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May 30, 2018

We have our original CLAIRITY Tshirts in Purple and we also just created a CLAIRITY Tshirt in Dark Grey. Show your support for families needing assistance while enduring an extended hospital stay and buy yours today for only $30.00 plus shipping.  Thanks for your support!

 

CLAIRITY SHIRT Dark Grey

 

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CNN Article: Our Founder, Claire Wineland, has a change of heart regarding transplant

May 24, 2018

Are you one of the many young adults or children living with cystic fibrosis and have begun the painful decline that this disease can sometimes bring about?  Our Founder, Claire Wineland, has recently done much soul searching and has decided to try for a double lung transplant.  For many years, she was adamantly opposed to it until her world became so small due to her quick decline.  We would like to thank Jessica Ravitz, a wonderful, warm and loving writer with CNN for following our journey through this process.  We hope that it helps those of you trying to make this very difficult decision.

FULL ARTICLE on CNN.com

04/04/2018 – SAN DIEGO, CALIF: Claire Wineland, who was born with Cystic Fibrosis, has decided to undergo evaluation for a lung transplant. She sits in front of UC San Diego Health after going to a series of evaluations. PHOTOGRAPH BY MONICA ALMEIDA

Claire Wineland vowed that she wouldn’t have a lung transplant, but her decline from cystic fibrosis made her reconsider.

Why a terminally ill young woman has changed her mind about living
By Jessica Ravitz, CNN
Photographs by Monica Almeida for CNN

La Jolla, California (CNN)To face each day, Claire Wineland undergoes hours of breathing treatments. It’s a reality of living with cystic fibrosis she’s come to accept.

But last month, as the nebulizer hummed loudly in her La Jolla, California, hotel room, she breathed in medicine through her mask and hoped this day would be the first step toward something different.
She’d traveled from Los Angeles with her mother, her best friend and her pit bull, Daisy, who flopped down on the floor atop one of Claire’s ever-present oxygen tubes. A full day of appointments at a nearby medical center awaited her, when she would begin the evaluation process to see whether she might be a candidate for a double-lung transplant.
A year earlier, Claire vowed that she’d never have the major surgery.
“It’s not for me and never has been,” she said at the time.
She was more comfortable dealing with the illness she knew than taking on the unknown. She preferred to focus on leading a purposeful life than worrying about death and how to dodge it.

04/04/2018 – SAN DIEGO, CALIF: Claire Wineland, who was born with Cystic Fibrosis, has decided to undergo evaluation for a lung transplant. She sits in her hotel room with dog Daisy before going to UC San Diego Health for consultations. PHOTOGRAPH BY MONICA ALMEIDA

A series of irreversible setbacks and some painful soul-searching, however, have prompted an about-face in her thinking. Claire, 21, needs new lungs, or she will die — sooner than she’s willing to accept.
The only question is: Did her change of heart come too late?
Feeling trapped

It wasn’t as if the clouds parted and she suddenly saw the light. Claire’s new outlook was the result of a messy and humbling self-reckoning.
She had long managed to push through physical discomfort to lead a life that mattered. After emerging from a 16-day medically induced coma at age 13, she envisioned the Claire’s Place Foundation, which today provides financial support to struggling families affected by cystic fibrosis. She appeared in brutally honest viral videos in which she talked about topics like death and did it with a smile. Since she was 14, she had been taking to stages and wowing audiences with beyond-her-years wisdom. Along the way, she nurtured a love of travel.
She was wrapping up a three-city tour last fall when pneumonia landed her in a Philadelphia hospital for two weeks.
Doctors there sat her down and told Claire she had to stop flying. Period. They told her that her lungs could collapse and that she ran the risk of dropping dead on a plane, she said. They warned that it would be painful and laid out what it would feel like if an air pocket in her lungs burst.
“You will feel like you’re being stabbed to death … and then blood will stop flowing to your brain,” she remembered them saying. “And I was like, ‘OK, I got the message! Copy that!’ “
She took a three-day train ride home and began to settle down.

04/04/2018 – SAN DIEGO, CALIF: Claire Wineland, who was born with Cystic Fibrosis, has decided to undergo evaluation for a lung transplant. She reveals a port for a feeding tube, while in her hotel room before going to to UC San Diego Health for consultations. PHOTOGRAPH BY MONICA ALMEIDA

Cystic fibrosis affects more than 30,000 people in the United States (and more than 70,000 worldwide), according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The disease causes an overabundance of mucus, which traps infections and blocks airways in the lungs, complicates digestion, affects the pancreas and other organs and, eventually, leads to respiratory failure.

