Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Credit Belongs to the (Wo)Man in the Arena

I’ve been fairly flooded with emotions lately.  So many incredible things, stressful things, and things that are a complete mix of both are going on in my life right now.  For starters, I gave my class their mid-semester evaluations on Thursday (very scary for me!!).  They had just taken their second exam, so I thought it was a good idea to figure out how everyone is feeling about the class so far.  I was pleasantly surprised with some of their opinions (which isn’t at all to say that there aren’t students who DON’T like me, the class, or both).  

The very next day, I was thrown back into health mode, as I had my regular monthly appointment with my CF specialist. While I was excited to see how my crazy awesome level of compliance was going to be reflected, I was nervous because I had gone about 2 weeks without my regular nebulized antibiotics (insurance issues) which I could feel.  It turned out that I’ve kept up my lung functions for the 5th month in a row- WAHOO!!!  It felt really good to know that my hard work has paid off.  

I didn’t have much time to celebrate, because my oral comps are rapidly approaching! 10 days from today!!!  I’ve never been so simultaneously excited and nervous in my life- wait, scratch that, I have- when I took my WRITTEN comps!  If I pass (scared to say WHEN just in case I jinx myself…), I will FINALLY be officially a Doctoral Candidate, meaning I can start my dissertation!  I’ve spent the weekend working diligently on the areas I know I was weak on with my written, and I feel good about the output. I’ve still got some major time I need to put in, but it’s coming along.  Unfortunately though, between the stress of comps, the 2 week hiatus with my meds, and winter approaching (first snow was last night!!! Yay!!), I’m really feeling run down and my chest is hurting pretty bad.  It’s something I’ve learned to deal with, but after so many months without an infection, it’s hitting me a little harder than it used to. Oh well, back to studying- I’ll call the doc’s tomorrow, but other than some OTC meds, there’s not much I can do tonight. 

This whole comps and doctoral candidacy thing is a huge deal to me and honestly way too long coming.  As a 5th year I should be finishing up my dissertation research and getting full swing into writing it up (to then defend in front of the dept and hopefully finish with a degree in hand), but alas, between being the first grad student in my lab (not sure this is to blame, but it sure has made it a bumpy road), and regular hospital visits, my path has been a bit slower than most.  But you know what? I’m doing it.  I haven’t given up despite the struggles.  If I focused on the negative, what good would that do me? It certainly wouldn’t help me finish any faster- I’ve learned that much at least.  Between the support I get from David (who sits up with me on skype EVERY night so that neb time is a little bit easier), and seeing positivity and suggestions all over CysticLife, I have gotten more done in the past few months of school than I had in 4 years.  There has GOT to be something to that. 

Between the health stuff and the comps studying, I keep thinking about my ALL TIME FAVORITE quote by Teddy Roosevelt in his speech “Citizenship in a Republic.” I love the whole thing, but for the sake of time: "...The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood...who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat." This quote is the greatest call to action I’ve ever come across.  Because you know what? I might fail- whether it’s this one exam, or getting my PhD, or being able to maintain a high stress job at some university. That’s reality.  But I might not. I might succeed at doing the one thing that I’ve dreamt of for years.  No matter what, I’d rather fail at all of those things than never try because I have this ONE THING (just CF, no biggie) that might make it tough.  If I didn’t have this passion, it wouldn’t be a big deal; I would be perfectly happy with taking care of myself being my career.  But how do you find something like that and walk away?  Well, one thing is for sure- this cyster is never gonna know.   So, we’ll see how it goes…

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Everybody's Workin' for the Weekend!........No? Just me, then...

Today was most certainly one of those days in which I was feeling overwhelmed.  I’m working for the weekend and it‘s just my luck that it also happens to be Homecoming Weekend which means lots of people, and no available parking- not really the best addition to a Saturday full of work. Nonetheless, I got to the lab and got working on some behavioral tasks.  I took a whack at getting some other stuff done at the same time- needed to register for the upcoming neuroscience conference (SfN) in November, as we have a poster to present.  Basically, this entails spending ridiculous amounts of money so that I can make some connections at other universities- awesome for networking, not so much for my wallet.  After paying off a bunch of medical bills recently (pretty much the standard for a CFer), spending a few hundred dollars on a 2 day trip was the last thing I wanted to do.  There’s something about spending that much money on something that I can’t physically bring home and see the value in that gives me a little mini panic attack.

