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Stress and its Effect on Cystic Fibrosis

StressedLast week I discussed having reserves (both in weight and energy) to fight against bugs and other attacks. This week, Beautiful and I have felt the full effects of one of those attacks: stress. Dealing with the health insurance company over the 20% copay for Colistin and Plumozyme ($1500/mo) has taken its toll on both of us, but more so on me.

Stress does not do the body good, especially the body of a CFer. Cystic fibrosis leaves our bodies in a perpetual state of being on the precipice of “the next disaster” to strike us down. Sometimes it’s hard to not thing about that. It’s impossible to not think about it when the very stressor is a very real danger of losing access to the things that keep or make you healthy.

What does stress do?

Stress increases your heart rate, churns up extra stomach acid, increases blood pressure, and often causes insomnia or just sheer exhaustion. All of these are bad for cystic fibrosis and lead to secondary issues in our bodies. With these effects, CFers are prone to an exacerbation such as hemoptysis, decreased peak flow, or a raging lung or sinus infection that takes hold while the body is weakened.

I’ve been put on IVs (or very close to it if I’ve been healthy enough to stave off a desperate measure) for the following stressors:

  • moving – even from one apartment to another in-town with the same support network
  • workload at the office or home business
  • college workload, especially finals before graduation
  • preparing for our wedding (it’s fun, but it undoubtedly counts as a stressor)
  • traveling
  • loss of a job
  • starting a new job
  • financial issues
  • relationship issues

What is just a stressful day or week for normal people is a true danger to a CFer. When Beautiful was on the phone with the insurance company, I saw her neck and face start to get flushed like she’d been exercising and she said she was sweating. When I got on the phone with them, my chest tightened, I got wheezy, I’d be talking about the issue and my lungs would go into a full contraction and I’d spaz for a while, and I lost my appetite several days in a row. Even today, it feels like the tops of my lungs are being pushed down instead of there being a weight on my shoulders.

I’m doing all I can to keep this from hurting me long-term by sleeping in today and I won’t run any on my walk (when it stops raining). I can concentrate on getting work done to build up a financial barrier of protection for the next time our lives are thrown into turmoil. Reserves of all kinds are good!

Worry and anxiety = useless

I believe that worrying and being anxious does no good at all, either to one’s body or mind or to the situation at hand. However, this does not mean that being concerned about things is no good. Concern is healthy. It alerts you to danger ahead and allows you to prepare for a coming storm. Worry eats at you and makes you weak and unwise.

I’m not perfect – I do get anxious at times, but they are short-lived spurts of freak-outs as my mind races through every option my vast database of scenarios can bring to my frontal lobe. I’ve got a storage system of worst-case scenarios filed away for disasters so that I don’t mull over them. They’re there for emergencies.

My cure for worry

I’ve found one of the best methods of decreasing stress and eliminating a bout of anxiety is to plan for the worst and hope for the best. If you can wrap your mind and heart around the worst-case scenario and see some idea of life in that scenario, anything other than that will be better than that scenario.

I was also really encouraged by friends on Facebook who completely understand our situation and one friend sent me an encouraging message with some verses in it that he wanted to bless my day with. I went into the day strengthened by the support and love of my network. If you’re fighting this alone and haven’t connected with CFers and their spouses or parents, then you really need to. It’s so much easier to fight when you have a team instead of charging out solo or as a pair.


  1. Megan Murray says

    Great post!! I hope the stress from this situation won’t end up causing too many problems.  I also totally agree with you about the anxiety and worry (though I have a harder time calming mine down), and I couldn’t agree more about connecting with other CFers and their spouses. Total lifesaver!  

  2. Thanks for the post. I have been tracking with you this week and praying for a good outcome and, as importantly, the peace and presence of the Lord with you guys. Your post reaches a wonderful crescendo with the last paragraph. The reality is that no one can survive and thrive without a team of friends. The truth of Hebrews 10:24-25 rang in my head when I read the last lines. It is especially true for those who have specific physical challenges to encourage each other.  Good stuff!!

  3. I’ve been following the saga on your wife’s blog and have total sympathy! And I completely agree – probably the sickest year of my life was when I was engaged and planning my wedding, and my husband and I moved last month and it just about did me in! I am praying for both of you.

    • Thanks Cindy. I can remember like yesterday, halfway through moving from the apartment we had our first 2 years of marriage into our town home together, sitting down propped up against a randomly-placed end table, and not having the energy to get up until I’d eaten 3 slices of pizza and a ton of Mt. Dew. I felt shame as I watched our small group coming in and out of the front door and carrying our stuff upstairs.

      I’ve since learned that is called “love” and I do my best to not feel ashamed of what I can’t physically do because I have the lungs of an 80 year-old.

  4. It sure is hard to see you going through this, Jesse. But I’m proud of how gracefully you’re handling it. Kristin, too.

    I was reading Psalm 18 this morning. David wrote it after being delivered from Saul and other enemies. It starts off: “I will love You, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised; so shall I be saved from my enemies.”

    Yup, that’s where that song comes from that we used to sing at Oakwood. In fact, the other part of the song is in verse 46.

    Since your insurance company seems to want you dead, this seems really appropriate right now. God is mightier and looking for sold out Christians like you so He can show His power.

  5. I like your idea of planning for the worst case and hoping for the best. I probably go a little overboard in that regard, but it’s still a good idea. Then you can already have a grasp of the potential stressors and prepare for them. Well done!