LV Life/Health Editor
When she wakes up, her first breath determines how the rest of her day will go: whether she’ll have to miss class or skip the lunch she planned to have with a friend.
At 23, senior psychology major Ashley Dalrymple lives a life much tougher than most. She has cystic fibrosis, a terminal illness which affects her lungs, kidneys, liver and bones. Although she was officially diagnosed at 18, she has experienced symptoms all her life. In addition to this illness, Dalrymple has arthritis, diabetes and is blind, but she has not let these illnesses weigh down her spirit.
“I feel like it’s easier to make jokes about it, because why sit around and cry about it?” Dalrymple said.
May is Cystic Fibrosis Awareness Month.
In 2013, the National Institutes of Health reported the average life expectancy for people with cystic fibrosis is 37. The disease causes mucus to accumulate throughout the body, primarily affecting the lungs and digestion. There is no cure.
Born with water on her brain, Dalrymple’s optic nerve deteriorated, causing her to lose her sight before she was 1. As a child, she experienced the symptoms of cystic fibrosis including abnormal digestion, and infections of her sinus and ears.
When she was 17, her health worsened. As her lung infections became more regular, so did her medications and treatments. Now, she takes 22 pills and has four breathing treatments each day – in her bedroom. Each treatment lasts 45 minutes and includes inhaling antibiotics and a vest that shakes her lungs.
Last year, she was admitted to the hospital on five separate occasions and stayed from two to three weeks each time. Although her professors give her work to complete, her hospital visits still hold her behind with classwork. On her bad days, Dalrymple does not have the energy to leave her room. On her good days, she tries to spend time outside with friends. When she visits her parents in San Diego, she cuddles with her 12-year-old Bichon, Tiffany, while she does her treatments.
Her parents, Kelly and Darryl Dalrymple, are two of her biggest supporters. Her mother drives from San Diego to La Verne and back to the UC San Diego for treatment. Her father said support is mutual in the Dalrymple family; she supports her parents as much as they support her. She encourages high spirits. As time goes on, the three have learned to understand when a hospital admittance may be needed. They anticipate the signs.
“I couldn’t be more proud of a daughter than I am of her,” Darryl Dalrymple said. “How can I feel bad for myself when she’s so much stronger than anyone I’ve ever met?”
Ashley Dalrymple finds solace with one of her best friends, sorority sister and La Verne alumna Lindsey Elkins. Dalrymple said it is important for her friends not to focus on her illness but also understand that she is sometimes unable to participate in usual activities. Elkins does just that. The pair first met when Dalrymple joined the Alpha Omicron Pi sorority.
Years later, the friendship has not faltered. While Elkins is a San Marcos resident, she still tries to visit twice a month, and the two talk every other day. She provides Dalrymple with a strong connection, free of judgement of her illness. Elkins does not waste her time being angry when Dalrymple has to cancel their plans.
“I’d rather value any minute I’ve had with her. Whatever our friendship needs to be, it’s what it needs to be. When she’s in the hospital, I’m going there and giving her what she needs.”
Elkins said she finds inspiration in Dalrymple’s strength and friendship.
“She’s so much more than a sorority sister to me, she’s part of my family,” Elkins said. “She can make me laugh in my darkest times too.”
For Dalrymple, it’s important to share her story and educate others on the realities of cystic fibrosis.
She said others assume it’s a disease that only affects the lungs. She encourages people to ask her about her illness, rather than research it on their own; reading the symptoms can be emotional for those who know someone affected by the disease. She also invites friends and family to participate in a yearly cystic fibrosis awareness walk, which raises money for research.
“Just because someone feels healthy doesn’t mean they feel healthy the next day,” Dalrymple said. “I ask them to breathe through a straw for 60 seconds to hopefully understand how difficult it can be to get around.”
Although she must alter her life to manage her health, she and her illnesses are not one in the same.
“I try to live every day to the fullest,” Dalrymple said.
Taylor Bolanos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.