The founder of the Rock CF Foundation shares tips for living well with cystic fibrosis
Most of us, including myself, often take for granted a very important aspect of life: our health. I've been fortunate to have never experienced any major setbacks in my physical well-being outside of a cracked bone, a few stitches, a bout of anxiety here and there, and some encounters with the flu. It wasn't until I had the opportunity to be connected with individuals who had been diagnosed with cancer, lost a limb, struggled with depression, lived with Parkinson's disease, or Cystic Fibrosis for much of their lives, that I stopped to think about how much their lives revolved around getting healthy or maintaining their health.
Meet Emily Schaller. She has been living with Cystic Fibrosis her entire life and her story is inspiring. Emily, like most people who have to consider their health before anything else, has had her fair share of setbacks. But what’s unique about Emily is her attitude and the choices she makes. In 2007, Emily decided to make a change in her life. She began living a healthier lifestyle.
Listen as Emily shares with us how she decided to stop viewing herself as someone who is "sick,” therefore not needing to eat healthfully or workout, because what good was it going to do? Instead, she began to realize that any effort toward living a healthier life could result in radical changes.
Rocking Cystic Fibrosis
By Emily Schaller
If, six years ago, you had asked me to write a story about exercise and healthy living, it would go a little something like this. I run only when I am being chased or if it is pouring out and I need to get to my car. When referring to my diet I would have said, ‘I don't need to eat healthfully; I have cystic fibrosis! I can eat what we want!’
After watching my lung function slowly decline and becoming exasperated by spending three to five weeks in the hospital several times a year, I decided I needed to change. I started by slowly shifting to a whole food based diet. But, because most cystic fibrosis patients have a problem absorbing nutrients and gaining weight, most are on high-calorie, high-protein diets so I had to be conscious about getting enough calories. I've since become a bit of a nutrition know-it-all and rely on whole grains, fruits (love avocados), veggies, nuts, beans, and nut butter to fuel my growing appetite for exercise.
When I first started to change my lifestyle, I was training for my first 5K with my mom. I could not run more than a block and after getting to the end I would stop, cough and spit up a bunch of nasty thick mucus, walk and then run to the next fire hydrant. Let me point out that cystic fibrosis causes the body to produce abnormally thick and sticky mucus in the lungs. This mucus holds on to bacteria like glue, clogging our airways and causing us to have recurring lung infections. Running was not easy for me. I started out going too fast and immediately got discouraged. But after figuring out a pace that worked for me, and dealing with the breathing, I could actually run longer.
Finishing that 5K, very slowly I might add, really jump-started my love of running. Being able to make it three miles without stopping was a huge accomplishment for me and I was proving to myself that I could out run cystic fibrosis! A few months into training my pulmonary function numbers climbed to heights that I had not seen since I was a kid. Also, I was only going to the hospital one or two times a year. I felt like I was on to something!
Along with running, I also started cycling. My friends and I took city to city treks from Detroit to Chicago to raise funds for the Rock CF Foundation, a non profit, which I founded that utilizes exercise and entertainment to raise money and awareness for cystic fibrosis patients. I now cycle at least 500 miles a year and always try to wear something that gets cystic fibrosis attention and awareness on the road.
In 2008 I ran my first half marathon and loved every one of those 13.1 miles. Since then I have run six half marathons with the goal of running one race in each of the 50 states. Three down, only 47 to go! Because of a brand new drug that targets where my CF happens, running is now so much easier because the mucus in my lungs is essentially gone and I can breathe more deeply. The coolest thing in the world is being able to run without having coughing fits and spitting every few minutes. There are now few things that I like more than a long run (cereal & ice cream are close but I save those for after the run). My lungs feel so clear and strong now; I have no excuse but to out run cystic fibrosis!
To really round out my lifestyle change, I decided to become a yogi. Ok...I'm not really a yogi and don't know what has to be on your resume to qualify, but I have been practicing at the Yoga Shelter for just over a year. Five times a week I get on my mat for an hour or more. I must say that doing yoga has produced wonderful changes. The physical side, that helps strengthen your core, arms, legs, back, and increase flexibility is amazing and is really helping with my running and biking. But I am most surprised by how much my breathing has improved and how great yoga is for my mind. This has become my place where I go to deal with stress and other problems that arise.
Running, biking, yoga, and healthy eating are a part of my daily routine along with the hours of breathing treatments, chest physical therapy and pills I take each day. The combination of a healthy lifestyle and a healthy diet could help everyone!
Signing Off Breathing Deep, Running Hard, and Rocking CF,
Renee & Emily
Video courtesy of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and Run Riot Films
.Emily is 30 years old and is rocking CF. She founded the Rock CF Foundation. Join Emily and her foundation's dream to Out Run Cystic Fibrosis Sunday, March 25th in Grosse Ile, MI. The 2nd annual half marathon, half marathon relay & 5K run/walk is your chance to support funding for cystic fibrosis research, raise much needed awareness, and get in a healthy dose of running. If you are interested in supporting the foundation please visit: www.crowdrise.com/rockcf2012. To learn more about Emily's story visit her website and Let's Rock CF!