Thursday, November 12, 2009


Tonight I got asked (indirectly) by a perfectly nice, normal person whether I thought being a lawyer had negatively impacted my health. No, she wasn't making a cute "attorneys are evil" joke -- although I was tempted to respond that my lungs were crappy even before I became a lawyer, but the loss of my soul took some getting used to. Ha, ha, ha, right? But no, she wasn't making a joke; she was actually quite serious and she was asking a question that probably others have wondered about as well.

The implication of her question (I think, as I said this woman was very nice and certainly didn't mean any offense) was that perhaps my job, back when I worked, was too stressful or took up too much of my time for me to really focus on my health. Or maybe she thought that I let my health slide because I was more focused on other things. Perhaps she was wondering if law school itself was too much of a strain, or if the 7 years in higher education was a good use of time for someone with a "fatal" lung disease. Maybe she just wondered whether it was "worth it" time wise for me to be so tied up in school when life is so precious. Maybe she didn't think through any of this and just asked the question because she was surprised to see someone with CF and a law degree -- especially someone waiting for transplant.

So in the interest of answering her question, and because I think it's an important topic given how important both my career and recent choice to take disability leave have been to this blog, I'm going to be totally honest here:

1) I can not now nor will I ever be able to say with 100% certainty that my career choice did not negatively impact my physical health; and
2) If I had it to do all over again tomorrow, I wouldn't change a single thing.

Let me tell you what I do know with 100% certainty. I know that I wanted to go to law school. Badly. It's what I wanted to do with my life, and completely independent of CF it had been my dream for a long time. I know that my health had begun to decline prior to entering law school, although my first couple of years there were not themselves extremely eventful CF-wise. I know that although my job was stressful and at times difficult, my compliance and time-management skills steadily improved throughout the time I was with my firm, actually increasing my chances of staying healthy in many ways. I know that I learned through my job to assert my needs as a CFer as well as a person, asking for days off when I needed them, learning to surrender to the hospital with grace instead of dread (okay, grace MIXED with dread!), and finally grasping how to ask for help when I needed it. I know that I equally learned how and when to push myself, what my limits really are, and how great it feels to meet a challenge everyone else said was impossible for me. I know that it was law school that brought me to New York, the city I love, just as I know that it was also law school that brought me to the doctors I trust with my life, whose advice, help, and wisdom I am so blessed to have experienced these past few years. I also know that when I finally did take disability leave, it had no apparent effect on the intensity, frequency, or general nature of my lung infections, but it did negatively affect my mental health and well being.

I know that I will never look back and think that CF held me back. Most of all, I know with 100% certainty that if I had to look a child with CF in the eye right now and say that it was worth it, I would do so without a second thought.

I don't believe everyone should go to law school, CF or no CF. That was my dream; it could just as easily be someone else's nightmare! But throughout my life there have always been people who have cocked their heads, pursed their lips, and wondered (sometimes out loud) whether I should be doing whatever activity it was that didn't "mesh" with their expectations for a CFer. And I do believe, very strongly, in defying those expectations and false limitations set on us by other people, or sometimes even by ourselves. Because the CFers I know are an amazing group of people -- and I really just refuse to believe that there's a spectrum of life that we cannot or should not participate in just because of our disease.

Maybe that makes me stubborn, but I'm 100% certain that it also makes me happy.

So would I still need a transplant if I had been, say, a sculptor instead of going to law school? Well, maybe, maybe not. I just can't say. In fact, I can't say how any single aspect of my life might have turned out differently had I made different choices along the way. It's not my job to know that, frankly, and neither is it anyone else's on this Earth. But what I can say is that if I had been a sculptor, well . . . I wouldn't have been a very good one, nor a very happy one. Trust me, my experience with the pottery wheel in Turkey when they tried to help me make a vase (end result: poorly constructed ashtray) was enough to teach me that much.

In case you're wondering, my real answer to the question was far more simple and to the point than this blog. I simply looked at this kind, well-meaning, and genuinely concerned woman and told her that I would never know why my health is what it is, but that I had made the decision to stay in the driver's seat of my own life for as long as I have it, and let my CF come along for the ride.

It may not be perfect, but that's definitely my final answer.


  1. LOVE IT! Thank you Piper for that answer that I hope so many parents take to heart and that I hope made a small impact on that strangers outlook.

    Others ask me all the time why I'm doing what I am and don't I think working with chemicals is a bad idea given my lungs, potential exposure etc etc. I pose the question, what then should a person in my situation do? People based career-nope too many germs, kid based career-definately out, any medical career-nope too many infection risks, service industry-nope too physically demanding, hmmm so I guess I could be a writer and stay at home all day???

    You are right they ARE well meaning when I have received them but I DONT think they have the knowledge or the desire to think through the answers.

    thanks again for great response!

  2. Beautifully written! I love your answer. I myself have wanted to go to law school for a long time, but have never taken the leap out of my comfort zone to do so. I applaud you for going and for making it happen!! You are definitely an inspiration.

  3. Absolutely! It's inspiring to see a CFer so successful. Glad to hear cf didn't hold you back. Besides I think I'd rather live a short life that's full of life than be an empty shell and live 100 years. People ask me all the time why I chose to have a child when I have cf. And I say for the same reason you did.
    God Bless!

  4. And that's exactly why you are one AMAZING CYSTER!!! :)

  5. Great great great great post...oh yeah, and that was a GREAT post :) You nailed it on the head with that one. Life is choices and we never know exactly how other choices would have impacted us differently. We do know however how we feel today and you feel with 100% confidence that you made the right choice. That my cyster, is what's important!


  6. Well said Piper!

    I feel the same way about leaving my job 4 months ago... I wouldn't have done it a moment sooner!