Read: Living while dying: ‘Little Buddha’ wisdom from a terminally ill ‘goofball’
The median survival age is about 40, according to the foundation — a great improvement from the 1950s, when surviving long enough to attend elementary school was rare.
Claire became uber-diligent with her care. She was on top of her dozens of medications, including her shots for cystic fibrosis-related diabetes, endured as best she could the feeding tube at night, even though it made her throw up, and spent extra time with her breathing treatments. For four hours daily, she said, she wore a vest to shake her lungs and loosen mucus. She also tried supplements like turmeric and found comfort in the nettle infusions she drank throughout the day.
But even with all of this, her lung function continued to decline. In one year, she said her working lung capacity fell 10 points — from 35% to 25%. Short walks and visits to the beach left this lover of the outdoors exhausted. Simple grocery shopping became too tough to manage. She had no energy for local speaking engagements and lost her income flow. She felt homebound, trapped and unable to do what mattered to her most.
CFers, as she refers to people with cystic fibrosis, often talk about “the Wheelchair Decision” with dread, Claire said. But when breathing and getting around became too difficult and she got hers in February, it initially felt “like freedom.”
With her best friend, Larissa, taking on the role of “designated wheeler,” the duo could tool around outside. The day she got the wheelchair, they went on a seven-hour adventure around Los Angeles’ Venice Beach, where Claire lives, visiting the canals, going to the park, soaking in the ocean breeze.
And while most of the time, she has no qualms about needing a wheelchair, there are accessibility issues, the sidewalks are a mess, and she can’t be pushed through sand. Inevitably, she’s had those moments when she thinks, “It sucks that I need this. It’s painful that it’s gotten this far.”

04/04/2018 – SAN DIEGO, CALIF: Claire Wineland, who was born with Cystic Fibrosis, has decided to undergo evaluation for a lung transplant. A friend cups her hands to pound Clair’s chest, a practice known as chest physical therapy, CPT, which helps clear the airways, in her hotel room before going to to UC San Diego Health for consultations. PHOTOGRAPH BY MONICA ALMEIDA

Claire breathes in medicine through a nebulizer as Larissa pounds her back with cupped hands to help loosen mucus in her airways.

Then Claire, who’s undergone more than 30 surgeries and been in the hospital a quarter of her life, received another jolt during a March hospital stay. Medical staff discovered that her portacath wasn’t working. The small dome under the skin of her chest provides a central line into a vein, allowing easy administration of IV treatments — such as antibiotics, which she must take regularly to beat back constant infections. A portacath replacement means surgery, and Claire’s pulmonary function was — and remains — at a level too dangerous for her to go under anesthesia.
Though the portacath was fixable, Claire didn’t know it would be at the time. A wave of terror washed over her. She fell apart and realized it was time to take the transplant idea seriously.
“I can’t go under anesthesia. I can’t fly. I can’t do anything,” she remembered feeling with a panic. “I have completely locked myself in a position of not being able to do anything besides die.”

Ready for the race

After leaving the La Jolla hotel, Claire was wheeled into the Center for Transplantation at UC San Diego Health, prepared to meet with members of the lung transplant team.
She’d eaten a McDonald’s McGriddle sandwich the day before — a secret she employs to put on an extra pound or two before weigh-ins — just in case they asked her and her 95-pound frame to step on a scale. She was armed with questions and a notepad, ready to studiously record all she’d learn. Since she’d been here less than two years earlier and decided against pursuing the transplant path then, she was eager to tell them why this time was different.

A nurse who serves as the lung transplant coordinator, Megan Serletti, spent several hours educating Claire, her mom and Larissa about the process.

04/04/2018 – SAN DIEGO, CALIF: Claire Wineland, who was born with Cystic Fibrosis, has decided to undergo evaluation for a lung transplant. She goes to her first appointment with mother Melissa Nordquist Yeager and Megan Serletti, BSN, RN at UC San Diego Health before appointments for consultations. PHOTOGRAPH BY MONICA ALMEIDA

They talked about the battery of tests that would determine whether she would qualify to get on the waiting list, some of which Claire knew well and described as “gnarly.” They discussed the lung allocation score, the number Claire will get if she’s approved that measures how sick she is and determines where she sits on the priority list.

