By Alyce Collins
THIS WOMAN grew up with CYSTIC FIBROSIS but after having to ask her parents what her life expectancy was at the age of TWELVE and fearing she had lived half her life already, she vowed to make her life as fulfilling as possible by TRAVELLING the world.
Yoga instructor and traveller, Chelsea Spruance (26) from St Thomas, US Virgin Islands, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at four months old when her parents noticed that she couldn’t keep food down and she was growing increasingly fussy. Chelsea was still at her birth weight at four months old and a sweat test soon diagnosed her condition as cystic fibrosis.
Throughout her youth, Chelsea’s condition remained stable and she was raised not to let cystic fibrosis limit her. However, there was one daunting question which Chelsea asked her parents and doctors at just 12 years old, this being what her life expectancy was. Family members avoided answering, so Chelsea sought information online but was distraught to find out that the average life expectancy of someone with cystic fibrosis was only 26 years old.
During a trip to Mexico when she was 17, Chelsea developed a love for travel as she was able to push beyond the restraints of her illness. In 2015, Chelsea spent two weeks in Thailand followed by backpacking through Europe in 2017 when she visited Greece, Italy, Germany, France and Belgium with her vast medication in tow. Chelsea has also travelled to Puerto Rico, Honduras, Costa Rica and Guatemala.
Living with cystic fibrosis taught Chelsea that life is precious, but when she started travelling, she was able to see that she is much stronger than she thought possible. This motivated Chelsea to experience as many adventures as she can.
When Chelsea was growing up, she had no role models who showed her the limitless possibilities that can be accomplished despite cystic fibrosis, so she decided to share her travels on Instagram, @salty_yogi, so that she could be that role model for others.
“I was born healthy and my parents excitedly brought home a baby believing everything was fine,” said Chelsea.
“It was soon apparent that something was wrong. I couldn’t keep any food down, was constantly fussy and having gastrointestinal issues.
“By four months old, I was still at my birth weight and the doctor told my parents that something was very wrong, he just didn’t know what. Finally, a sweat test was done, and it was discovered I had cystic fibrosis, much to everyone’s surprise.
“I learned about cystic fibrosis as I grew up, gradually asking more questions and slowly understanding the life that I was born with. It frightened me and I felt a dark storm cloud following me around, just waiting for it to unleash its wrath on me.
“This is simply my normal, I know nothing else. In a way, I view this as a blessing because I never mourned the loss of a life that I once knew. I grew to understand my body, life, and future just like anyone else did with the understanding from birth that cystic fibrosis was part of my journey.
“I started traveling at the age of 17 in Mexico when I went cage diving with sharks – we were 22 hours off the coast of Baja, and I was in a cage with three great white sharks circling me. After that trip, my wanderlust mind truly began to flourish.
“In 2015 I spent two weeks traveling in Thailand and in 2017 I backpacked through Europe for 35 days with all of my medication and treatments. I was able to visit Greece, Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Holland, Belgium, France, and Spain.
“Last spring, I spent a week at Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, and I have also been to Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Belize. Most recently, I went on a 30-day road trip through the USA where I explored half of America. On the road trip I spent most of my time in Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico exploring places like Zion national park, Moab, the Grand Canyon and Lake Powell.”
Despite trying not to let cystic fibrosis restrict too much of her life, Chelsea hated the thought that she could only live until her mid-twenties. However, now 26, Chelsea is flourishing after surpassing the average life expectancy and she shares her exotic travels to inspire others who may feel held back by their health not to let it stop them from creating memories.
“Cystic fibrosis takes away so much, including your peace of mind and potentially years off your life. Travelling is one way I can take a little something back from a disease that controls so much,” said Chelsea.
“It would be so easy to stay at home and let the thought of traveling with cystic fibrosis keep me there, but growth doesn’t come from staying in our comfort zones.
“When I was 12, I had a looming question that no one would answer, that was, ‘what is my life expectancy?’. My doctors and parents avoided answering this question, so I Googled the life expectancy and the results that came up crushed me.
“The number staring back at me was 26. To think that I had already lived half my life at 12 was overwhelming, and I had no one to prove to me otherwise. That is why I started to share my story.
“I had no role models, no one to look up to disprove the terrifying statistics, so I want to be that resource and inspiration for others in the position I was once in. I think back to my little 12-year-old self and share my story for her. I share what would have given her hope to fight and not believe the statistics rather than believing in herself. This year I turned 26, the number that loomed over my head for many years, seemingly defining all that my life could be.
“Through traveling I have gained a greater appreciation for myself. Traveling with cystic fibrosis requires determination, resilience, and an immense strength. I’ve learned how strong I truly am, how limitless my life is, and how to break apart assumed limitations for myself.
“Life is all about adapting to the life that you are given. Travelling with what seems like a mobile pharmacy is a daunting task but doing so teaches me that anything is possible if you desire it enough.
“Living life knowing that nothing lasts forever has helped me live a more positive life. I endure the hard times knowing they will not last forever, but also cherish the good times because they too will not last forever.
“Don’t look at me or anyone with cystic fibrosis and feel pity for us because I would not be the person, I am today without the lessons that it’s taught me, and I am so proud and humbled that this is my life.
“You may have to do things a little different to someone else but honour the journey that you’re on and don’t let anything or anyone tell you that you can’t do something.”