Wednesday, July 4, 2007

My College Experience

I used my experience with CF to write a great essay that was part of my application. I did not live in the dorms in college, however, my parents and I did look into getting a single dorm room if I did live on campus. We would not have even considered that an option, except for the fact that the housing director at the school I went to has a daughter with CF, so he was willing to work something out for us.

At first I didn't tell people at college I had CF. Then there was a quarter where I needed to retroactively withdraw from my classes because I got sick and missed my final exams. At that point I went to the dean of student affairs with a letter from my doctor explaining CF and what reasonable accommodations I needed in order to get the most out of my college experience. That letter went in my file, and we also brought a copy of it to the student special services office. They arranged for me to have a note-taker in class, or in some cases, for my professor to provide his lecture slides to me so in case I missed class. I also had a tutor come to the hospital when I was having a tune-up.

One of the most important things that student special services was able to do for me was to arrange with the environmental health and safety office to get me a specially fit respirator mask to wear in organic chemistry lab. I was a science major, and o-chem was something I had to take (I LOVED it by the way.) However, nearly all the chemicals we worked with were aromatic hydrocarbons, which are a respiratory concern. Even with the fume hoods, I had to be careful, especially if someone dropped their test tube or spilled something like acetone.

I don't think I used CF to gain an advantage, but I did make sure to ask for assistance on the things that I needed to stay competitive in my class. When you're a science major at a research university, things can be pretty cut-throat. I was a very serious student, but without the note-taking services and tutoring when I missed class, I would have had a more frustrating time than I already did.

One of the best things I did, knowing that I'd have to work hard to keep up when CF slowed me down, was that I started taking college courses as a high school student. By the time I was actually in college, I had already knocked out 10 classes toward my degree. That way my academic standing never faltered. I took full loads (12 unites) every quarter my first year because I needed to in order to stay on my parents' insurance. The first quarter of my sophomore year I got a part-time job at a environmental engineering and research lab. I worked anywhere from 12-20 hours a week for the next few years. My senior year I was recommended for another research position at UC Irvine, and like an idiot, I thought I could handle that, my lab job and classes at UC Riverside, my health, being a newlywed, and commuting 200 miles a day.

I got sick, but I continued to push myself because I wanted so badly to graduate. There were times when my parents and I didn't think I'd make it. Eventually I pared it all down, and by graduation I was in much better shape. I love seeing my diploma on the wall, but I wouldn't recommend ANYONE push themselves as hard as I had. I can't even stand to look at my graduation pictures because of how visibly sick I was.

That's my college experience. I'm fortunate to have survived. I couldn't have done it without the support of my husband and parents. I'm especially thankful that my parents lived so close to the campus. I ended up spending the night there many times when I was too tired to drive home to my husband.

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