They discussed what life on a waitlist looks like: the necessity that she stay within a four-hour drive of the center, the importance of not ignoring phone calls, the exercise she’d need to grow stronger and the multitude of blood draws and exams she’d have on her schedule.
“We call a transplant your marathon,” Serletti said. “We tell people to train for your marathon. The day you get called is the day of the race.”
There were forms to sign and questions she’d need to consider. For example, would she be willing to accept lungs from a prostitute?
“I’m fine if a donor had sex in exchange for money,” Claire quipped. “Way to bring the hustle.”
How about from someone who was an IV drug user and contracted hepatitis C, a condition that is treatable?
“Honestly, I’d just laugh if I got new lungs and caught something else,” she said. “I already have the body of someone who’s been around the block.”
Serletti spoke of the realities after surgery, including the drugs Claire would need to take for the rest of her life, the physical and emotional challenges she might face, the changes in lifestyle she’d have to honor.
Claire wrote everything down. She curled her legs into the chair, revealing the tattoo on her left ankle: the thumbs-up “Don’t Panic” logo from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”
“None of it spooked me,” Claire said afterward, over lunch in the transplantation center’s courtyard. “Now that I’m looking at it as something I have to do, I don’t care about any of the side effects. I’m willing to deal with anything.”

‘We both just started crying’

To qualify for new lungs, a person must be sick enough to need a transplant yet strong enough to withstand the surgery and recovery.
There were 1,436 candidates for lung transplants as of April 20, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, which manages the nation’s organ waiting lists. Of those, 122 had a primary diagnosis of cystic fibrosis. Last year, of the total 2,449 lung transplants performed, CFers accounted for nearly 11% of the recipients.

04/04/2018 – SAN DIEGO, CALIF: Claire Wineland, who was born with Cystic Fibrosis, has decided to undergo evaluation for a lung transplant. She and her mother Melissa Nordquist Yeager, attend a Lung Transplant Education session with Megan Serletti BSN, RN at UC San Diego Health. PHOTOGRAPH BY MONICA ALMEIDA

A lung transplant is not a cure, but it can extend a life, if all goes well.
Of those who received lung transplants (not just CFers), dating to 2000, an average of 84% survived after one year, nearly 54% survived five years, and slightly more than 30% survived 10 years or more, according to the organ sharing network’s data.
Deciding to go for a lung transplant, let alone a double-lung transplant (the only option for CFers), is no small matter.
Claire first visited a transplantation center at UCLA when she was 14 but said that was too early for the idea to make sense for her. At 17, she checked out the program at Stanford University but was turned down, her mom explained, because they could tell that Claire wasn’t interested. She checked out the option again, at the very place she had returned to now, when she was 19.
While her peers were being tasked with picking out prom dresses or decorating dorm rooms, she was being asked to contemplate her mortality.
She prayed that she’d want it as much as she knew her parents and doctors did, but her heart wasn’t in it, she said. She was still happy with what she had and, as an adult, able to make her own decisions.
Her parents, who split up when Claire was 3, struggled to make peace with her choice.
“Just think of it as insurance, even if you don’t want to do it,” her mother, Melissa Nordquist Yeager, pleaded at first. “Get on the list so you can change your mind.”
But ever since she’d been a small child, Claire had a sense of self, an understanding of her condition and a sort of intuition Yeager needed to trust — even if it made her uncomfortable.
Her dad, John Wineland, said Claire “has a relationship with her body that is sacred” and described his daughter’s thinking: “This is the body I came in with. This is the body I’m going out with.”
And as her parent, he said, “I have to live with it.”

Claire was born with cystic fibrosis and has spent a quarter of her life in the hospital. (Family Photo)

To see her struggle and deteriorate over the past year was both sobering and excruciating for them. So when Claire broke down and said she’d changed her mind, they were thrilled, excited and terrified.
“I was blown away, so grateful, happy and hopeful. It was a sign that she wasn’t willing to give up,” remembered Yeager, who was with Claire at the hospital in March and heard the news first.
“I called her dad, and we both just started crying,” Yeager said.
“I’m just praying my ass off, really, that everything goes smoothly, that she can get a shot at more time on the planet,” Claire’s dad said. “There are a lot of hoops she has to jump through to be accepted.”

‘Are you ready?’

