Jessica Pena says she is finally making friends with her body and with cystic fibrosis.
“I wasn’t compliant with my treatment for many years,” she says. “I thought I could be fine without it. I was taking care of myself, and I thought that was why I was doing pretty good with my health. But I was just lucky. Now I’m working with CF instead of fighting it.”
Jessica was diagnosed with CF as a baby, but due to an unstable family home life, she didn’t receive proper medical care until she was eight years old and came to the Cystic Fibrosis Center of Idaho.
She found a heart and a home with Mary Nelson, the center’s longtime nurse coordinator. “I remember her for as long as I can remember. I never wanted to disappoint her.”
Yet, the time came when Jessica rebelled.
“I didn’t want the medicine,” she says. “I only used my inhaler when things got really bad, because the inhaler made me feel bad, all jittery. It made me feel unstable, which is how I always felt growing up. I didn’t want to feel that way.”
While a healthy diet, healthy sleep and healthy lifestyle were good for Jessica, they weren’t enough when it came to treating her cystic fibrosis. She finally got to the point, thanks to Mary and to her counselor at the center, where she realized, “I deserve to be healthy and it’s okay to put myself first.”
She says she surrendered to her reality, accepting that her body needed help.
“My rebellion is taking a peaceful turn.” She says, “and I’m realizing medications are not the enemy. I’m finding my balance with my meds and CF.”
She’s also come to accept just how big a thing it is to carry the knowledge and reality of a lifelong chronic disease.
“I never gave myself enough credit for the burden of living with CF, for the weight of the battle,” she says. “I never admitted just how much it was affecting me.”
She also began opening up to her friends, family and health care team, and sharing her burden. “As I got sicker, I realized I needed my family,” she says. “And by opening up to them, telling them how I really was feeling, they worried less, and we got closer. Opening up was a huge relief for them and for me. I had fears about CF and dying but I didn’t share them. I do now.”