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A Q&A WITH ERICKA GONZALEZ

Ericka Gonzalez is 18 years old and lives in Florida. She was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF) when she was 9. A senior in high school, she is the author of an Ebook titled “7 Ways To Positively Live With A Disease.”

What was your experience growing up with CF?

I was 9 when I got diagnosed with CF, and my whole life changed in the blink of an eye. My younger sister, who is now 16, was diagnosed first. Then my doctors realized I had a lot of the same symptoms that she did. I had lived a long time without knowing I had CF, because everyone assumed I only had asthma.

When I was first diagnosed, I became very depressed. Kids at school would ask me why I was always sick, and sometimes they wouldn’t want to come near me because they thought I was contagious. I felt really different from everyone else, but as I got older I gained a better understanding of my body and my disease.

I’ve become very accepting of my CF, and I work really hard to remain healthy. I’m proud to say that I’m at the top of my class in my high school despite the number of times CF has caused me to miss school.

What is it like having a sister with CF?

In many ways it has been very difficult, because CF patients typically have to keep a distance from each other to avoid the spread of infections. Sometimes we can’t be in the same room together. But I love my sister and I want to be as close to her as possible, because I consider her my best friend. We support each other a lot and we understand everything the other is going through.

How do you balance the demands of high school, extracurricular activities, and managing your CF?

The key is time management. I take a lot of hard Advanced Placement classes, and I have a lot of extracurricular activities. I’m in the National Honors Society, and am the Vice President
of a club called the Be Hip Information Project, in which we teach ninth graders about various health topics, including bullying.

It can be a challenge to balance all my activities because I also have to take medicine three times per day and do physical therapy. Sometimes it’s very overwhelming, but I try to make a to do list every day. My treatments always take top priority.

I’m making plans for college next year. One of the biggest decisions I will make is whether to go to college out of state. I am asking myself, “Will I be able to do all the things I need to do to stay healthy?” I think moving away would help me to learn who I am and what I’m capable of, but my parents worry that something might happen to me while I am away.

Do you have any advice for other teenagers who are affected by CF?

Don’t let CF limit you. The disease does not define who you are, and it doesn’t affect your ability to achieve greatness.

What does being All In For CF mean to you?

Being all in for CF means really understanding the disease, and raising awareness. I recently wrote and illustrated a book called “7 Ways To Positively Live With A Disease,” in which I talk about ways to cope with CF. I’ve gotten really positive responses from people with CF who have read it.

Who in your life is All In for you?

My parents. They have been there every step of the way, not only helping with my treatments, but constantly talking to my doctors and doing research to learn about the latest advances in CF that could benefit me and my sister. They’re my biggest supporters and they’ll do anything to keep us healthy.