It’s not uncommon for CFers to change their minds about transplant, social worker Leslie Fijolek assured Claire.
Fijolek, who serves on the transplant team, remembered Claire from the last time she visited UC San Diego Health. Fijolek’s job is to think about “who are these [new] lungs going to live with,” she said, get a sense of the care system recipients have in place and provide support to make the process successful for everyone involved.
Is Claire compliant in taking her medications? Is she prepared to relocate near the transplantation center, where she’ll need to be for at least three months after the transplant if she gets one? Who’d move with her and drive her to appointments?
“How’s your mood been? Any depression and anxiety?” Fijolek asked.

04/04/2018 – SAN DIEGO, CALIF: Claire Wineland, who was born with Cystic Fibrosis, has decided to undergo evaluation for a lung transplant. She and her mother Melissa Nordquist Yeager, attend a psychological evaluation with Leslie Fijolek LCSW, a clinical social worker, at UC San Diego Health. PHOTOGRAPH BY MONICA ALMEIDA

Claire mentioned how her decline, starting last fall, threw her into a depression. They talked about how she’d lost the ability to manage her physical decline, how she’d like to find a therapist who works with patients facing chronic illness, how she turns to arts and crafts projects to get out of bed — and out of her head — on rough days.
Photos on a cell phone are passed around, showing the papier-mache tree she’s been working on and how the bark and surrounding foliage are remarkably true to life.
Fijolek turned serious, locked eyes with Claire and said what everyone in the room already understood: “You know you need a transplant.”
“I was so young. I was so naïve,” Claire answered, describing where she was before. “All the side effects used to scare the shit out of me. My relationship to transplant and all it entails has changed.”
Fijolek, who was all too familiar with Claire’s past ambivalence, pushed her further.
“Let’s say you got listed in about two weeks; it means you can get a call at any time,” she said. “Are you ready?”
Claire assured her she is.
“It’s a big change from where you were,” the social worker said.
“I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time,” Claire answered.
Her mother sat by, fanning herself with a medical brochure, listened and wiped a tear from her eye.

 

All she had

The last appointment of the day was with one of the transplant team’s pulmonologists.

04/04/2018 – SAN DIEGO, CALIF: Claire Wineland, who was born with Cystic Fibrosis, has decided to undergo evaluation for a lung transplant. She and her mother Melissa Nordquist Yeager, meet with Dr. Kamyar Afshar DO at UC San Diego Health. PHOTOGRAPH BY MONICA ALMEIDA

Dr. Kamyar Afshar explains the importance of Claire building her strength so she can handle the transplant, if she’s given one.
Dr. Kamyar Afshar got down to the nitty gritty. He wanted to know what antibiotics still worked for her, how many bowel movements she has a day and the last time she coughed up blood.
“Two days ago,” she told him. “It’s usually one or two times a month.”
He prescribed walks every day to build up her endurance and suggested she increase her continuous oxygen flow from her normal 2 liters per minute to 6 liters per minute when exercising. He looked down at her worn Birkenstocks and said, “Your shoes will have to change.”
The doctor cranked up her oxygen and told her that if she wanted to get a transplant, she’d need to be able to do 15 sits-to-stands in a minute. He said this was non-negotiable. She won’t be able to use her arms after the surgery to get up from a chair or bed, he explained.
He asked her to climb off the exam table and show him some squats.
Claire — who used to do yoga six days a week, loved to swim and even went through a phase when she did difficult workout videos like P90X with her dad — crossed her arms in front of her chest and showed the doctor all she had.
For the first time that day, her cheeks had color.
“I don’t anticipate you’d be on the list for too long,” Afshar blurted out.
Given her blood type and her condition, he said, she’d probably get a transplant within three months of being approved — if she’s approved.

04/04/2018 – SAN DIEGO, CALIF: Claire Wineland, who was born with Cystic Fibrosis, has decided to undergo evaluation for a lung transplant. She poses for photos with her mother Melissa Nordquist Yeager in front of UC San Diego Health after going to a series of evaluations. PHOTOGRAPH BY MONICA ALMEIDA

The first full day of evaluation appoitnments complete, Claire and her mom breathe sighs of overwhelmed relief.

Claire’s eyes opened wide, and her mom appeared to melt into her chair. Suddenly, it seemed real.
“Three months!” Yeager said outside the center. “That made me want to throw up a little bit.”
“I’m a little overwhelmed,” Claire said. “I need to go back to the hotel and binge-watch ‘Real Housewives.’ I want to see white women fight over nothingness.”

