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Becoming a doctor against all odds

By Dr. Chuck Fox, Special to CNN
updated 9:23 AM EDT, Wed July 31, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chuck Fox was born with cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening genetic disorder
  • Cystic fibrosis affects the lungs and digestive systems of about 30,000 Americans
  • Fox became a doctor while balancing his own medical treatment routine

Editor's note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle -- injury, illness or other hardship -- they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed. This week meet Dr. Chuck Fox, a husband, father, doctor and cystic fibrosis patient.

(CNN) -- Living with a chronic illness is like walking on a treadmill that never stops.

If you really stop to think about it, it stems from the root of the word: Disease. Dis-EASE -- "absence or lack of EASE."

Having a long-term medical condition just makes everything harder. But what are those of us supposed to do who face this challenge? Jump off the machine? Give up?

Certain medications or treatments may help us turn down the incline or reduce the velocity. Others may allow us to push the "off" button once in a while. But most of us keep going. It's how we're built.

From cancer patient to oncologist

For example, I just went on a weeklong vacation to the Canadian Rockies with my wife and kids. We had a great time -- hiking, biking, canoeing, white-water rafting and mountain climbing through the wilderness. Not to mention eating like champs and meeting some fantastic people along the way.

It was a life-changing and memorable experience. Plus, the pictures were terrific. We look so happy and healthy.

But what you don't see in the pictures is the length that I had to go to experience that fantastic journey.

First, there was the packing. Did I remember all my medication? Did I pack all my equipment? Is it in working order? Do I have enough supplies for the whole week?

Then there was the carrying. I don't check my meds or my equipment; I carry them on the plane -- lest they be damaged or lost by the airlines. They are my cross to bear. They never leave my side.

Finally, there's the treatment regimen. I spend about three hours a day taking my medication, performing my chest physical therapy, getting in my exercise routine and monitoring my blood sugar.

So, it was a vacation, but when you have a chronic illness, truly, there are no vacations. As the famous quote goes, "Wherever you go, there you are."

Some people find my ability to deal with cystic fibrosis "inspirational." But I've never really meant to inspire anyone. I'm just trying to live my life.

I have come to the realization that, in taking the steps to live my life with CF, I may motivate others (both with and without long-term disease) to do all they can to achieve a fulfilling life.

Last week I had a meaningful conversation with a young man with CF who will be starting medical school in the fall -- he called me to ask my advice on how to balance his studies with his medical routine. I hope I gave him some solid recommendations that will help him along the way, make his life easier and assist him in achieving his ultimate goal of becoming a physician.

More importantly, I would venture a guess that I helped him to realize that what he is trying to do is possible. Whereas, a generation ago, before all the advances we have achieved in treating cystic fibrosis, such an ambition was unfathomable for a patient with this condition.

It will not be easy, it will require perseverance, but, in the end, if he puts his mind to it, he will get what he is looking for out of life.

So we keep moving forward on that treadmill. Putting one foot in front of the other. Trying to reach our goals, and, ultimately, achieve success.

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