Friends are Everything

It was brought to my attention earlier this week that people with cystic fibrosis, specifically young adults, have a tough time making new friends and maintaining friendships that they already have. I am not sure how I feel about that idea as a whole. With that being said, I guess I can understand it. There certainly are times when the disease is consuming. All I am thinking about is making it from one day to the next, but to be completely honest, I have always had a friend, coach or family member in my ear getting my mind off the sh*tty side of CF. Sure, there have been times when I have had to say no to a wild party night, or THE BEST NIGHT EVER, but, quite frankly, THE BEST NIGHT EVER seems to happen pretty frequently, so I don’t really mind if I miss one every once in a while.

I can’t make it sound like I don’t get frustrated when I am sick, because I do deal with a ton of frustration. It’s just one of those things that I have to overcome in my life. I just have to accept that I am not going to have to typical New York City young professional “work hard, play hard” lifestyle.

Truly, though, if I see the inside of a club, maybe once or twice a year, at ABSOLUTE most, I am a happy person. If I don’t see the inside of a club at all in the next 12 months, then that’s totally fine too. That is just not my idea of fun.

All joking aside, I have been very fortunate that my group of friends understand that about me. They know my days of staying out until the sun comes up are probably over for the most part. I had a good run in college, but, unfortunately, for me, I have always had to be a little ahead of the curve when it comes to growing up. I mean, at five years old, I had to recognize the difference between an antibiotic and an Advil. Now, if I am at a New York City bar that is open until 4:30am, I know I have to be out of there by about 1:30 if I don’t want to be paying for it for the next month.

My friends know that, they don’t hold it against me and they make it work for me. Sometimes they give up a little to get a little, and when I say get a little, I mean a lot, because they freaking get to hang out with me. WHO WOULD NOT WANT TO HANG OUT WITH ME??

Just kidding, but not really.

In all seriousness, though, that’s never been an issue with my friends. The hard truth of the matter is that if I tried to live a “work hard, play hard” lifestyle like my friends can, I would be driving myself six feet under pretty quickly, and my friends realize that. I think that might be something that scares some CF patients. There is this idea that they have to keep up, or they will be left behind. I am here to say that is not the case. There are times when saying no is okay, and maybe I am not around as much as some of my friends would like (Lynda, that’s you J), but they 100% understand why.

So, if you are a CF patient reading this, I don’t want to tell you how to live your life, because I am not all-knowing, but listen to me here, make that connection with your friends, they will support you, that’s why they are your friends.

I, obviously, can only speak from my experiences, but I can easily say that I could not have grown up with a better group of friends at every point in my life so far. From kindergarten and on, my classmates all knew about my CF. Any new friend that I make quickly learns why I cough so much and take an endless amount of pills each day.

My buddy David from high school went on to be one of my college roommates for all four years at BC, and he essentially got a taste of living and learning CF with me. In the ten years I have known him, he’s been there for quite a few of the good times and the bad. From the time I was coughing up blood on the football field sophomore year in high school to the freshman year college dorm room when we disastrously tried to shotgun cheap beers, we have gone through a lot of firsts together.

For many of the bad times, David was the first responder as well. I have to say that probably wasn’t what he signed on for when we thought being roommates might be fun. With that being said, he certainly hasn’t lost it yet when I have been down for the count with pneumonia or something. He usually figures out a way to bring me right back up.

All my friends have always wanted to be apart of my fight against the disease. A lot of them look forward to our BEF events and fundraisers every year. Dozens of my friends from grade school, high school and college have run for Team Boomer in the Boston, New York City and Chicago marathons as well as numerous half-marathons, or triathlons across the country. It’s hard to credit all of my friends and how much they have done on the fundraising front, but two of my best friends, Vince and Brian come to mind right away. Vince, another of my college roommates, raised over $15,000 when he ran the Boston Marathon our sophomore year at BC. Brian, one of my closest friends, and maybe even one of my first friends since age 2 or 3, raised an incredible $30,774 when he ran the New York City marathon last year. They, along with every single friend that I have, take everything I deal with in stride and try their best to make it a little easier for me every day.

Maybe most importantly, though, I’ve always had friends that are ready to step up and jump in front of a questionable situation that might be in front of me. The perfect examples are all of my college roommates. They knew my health always came first for me during our time at BC. If we were at a house party, they always knew I had to have my own cup regardless of how hard it was to get one. Because, as we know, cooties come from sharing cups at college parties, and that is a major concern for CF patients. As a freshman dude in college, there is probably no harder feat to achieve than getting your own red Solo Cup at an upperclassman’s party, but somehow my friends always managed to make it happen for me.

There were times when an idiot or two would try to light up a cigarette (or a drug that’s illegal in 48 states) indoors. Without fail we would be out the door and headed down the street to a new party to escape the smoke. If my friends and I were ever out, and there was even an ounce of danger directed at my lung health, I very rarely ever had to say something – the situation would just get handled.

I can remember back to this one time, junior year (at least I think it was junior year, it’s all kind of like a blur), and I was in line for a bar with my two other roommates, Carmen and Flynn. It was almost like someone flipped a switch, because the next thing we knew the students that were around us in line all suddenly started smoking. It was gross, but apparently that was the cool thing to do. We were very much stuck in the line, and I was totally willing to suck it up for a few minutes, but Carmen and Flynn went to work putting out the cigarettes one by one until we got into the bar. I didn’t get one dirty look from anyone around us, so I don’t even know what those two guys were telling people. It worked, though.

I realize that isn’t the craziest of stories, but things like that did not go unnoticed.

I never once felt like I was alone in college. My friends always had my back in college and still do. There’s always a watchful eye over me, and I think my parents and sister are grateful for that, I know I am. It’s not like I go around always making terrible decisions, because that’s not the case, but on the off chance that I do, someone is always there to say, “Gunnar, is that the best idea?” That extends far beyond my health too. There’s always someone that wants to get on the ice, go to a movie or grab a drink at a bar with me. Just like there’s always someone stopping me from pushing myself a little too far or downloading Tinder on my phone.

I don’t think I would ever trade my life for a different one. As far as I am concerned, the friendships that I have made along the way have really shaped who I am, and I really do like who I am.

I know all of my friends respect everything that I have to go through and know exactly how far I can take things. Obviously there are times when the rules can be broken and my limits can be pushed, like my 21st birthday, but I do know for a fact that a lot of them try to make things easier for me. Not that any of my friends would ever admit to it, but it is pretty easy to tell that’s what’s going on – because I can definitely tell CF isn’t as much of a struggle when some of my buddies are around. All I can say is thank you.

****If you are looking for something to read about friendship, teamwork and toughness, check out the book Fearless by Eric Blehm. It is the story of fallen Navy SEAL Adam Brown’s life. It is probably one of the most inspirational and motivational works I have ever read. One of my fellow football coaches recommended to me, and I am glad he did.****