Hoping for a chance

The truth is, according to Claire, not longing for different lungs for most of her life served her well.
She was able to “work with what I had in front of me,” she said, rather than fixate on what she didn’t have. She also suppressed that part of herself that might have simply dreamed of something more.
“If I had told myself things could be better than they are now, I think I would have driven myself crazy with frustration and jealousy over other people’s lives,” she said.
In changing her mind, she said she had to swallow some of her pride and “open this floodgate of emotion that I kept really deeply buried.”

A slew of tests still awaited Claire, but she was now all in. She had opened herself up to the possibility that life — for her — could be different and not as challenging.
“For the first time ever, I’m going there, and it’s really scary,” she said. “Now that I actually want something better, what if it doesn’t happen? What if I don’t get it? What if it goes wrong?”
The pressure is on, and Claire can only hope that she will be given her chance.

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Families we have assisted

Meet Mason and Grayson ~ Extended Hospital Stay Grant Recipients

March 22, 2018

 

Mason and Grayson doing their “Vest Therapy” together

Double the fun!  For those of you living with cystic fibrosis or raising children with cystic fibrosis, you understand the hours of work that go in to each day just to maintain your health.  Now, multiply that times 2!  This young family came to us due to several hospital stays between their adorable twin toddlers Mason and Grayson.  In their short 2.5 years, they have already spent months in the hospital while their father takes as much time off work to help as possible but is currently out of paid days off. The financial stress has caused this family to dip in to most of their savings and fear that as the children grow, the expense will just intensify.  When I received their referral, my heart truly went out to them and if they lived closer, I would be the first to volunteer an extra pair of hands.

We were so grateful that we could be a small bridge of support to them while they were in the middle of a very difficult year.  With your donations, we were able to pay all of the family’s bills for a month so that they could replenish their savings account and prepare for the next hospitalization.  It is important for families to understand that it truly takes a village to raise a child with CF, much less twins.  Your donations go a long way in bringing not only financial aid but the ever important emotional aid when families are desperate to stay with their sick child but bills are piling up in their absence.

Their parents write “This grant has allowed us to catch our breaths for the first time in a while. One of our twins has had a number of hospital admissions that have not only taken an emotional and mental toll on all of us but has drained our financial resources. My husband has used all of his time for the year, and if he needs to take time related to our boys’ medical issues, then he is not getting paid. This generous gift has given us a chance to replenish our savings to help prepare for future expenditures related to admissions and treatments.  My husband and I are very grateful for this generous gift. A weight has been taken off of our shoulders and allowed us to put more of our focus toward enjoying time with our children. We are truly blessed and appreciative of all the wonderful and kind people that have been placed in our lives.”

Sending all of our prayers and support your way!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Press

What It’s Like to Die Online ~ Marie Claire Article

March 13, 2018

Hi and thank you for visiting our site!

Our Founder, Claire Wineland, is honored to be featured alongside some pretty amazing YouTubers in Marie Claire’s article below.  Be sure to look them up for a little inspiration!

What It’s Like to Die Online (Click this title to see full article)
Chronically ill women are turning to YouTube to share their lives—and deaths.

by AMANDA MONTELL AND DESIGN BY TRAVIS MCHENRY
MAR 13, 2018

“I have tried filming this video so many times, but I just don’t know what to say.”

Fifteen-year-old Sophia Gall has cancer, but from her hairless head and the title of the video, “My Cancer Is Worse Than Ever,” we already knew that. The problem is that there’s nothing left that can be done. Gall makes the announcement on her YouTube channel in an eight-minute vlog that has been watched more than a million times since it was posted in May 2017. The Australian teenager, an otherwise sunny, ebullient girl with cornflower blue eyes, is sitting in front of a camera on her pink bed, wearing a knitted beanie, sobbing.

 

Gall has been battling a rare form of bone cancer since June 2015. She thought she was doing better, but her most recent scans did not go well. The cancer has spread down her leg, and the doctors say it’s too aggressive to fix with chemotherapy and radiation. “I’m just going to go on a big holiday around the world and try to enjoy my life as much as I can,” she tells the camera, her freckled face collapsed, “because I don’t know how much longer it’s gonna be.”

 

Gall has been uploading YouTube videos about her life with cancer since a few months after she was diagnosed. In the two years since, she’s gained more than 145,000 loyal subscribers. They flock to the heartbreaking video, leaving comments about how brave she is and messages to stay strong. Gall’s next four weeks of content are much cheerier: She squeals at the Eiffel Tower, delights in a New York City shopping spree. Aspirational travel videos are a dime a dozen on YouTube, but these videos are different—the girl in front of the camera is dying.

