An estimated 70,000 people worldwide have cystic fibrosis
Disease causes mucus to clog the lungs, making it very difficult to breathe
Gunnar Esiason was diagnosed with CF when he was 2
Now 23, he says the disease has taught him to be resilient
Editor’s Note: Gunnar Esiason, son of retired Super Bowl quarterback Boomer Esiason, has cystic fibrosis. His dad founded the Boomer Esiason Foundation to fight and find a cure for the life-threatening lung and digestive disease. In over two decades, the charity has raised more than $100 million. Now a Boston College graduate, Gunnar works as a CF advocate and program director at the non-profit that was founded to save his life and the lives of other CF patients. The views expressed are solely those of the author.
Simple, right? The first thing anyone does in this world is take a breath of air – it should be effortless. For me, and nearly 70,000 people across the world like me, it’s not so easy. I have cystic fibrosis (CF) and I have never been able to take a full breath of air.
Every day for 23 years, it has been a struggle to breathe. I often get asked what CF is, or what it is like to live with CF. There is no one true answer. The best I can come up with is, imagine living every single day with something like bronchitis, or, a little more simply put, imagine having to breathe through a straw all day, every day.
The mucus that fills my lungs and traps some of the most deadly bacteria imaginable as a result of my genetic defect has always been inside me. So, how do I live with it? I never feel bad for myself. When it comes to living with a chronic illness, self-pity, in my opinion, is the root cause of failure.
I was dealt a certain hand of cards at birth and I am making the very best of it. It’s not anyone’s fault I have CF. It isn’t a curse. It isn’t bad luck. It just happened.
I have every reason in the world to stay in bed all day and feel sorry for myself, but I don’t. I get up and carry out my day like most people. I graduated college in four years, have a job and take care of all of my responsibilities. I don’t hold anything back.
Between all the inhaled treatments, mucus clearing therapies and the 80 pills or so that I ingest every day, the amount of time I spend taking care of myself is the equivalent of a full time job … and that’s only when I am healthy.
The physical treatments themselves may only take about two to three hours total, but every single decision I make throughout the day has some impact on my health, one way or another. Am I going out with my friends on a Friday night? Is it OK to skip a treatment because I am too tired? Can I go away for the weekend, or am I starting to feel sick? Questions like these constantly go through my head.
As far as I am concerned, this is all just a part of my life. I don’t know any other way.
When it comes down to it, I don’t have any complaints; I think I live a great life. I have the best friends I could ever ask for. I have an amazing sister. I had the best four years of my life at Boston College. I am able to work a few jobs and I was an athlete growing up. (I might still consider myself an athlete, but the jury is still out on that decision!)
There is a difference between being alive, and truly living. In 70 years, when I am 93 years old, I want to be able to look back on my life and know that I have an enormous collection of unforgettable experiences. I think the experiences and memories we create for ourselves are what define our personalities. I want people to say, “Wow. That guy Gunnar Esiason has lived a great life.”
I realize I am still pretty young, but I like to think that I have a pretty good understanding about the value of life and how fragile it can be. I could be having the greatest day of my life one day, but the next I could be hunched over coughing up blood. It is just the reality of the disease I live with. Every day, good or bad, has shaped who I am.
The bottom line, though, is that cystic fibrosis has taught me how to be resilient. I don’t take no for an answer and I know I can be whatever I want to be. I was sort of born into a unique situation. Because my dad’s a national figure and my parents’ were willing to take on CF in a public way, I have been given the chance to make a difference.
Some may call me the poster boy for cystic fibrosis, but I don’t think anyone should have that title. We’re all in this together. Every family that has to carry the CF burden is in this fight. All I want to do is give CF patients a voice, so that one day we aren’t dealing with the pain that comes along with the disease. One day, it will be behind us.
Earn the air.