I finished up my first round of behavioral tasks and took care of hotel and registration fees and decided to run out to get lunch. I arrived at my car to find a nice little parking ticket on my window- awesome.  My fault for parking in the visitor lot (right behind my building) but frustrating in that they NEVER ticket on the weekends.  Sigh.  After a bit of a scream fest in my head, I finished up my work and headed off campus for the day. While waiting in stop and go traffic on the tiny small-town road with the rest of the Homecoming campus visitors, I was able to indulge in a little bit of day dreaming (my all time FAVORITE thing to do). 

I thought about the beautiful, grown up and quiet (albeit small) apartment that I looked at this week and hoped that I would come home to find an email from the building manager awaiting me.  Really nice apartments are hard to come by in this small college town so I hoped that it is at least big enough for our furniture- including our new elliptical that will be an awesome addition to my treatment regimen.  I thought about David’s upcoming interview for a promising job up here in Maine.  The move is starting to become more and more real and it’s almost all I can do to keep from bursting with excitement at this point.  There’s a lot of work ahead of me between now and then, but it will at least keep me busy so that it goes by quickly.   Aside from work stuff, in the back of my mind I keep thinking about my next doctor’s visits and keeping my fingers crossed that all of my work keeping up with my treatments have paid off!  I’ll be happy if my pfts stay where they are for the 5th month in a row, but it would be AWESOME if they bumped up even a little bit!

For now, I’m going to unwind and get to my standing nightly skype date with David, watch some Lost, do my nebulizer meds, and continue to wait for an email about the apartment (pleeaaaaasseeee!!)! Goodnight!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"A Golden Chance to Make My Way..."

I suppose I should start by introducing myself.  My name is Christy and I am (so far) a life time student.  I am in my fifth year of graduate school in the beautiful state of Maine. I study biopsychology and more specifically "Chemo Brain." My lab uses animal models to try to get a better understanding of what causes cognitive and memory problems in cancer survivors following chemotherapy treatment.  Very cool stuff! I love learning about the biological bases of behavior and was lucky enough to find my passion in college and later to get the opportunity to attend grad school to further study and (starting this semester) even TEACH it. 

 Grad school can be tough for anyone, and just like most students, I have my moments when I feel bogged down, overwhelmed, and just overall want it to be done with already.  The largest struggle that I deal with is the fact that I was born with Cystic Fibrosis, a genetic disease that affects the respiratory and digestive systems.  Most of the issues I personally deal with are frequent and long lasting lung infections, difficulty digesting and getting nutrients out of what I eat, occasional problems with maintaining my weight, and Cystic Fibrosis related diabetes.  Overall, these problems call for regular doctor’s visits, extra time taken out of each day for nebulizer treatments, and the occasional hospital stay- none of which are terribly conducive to the grad student lifestyle! I do my best, though, to keep up with my work and (dare I say it?) more importantly, maintaining my health. 

 I have recently begun to pay a bit more attention to CF geared websites and just last week signed up for a CF related social networking website (CysticLife).  I really feel like getting more involved helps me to stick to my treatments much more consistently.  It helps to know that there are plenty of people out there that have to make the same sacrifices to live a little healthier.  One thing I have noticed in getting more socialized within the CF world is that it seems to be as common for some CFers’ careers to be taking care of themselves as it is to have a job in addition to their health responsibilities.  I don’t think one is any better than the other- I can certainly see the benefit of not having to deal with the stress of grad school and I’m sure that would have a great effect on my health.  On the other hand, I love what I do and I’ve spent most of my life living despite my CF, not for it.  I love knowing that I can do just as much as the next person, even if I have to spend an extra 2 hours every day taking care of myself.   

But it does make me wonder- how much healthier would I be if I didn’t have to worry about school and my future career; if I hadn’t spend the past 9 years getting an education rather than working normal hours and spending the rest of my day on my health? I don’t want to give up my passion for my health, but I don’t want to give up my health for my passion either.  Hopefully this blog will help me, even just a little bit, to gain a little more strength and perseverance dealing with CF and school, and maybe even give others a glace into the life of a CF Cyster trying to make it through grad school and achieve her dream of becoming a PhD.