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Cystic fibrosis and university: a learning curve

Jemma Wood, 25, with cystic fibrosis (CF) graduated from university in 2014. After graduating she joined a management consulting graduate scheme, where she has worked for the last three years. She looks back on her time at university, and how taking time out to take care of herself when she was unwell meant that she made the best decisions for her.

Important decisions 

I studied Economics and Geography at university in London, which I loved – however my CF didn’t love university so much. I had a few flare ups whilst at uni, which left me with the choice of either rushing through my last year, and probably not achieving the results I wanted (having spent most of my final term on IVs), or taking an extra year and completing my course properly. It was a big decision for me… another year of essays… my friends were graduating and wouldn’t be around… (plus another year of debt!). However I made the decision to take an extra year, and I am so happy I did so. I ended up being really proud of my degree results and that I completed my course fully.

Making it work for me

My advice for any one with CF is to do the things you want to do, but in a way that works for you, without compromising your health. At university I made the most of the Disability & Wellbeing office – they were amazing and I wouldn’t have been able to complete my course without them! They helped me with accommodation, extra time in exams (they even gave me a heater if the exam room I was in was too cold!), and note-takers for lectures when I was ill.

My university also had a dedicated Disability & Employment consultant who was brilliant in showing me how employers are looking for a diverse set of employees, that employers will make reasonable adjustments, and helping me decide how and when to disclose my cystic fibrosis. I’m sure most schools/colleges and universities will have similar departments who can give you the confidence about going into the workplace with cystic fibrosis! I like to think that living with CF has its positives; it makes us good at time management, and determined, “get on with it”-style workers – attributes employers love to see.

Challenges and rewards

The biggest challenge I have encountered since starting work is being disciplined. I have to keep to my daily medication, physio, nebuliser, and exercise routine (that I’m sure you are all familiar with). I have also had to learn when to say no at work, to make sure I get home at a decent time, and to take the rest and sleep time I need each day – or I will very quickly not make it into work the next day! This is hard as it makes me conscious that people might not consider me as good at my job. However my team know me, and my condition, and trust that when I need to go, or need to work from home, I’m saying it because I need to. Being this regimented does mean I feel that I am missing out sometimes, but I am determined to keep my CF at bay for as long as possible!

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