‘I wouldn’t ever think of myself as a sick person, I’m me and I’m going where I want to in life’
A determined Cystic Fibrosis sufferer from Kells who has been chosen as Meath County Champion for this year’s VHI Virtual Women’s Mini Marathon has spoken of how she doesn’t let the lifelong illness define her.
24-year-old Rachel O’Rourke was diagnosed with CF at just one-day-old leaving her parents reeling.
Despite the initial shock, the Kells woman was encouraged by her family to never let her condition hold her back and went on to excel in school and sports competing in an array of show jumping events.
Even though Rachel’s illness affected her most during her Leaving Certificate year leading to her spending a considerable time in hospital she recently graduated with a first-class honours degree in law and hopes to qualify as a solicitor.
Speaking on where her unwavering determination comes from, she said:
“I think that a lot of people who have long term conditions tend to have that survival instinct in them. In my experience I would just be too head strong to let it get in my way, and I feel that it teaches you a lot about life.
“It would be front and centre of my mind to make the most of the time I have here because no one knows how long they have, if you google CF it can give you a scary short number of years, so your outlook carries you a lot of the way.
“No one knows how long they have here, and I think that whatever cards you are dealt with, just make the most of it and put as much colour into your life as possible.”
Rachel says because she was born with CF and has never known of any other way of life, she just adapts to it and doesn’t let it take over her life. She added:
“There was no history of it in my family and it was a surprise to both of my parents but thankfully they dealt with it very well and it just meant that growing up there was a lot of hospital stays and physiotherapy treatments.
“When you are born with it, you know no different. You would of course have had periods of stays in hospitals which were unavoidable.
“I was big into sport all of my life, I would have danced a lot and had ponies, so I was big into the horse-riding and competed in show jumping events, so it never hindered me.
“I kept active, went to school, participated in sports days, swimming lessons and football.
“I went on holidays, went to birthday parties, did all of my activities and at no time apart from when I was in hospital did I think I’m a sick child.”
The road to success wasn’t always smooth for the Kells legal professional but her determined nature ensured that she got to where she wanted to be. “I missed an awful lot of time during my Leaving Cert year, I was in hospital a good bit and that kind of scared me because points and getting into college was such a big deal.
“I ended up doing my German and Irish orals in the hospital, but I got there and just recently graduated from Maynooth University with a first-class honours in law.
“I’m currently working as a para-legal for Liam Keane and Partners in Dunshaughlin, the state solicitor for Co, Meath so I’m busy working here and I’m doing my FE 1 exams coming up soon.”
Rachel puts down her success in exams and ability to work full time together with having an active life down to a Kaftrio, a new drug that she says has been “life changing.”
“ I took part in a research project with Kaftrio nine months ago and cannot get over the difference in myself.”
High achiever Rachel says it is important for other people with similar life long illnesses to see that you can still pursue your dreams no matter what challenges you face. “My mam would have sent my doctor in Crumlin photos of me out riding horses or travelling or being active and he’d stick them up in a cabinet and when parents were in with him who had children who were newly diagnosed, he would say all of these things can happen, but this can also happen, good things can happen.”
“People will be surprised when they chat to me that I have done all I have done because they’ll say I thought you would have been at home sick so it’s important for them to see that there are loads of people with CF and we are all out living our lives.
“I wouldn’t ever think of myself as a sick person, I’m just me and I’m going where I want to go in life.”
Rachel will be taking part in the VHI Virtual Women’s Mini Marathon on Sunday September 19th
She is fundraising for the Julian Benson Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (JBCFF), a charity which provides assistance to persons with CF and their families.
Registration for the event is now open on www.vhiwomensminimarathon.ie.