It’s a phenomenon unique to the social media-centric era we live in—an era when even cancer is content.

 

A growing community of young vloggers use YouTube to chronicle their journeys with serious illnesses from diagnosis to hospital visits to sometimes getting very bad news. Arguably, the most famous of these content creators was Talia Joy Castellano, a vivacious beauty YouTuber who died of cancer in 2013 just a month before her fourteenth birthday. Over her two-year YouTube career, Castellano gained 1.4 million subscribers who watched her battle neuroblastoma (a progressive tumor of the nervous system) while falling in love with her lively makeup tutorials and precocious sense of humor.

“This is beyond reality television. It’s real life, with life and death consequences,” says mental health expert Scott Dehorty, a social worker and therapist in Maryland. It’s a phenomenon unique to the social media-centric era we live in—an era when even cancer is content, when you can love, lose, and mourn a person you only ever knew through a screen.

When Castellano first started her channel, becoming a “cancer vlogger” wasn’t her intention, she simply wanted to talk about makeup. Following her diagnosis, a family friend taught Castellano how to decorate her face with colorful eye shadows and lipsticks as a distraction. She came to love watching makeup tutorials. “Eventually she thought, ‘You know what? I could do this. I’m good enough to do what they do,’” says Castellano’s mom, Desirée. In 2011, the pre-teen began uploading her own bubbly tutorials and haul videos, which she’d film and edit on her laptop in her bedroom. It wasn’t until Castellano’s budding viewership began asking personal questions—why she didn’t have hair, for example—that she decided to talk about her disease. “She started raising awareness for childhood cancer through her videos, and the channel blew up,” recalls her sister Mattia, now 23. By 2012, her influence as an advocate landed her an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and she was named an honorary CoverGirl by the cosmetics company.

“Every morning I would wake up in the hospital with nothing to do. I’d basically just spend my day watching other people on YouTube,” says Gall of the impetus for her channel. “Eventually I thought, What would be so hard if I made these videos?”

“When you see somebody whose battle is so over-the-top, so beyond what you’ve experienced, you realize that you can get through your own struggles.”

Mary Dalton was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare childhood bone cancer, the summer before her freshman year of high school in 2015. She started vlogging about her cancer journey later that year. “I’d always been interested in YouTube, and when I got sick I was really lonely and didn’t have a lot of ways to reach out to people,” she explains, adding that she was inspired by Talia Castellano. Filming and editing quickly became a fun and productive activity for Dalton to focus on during tough stretches of treatment. “Working on my videos gave me a routine,” the now-17-year-old says. “It was therapeutic.”

 

For Racheli Alkobey, who found out she had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma as a senior in college in 2015, the instinct to share her experience online was immediate—she started filming her first YouTube video the day she was diagnosed. “I just whipped out my phone,” she remembers. Alkobey’s first cancer vlog opens on a shot of her face lit by neon lights, a cheerful pop song thumping in the background. “So I’m bowling with friends…. Today was the day I found out that I have Hodgkin’s Lymphoma,” she tells the camera through a bewildered, anxious smile. “I’m a little bit in shock, but I have the most amazing

 

friends.” The rest of Alkobey’s video cuts to clips of her running errands with her pals, starting a new raw food diet, driving to the airport to catch a flight to meet with a hematologist. The vlog, titled “The Day After My Diagnosis with Cancer,” ends with an image of Alkobey snuggling in bed with her best friend. “Everything’s gonna be okay,” she says with a hopeful grin.

At the time this video was posted, Alkobey saw YouTube simply as a convenient way to keep her friends and family updated on her health; and hopefully, her vlogs would reach a few other young people with cancer, giving them something they could relate to. Before long, however, Alkobey’s videos…and Dalton’s…and Gall’s would come to mean more to their subscribers, and to their own lives, than they could have imagined.

When asked why she thinks strangers were so attracted to the story of a terminally ill kid, Castellano’s sister Mattia says that, “Talia gave people hope. To watch this little girl who is dying have such a positive attitude was just captivating.” People struggling with cancer or clinical depression or even something as quotidian as a breakup would leave comments for Castellano, letting her know how much she helped them. Dalton has noticed that watching her videos seems to make viewers feel better about their own lives. “When you see somebody whose battle is so over-the-top, so beyond what you’ve experienced, you realize that you can get through your own struggles,” she says. That sense of perspective is helpful, even necessary, for viewers. “Many girls worry about a bad hair day,” says Peg O’Connor, Ph.D., a behavioral health expert and professor at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota, “but there’s a huge difference between a bad hair day because your bangs are too long and a bad hair day because clumps are falling out.”

