When I was young, I thought that I was the only one who suffered because of Cystic Fibrosis. I thought because I was the one taking the medication, doing the treatments, lying in a hospital bed, and undergoing the occasional procedure or surgery that I was the only one this disease affected. I thought that I was the only one who had to fight; the only one who had to battle; the only one who had to deal with the adversity that Cystic Fibrosis brings.
Looking back, I couldn’t have been more mistaken. This is a disease that physically affects me, but it also impacts everyone in my life – mentally and emotionally. My parents, brother and rest of my family. My fiancé. My friends. My doctors and my soccer coaches throughout the years, and now my colleagues. It is a disease that we’ve fought together for 30 years. When I go to the hospital, I am not going alone. When I need a day off work, it isn’t an issue. When I need a shoulder to cry on, or friends to hang out with when I’m not feeling well, they’re always there. I am standing here today because of the tremendous effort and support of everyone in my life. And for that I have no words. I can say thank you and I love you, but that doesn’t do it justice. It doesn’t explain the gratitude, the appreciation I feel for the people in my life.
I’ve had 5 months now to figure out what I wanted to say tonight. I thought about telling you about my life, what I’ve been through. I thought about marathons and how they are a microcosm of life. I considered stories demonstrating perseverance and determination. Or maybe just tell jokes for 5 minutes. But at the end of the day, I wanted to talk about what this award stands for. What Michael Brennan and so many others with CF stand for: Courage.
A few weeks ago I finished a book by Dr. George Sheehan called Running & Being, a book about running and how it relates to life. Naturally, as a running enthusiast, I read about it too. I really don’t have many hobbies. Anyway, one of the topics he briefly discusses is courage. Looking back to its Latin roots, courage means that, “the seat of the intelligence is in the heart” – that the heart determines a man’s actions, rather than his reason or his instincts. So what exactly does that mean? To me, it means if the heart wants the body to do something, it will overpower the mind and the body will perform. It means that someone who has Cystic Fibrosis has no choice but to be courageous each and every day.
When I was a kid my parents asked my doctor at the time if Cystic Fibrosis was going to limit my ability to participate in sports, school, and everything else that makes a child, a child. My parents had some hesitations, but he strongly recommended I participate in anything I was up for – that they should treat and raise me as if nothing was wrong. They knew the outlook. They knew the odds, but they wanted me to be a normal kid. They had the strength and courage to look past Cystic Fibrosis. That set the tone for how I viewed life. And that’s essentially how I’ve lived my life. Like everyone else, I have goals and dreams. I have places I want to see, things I want to experience. And I know that there may be times when Cystic Fibrosis rears its ugly head and tries to stop me, but at the end of the day I know in my heart I’m stronger. And with this strength and determination I can and will do whatever I set my mind to. And not because I think I can. Because deep down, in my heart, in my gut, I know that I’m stronger than this disease. I know that I’m stronger than anything that stands in my way.
At the end of the day, everyone has “stuff” that they deal with. Life is not a cake walk. It’s not easy for anyone. CF is one of the challenges that I deal with. It’s one of the challenges that the people close to me deal with, and on some level, everyone in this room is dealing with. But that’s all it is. It’s a challenge, a nuisance, a hurdle and sometimes a burden. But it’s something that I am able to face with courage, strength, and determination because of the support from my parents who’ve been guided me in the right direction since day 1, my brother who used to sit next to me while I did my treatments as a kid and now shares my story proudly, the rest of family who inspires and drives me, and of course my friends, many of whom are here tonight, who have been with me through the good times (athletically and non-athletically) and through the bad times. Many of whom are now Team Boomer marathoners, half-marathoners and triathletes.
And then of course there’s the future Mrs. Megan Bell. That has a nice ring to it. I’m not sure how I tricked you into marrying me. I’m not sure why or how you put up with me on a daily basis. And I’m really not sure how you still find the jokes I tell funny, but when we talk about courage and strength, you are the first thing that comes to mind. You had the strength, the courage to look past CF and everything that’s wrong with me and see the good. You took a chance on love, not knowing what the future will bring. You may not know this, and this may be an odd time to tell you, but my favorite part of each and every day is when I wake up, take a deep breath and see you by my side. You are my best friend, my partner in crime and my biggest fan and I cannot wait to marry you this September.
Those are the kind of people I have in my life. Supportive, caring, loyal, courageous, strong, and determined. And it is with those characteristics that one day we, the CF community, the patients, the support systems, the healthcare providers, and the Boomer Esiason Foundation, will beat this disease for good. To Boomer, the Foundation, and the Brennan family – thank you again for this incredible honor and your continued support in the fight against CF.
An evening of fun with my family and friends. A night for celebrating. A night for drinking, dining and dancing. A night where Meg and I found out the value of a seat at our wedding. A night I will never forget.