: Man with cystic fibrosis urges ‘don’t take your time on this earth for granted’

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“I was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at birth. The average life expectancy for my chronic illness was between 15 and 19 years old at the time. Little did I know, my life would be affected greatly. As a toddler, I was fragile and in and out of the hospital. I realized at a young age I wasn’t like the other kids in school.  

None of the other kids had to take pills before they ate. None of the other kids had to take a break from recess because they couldn’t breathe. I remember those days very clearly, but it challenged me to be the person I am today. My childhood wasn’t like all the other kid’s childhoods. I wasn’t able to run like them. I wasn’t able to eat without taking enzymes. I wasn’t able to take a deep breath like everybody else could.  

Courtesy of James Richardson

As I got older and started to realize I’m not like everybody else, I made a decision to not lie down and let my chronic illness kill me. I was going to overcome it in every way possible. Dealing with a chronic illness isn’t easy. It’s almost like being an alien in a world full of human beings. You just have to accept that you’re never going to be like everybody else.  

Now, as a 27-year-old adult with an average life expectancy of 19 years old, I ask myself why I made it through, why I continue to overcome my chronic illness every single day, and why I am still alive when doctors told me I wouldn’t live this long. The statistics show I wasn’t supposed to live this long, so why me? I believe we are all on this planet for a reason. We all have a certain purpose in this world, and I struggled for years to try and find it. It took me 27 years to understand I’m different because I have a purpose. I’m chronically ill because I’m here to change other people’s lives. 

Through elementary, middle, and high school, I viewed life through a different lens. Although I knew I was different, I was in denial about what that difference meant. I was told I couldn’t play sports, but I went out for every sport I could: soccer, football, basketball, and baseball. During high school, I hid my CF from my friends and peers. When I was a freshman in high school, I took a year off from sports because I was very self-conscious about my cough and people asking me if I was sick. I played varsity soccer for the last three years of high school and was offered college scholarships, but I felt my lungs wouldn’t be able to keep up with conditioned college athletes. 

The feelings and emotions someone with a chronic terminal illness have to deal with are very brutal. It takes a toll on you not just physically, but mentally. I’ve sat in my bed and asked God why I can’t breathe like everybody else. I’ve wondered if I should even pursue some things if I’m only going to have 20 to 30 years to live. Should I even try to build a career, friendships, or have love in my life? I tell everybody who’s asked me those same questions that nobody can play God except God; we have been given gifts in life, and we have been given struggles in life. The struggles determine what kind of person we become. Are we going to let tough things bring us down, or are we going to rise up from the pain? I decided to rise up, motivate, inspire, and push through to show that it is possible to overcome things with a positive mindset. 

Courtesy of James Richardson
Courtesy of James Richardson

For 26 years, I struggled to talk about my illness. I kept it a secret because I thought nobody really understood what I was going through. When I do tell people, most reactions are very average, almost like they didn’t know what I was talking about. People always feel sorry for me, but I don’t want pity. Ask anyone in the chronic illness community, the worst thing you can do is feel sorry for them. I want them to look at me as a motivating individual who has overcome struggles.  

I am blessed with CF. It has made me the confident, strong person I am today. So, even though I’ll never run a 4-minute mile, hold my breath underwater for too long, or be able to wake up and go about my day like a normal person, I know everything I’ve accomplished is amazing. I’m happy with who I am and how strong I am. I’m lucky I get to motivate people with and without CF to live healthier lives. 

Life is all about love and positivity. Living with Cystic Fibrosis makes life different and difficult at times, but I am happy. I am loved by my family, friends, and dogs. I am proud to say I am no longer scared to tell people about my chronic illness. I no longer care if people see me take pills before meals or see me stop to catch my breath. I’m a motivated and loving person, and my disease does not define me. I’m happy to say I accept everything CF throws at me because I know I’m strong enough to overcome it. 

If other people can take anything from my story, I want you to remember we will never be able to control the cards we have been dealt. We should make the decision to never stop believing in ourselves and never stop pursuing our dreams. Don’t take your time on this earth for granted. It took me years to realize no matter what comes your way, you have to break down barriers to get to the next stage of your life. If you quit when things are hard, you will never become the person you are meant to be. Stay motivated, stay positive, and no matter what life throws at you, meet it head on. You will always make it through.” 

Courtesy of James Richardson

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by James Richardson of Woodland Hills, California. You can follow his journey on Instagram and his websiteSubmit your own story here and be sure sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more about chronic illness here:

‘I won’t let you die, Gunnar.’ I was heading towards end-stage illness, and an end to my fight.’: Son of quarterback, Boomer Esiason, advocates for others with cystic fibrosis, ‘I now live the miracle’

‘The nurse checked if my skin was salty to confirm her suspicions. She was right. I came out of the hospital and immediately changed my job.’: Woman diagnosed with ‘life-threatening’ Cystic Fibrosis, ‘I couldn’t be more alive’

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