Amid the whirlpool of reactions that come with receiving a cancer diagnosis is a feeling of inexplicable chaos, like your life is happening at random, and there’s nothing you can do about it. The ability to positively impact their followers makes the experience feel less senseless. “It helped me feel like the hard times were counting for something, that they weren’t just happening for no reason,” Alkobey says.

“There’s a huge difference between a bad hair day because your bangs are too long and a bad hair day because clumps are falling out.”

Equally empowering has been the simple act of taking their stories into their own hands. For the patients who are still minors, the decisions being made about their health aren’t entirely up to them. Creating videos is one way of maintaining some control. As Dalton describes, “Even though there were so many terrible things happening, with YouTube, I could make the terrible things into a video, into art. I could share it with people in my own way. That helped me cope.”

Dalton films her videos on a DSLR camera, and the footage is crafted with jump cuts, close-ups, music, and narration. Her films have an artistry to them—an intention. Videos like Dalton’s allow the creator to gain “autonomy and agency,” Dr. O’Connor observes, and the viewers get to see a full-blown individual, not a bedridden invalid. “The young people in these videos emerge as interesting, thoughtful, typical teenagers, who have some of the same concerns as others who are not sick,” she says.

Claire Wineland, a 20-year-old woman battling cystic fibrosis, lives on her own in Los Angeles, is financially self-sufficient, and runs her own foundation called Claire’s Place, which offers support to families living with CF; it’s important to Wineland that her viewers witness this. “You never see sick people as functioning humans doing something with their experience of being alive,” she says. “Yes, I have a terminal illness. But does that mean my life can never amount to anything? It’s really important for sick people to know: You’re more than just someone sitting around waiting for your body to fail.”

Of course, no matter how sick you are, how much sympathy and compassion you deserve, internet fame inevitably comes with negativity. While the majority of comments are supportive, these women do receive hate. Galls remembers a comment suggesting she was faking her illness and that she should go to jail for what she was doing. “I wish that were the truth,” she says.

Raigda Jeha, a Canadian makeup artist and terminal stomach cancer patient, was given only three months to live when she was diagnosed in 2015—she has been managing her illness holistically and creating uplifting vlogs about the experience since. But when she put up her first video, a guy commented, “‘Why are you so worried about your makeup? You’re dying,’” she recalls. “And then you get the trolls saying, ‘I have a cure! Buy this!’ Or people getting upset with me for pushing alternative medicine, which I’m not.”

There’s also immense pressure to post regularly. “When you get big on YouTube, you’re dancing with the devil a little bit,” says Wineland. “In order to keep up views and give people what they want, you have to produce a lot of content, and it’s hard to make meaningful videos when you’re posting so much.” At 17, Wineland launched her CF-awareness YouTube channel—featuring videos such as “What It’s Like to Be in a Coma” and “Dying 101”—and the teen’s exuberant personality and dark humor quickly earned her almost 200,000 subscribers.

“If you Google my name, the top thing to come up is ‘Is Claire Wineland dead?’ Which, I mean, is understandable.”

But in 2016, Wineland went about a year without uploading due to a squabble over ownership of her account (she initially hired a company to edit and manage her videos). Because viewers like Wineland’s are so invested in these stories—which are higher stakes than most—panic strikes when accounts go un-updated. Wineland recently launched a new version of her channel (which she owns and manages herself), but click on any of her old videos, and you’ll find dozens of comments asking what happened to her. “If you Google my name, the top thing to come up is ‘Is Claire Wineland dead?’” she says. “A lot of my followers think if I’m not posting, I’ve died. Which, I mean, is understandable.”

For sick YouTubers, the obligation to respond to the hundreds of daily comments from viewers—some of whom are seeking serious health advice—can be overwhelming. At 43, Jeha is part of a smaller faction of cancer vloggers from a different generation, a generation that didn’t grow up with screens. For them, the attraction is often as much about exchanging information as it is about seeking an emotional connection, explains Dr. O’Connor. Inspired by how proactive and knowledgeable Jeha was about her illness, a friend encouraged her to start her channel as a way to help other patients. In contrast to Mary Dalton’s highly curated videos and Racheli Alkobey’s action-packed vlogs, Jeha’s videos are simple—she films on her phone, selfie-style, with minimal editing. In them, Jeha is usually seated, casually chatting to her viewers about what foods and treatments have been working for her lately. She advises curious viewers to do research and take an active role in their own treatments.

Like the people they’re watching, most of the viewers are young; this may be the first time they’re seeing someone with a serious illness. It’s inevitable that many viewers end up internalizing the ups, downs, and losses, as if they knew these people in real life. “It may be the loss of someone they never met, but the loss is real,” Dehorty says.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Watching an imperfect life unfold online can be healthier than constantly comparing yourself to the staged, overly filtered posts that saturate social media. Witnessing the life, trials, and possible death of a person on YouTube can force followers to look beyond their own circumstances.

Despite the heavy subject matter, the relationship between these vloggers and their viewers is overwhelmingly positive. In fact, for some it’s connected them to friendships and experiences that have made the inauspicious situations almost worth it. “YouTube is like a little family,” says Alkobey, who went into remission 18 months ago, is getting married this year, and met all of her bridesmaids-to-be through social media. Dalton, too, found her best friend, an 18-year-old cystic fibrosis patient who lives across the country, thanks to YouTube. And many of Talia Castellano’s closest online pals are still in touch with her family, who created a childhood cancer foundation called Talia’s Legacy in her memory. This has been healing for them. “We’ve watched her fans grow up online, and they continue to tell us how much they miss Talia, how much she changed their lives,” says Mattia. “They come to Florida to visit us; they go to Talia’s Legacy events. We’re so grateful to have those people in our lives.”

In a way, YouTube has allowed people like Castellano to cheat death. At any time, her family and followers can go back and watch her hundreds of videos as if she were still here, dotting her eyelids with fluorescent teal shadow and flashing an ear-to-ear smile. It’s something Jeha has thought about a lot recently. “I’ve got a large family, and these videos are something I can leave behind,” she says. “They can watch them and see I was happy. I was laughing. I was alive.”

“They can watch my videos and see I was happy. I was laughing. I was alive.”

In an ideal world, these women make full recoveries and can refocus their channels on stories of survival. Thankfully, Alkobey was blessed with a positive outcome, as was Mary Dalton, who is now a cancer-free high school senior. She intends to pursue a career in film production. “YouTube totally changed my perspective on what I want to do when I get older,” she says.

Vloggers like Sophia Gall and Claire Wineland aren’t as lucky—they know they won’t survive their illnesses. But considering the circumstances, they’re thriving, and their channels have something to do with that. Gall continues to make inspiring videos for thousands of fans, hoping one day her content will produce enough money (either through ad revenue, or perhaps a line of merchandise inspired by her channel) to give back to childhood cancer research. Wineland, too, has big plans to keep making videos on her new channel and growing her foundation.

“When you really understand that you can lose everything, it makes you want to live—to create something,” Wineland says. “It makes you want to be a part of the world. I mean, why not do something big with your life while you still have it?”

To learn more about Claire’s Place  or to make a donation, click here

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Blog & Events, Families we have assisted

Meet Maddox ~ Extended Hospital Stay Grant Recipient

February 14, 2018

Meet Maddox, a 7 month old new CF baby who was referred to us by his social worker at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Emory University Hospital.  Maddox has already spent a month in the hospital due to complications that can arise from this disease, leaving the family overwhelmed and exhausted trying to maintain their jobs and take care of an older sibling who does not have CF.  Oftentimes families will choose to have one parent stay home and care for the child but occasionally we see families where both parents must work in order to maintain their healthcare insurance costs and opportunities.  Cystic Fibrosis is a very difficult disease to qualify for private insurance and if a parent has group coverage through a job, it is something that they hold on to dearly.

Maddox’ family looked to us for assistance with their mortgage payment and a few outstanding hospital bills that were threatening collection involvement.  We were so grateful to be able to provide them with the assistance they needed to keep their heads above water and turn their attention to learning the ins and outs of raising a child with CF and all of the elaborate home treatment required. We will keep this family in our thoughts and hope that they will find a supportive CF community to help them along the road as we have.

Thank you so much, Claire’s Place Foundation, from the bottom of our hearts! There are not enough words to express our gratitude for this kindness. The weight that has been lifted off this Mom and Dad’s hearts is significant and truly appreciated.  Raising children is a daily challenge in itself and then you add in a Chronic disease, it truly takes a tribe. Thank you, again!”