Dreaming of the ordinary

One man's battle with cystic fibrosis and how at 51 he's biking from Vancouver to Banff to raise funds for the cause.

Bob Costerton

Life expectancy has chased Bob Costerton. With it constantly at his heels for the past 50 years, Bob has watched as the cystic fibrosis (CF) average life span grew from less than 5 years to its present all-time high at 37 years of age.

For Bob, there will be 51 candles on his birthday cake this year and he has had to fight for every single one.

Sitting across from Bob, you would never guess he was diagnosed with CF. A tanned picture of health, to a passerby Bob’s lean physique and smile lines simply look like a life well-lived, not the diagnosis his parent’s received when they were told he might not see his fourth birthday.

“I have always wondered what is possible for my life,” Bob said.

“Could I have a happy life, live to adulthood, go to university, fall in love? Could I be a father?”

Few of us dream of living ‘just’ an ordinary life, but for Bob dreaming of the ordinary life has empowered him to fight. And fight he has, for every single breath.

Breathing problems described as ‘drowning on the inside’, are the effects of CF. This disease is the most common, fatal genetic disease affecting young Canadians. CF affects the lungs and digestive system, resulting in chronic lung infections and a loss of lung function, as well as difficulty digesting fats and protein.

There is no cure.

As an adolescent, Bob recalls bringing home a school project and telling his mom that he was researching cystic fibrosis. Bob’s mom later confessed a feeling of dread because he might find out he was already on borrowed time.

In 50 years, Bob has watched that fateful number steadily grow. Because of generous donations, CF researcher’s steadfast efforts have elevated our understanding of the fatal disease.

“Sometimes I think my life is owed to good timing,” says Bob of the arrival of new CF treatment and therapies just as his condition demanded it.

While the timely arrival of this research undoubtedly added candles to his cake, Bob is known for his unwavering dedication to life that has truly influenced how his story is written.

Bob must push his lungs to their limit every day. For the 4,000 Canadians living with cystic fibrosis, daily exercise and treatment are necessary, life-saving measures. Regular airway clearance helps prevent a build-up of mucus in the lungs.

And so, Bob decidedly battles. A war waged mostly upon the pedals of his bike.

But sometimes his rigorous coughing attracts unwanted attention. An opponent once commented during soccer that Bob really should see a doctor for that cough. When the player had been reassured that a doctor had been consulted, he said, “You should see a different doctor!”

“If he only knew…” laughs Bob.

Aptly named the invisible disease, there is little outward evidence of CF in Bob’s life (that is until you open his car’s glove box to find his plethora of medical treatments).

Many of the items on Bob’s bucket list have been realized. Successful engineer and entrepreneur, Bob lives in Kamloops B.C. with his wife Kathy, and his son Liam and daughter Nicola. Their home is scattered with the evidence of countless family trips, but the richness of Bob’s life manifests itself in his garage. Here you will find this talented family of four’s hiking boots, bikes, skis and 19 canoes and kayaks—Bob’s wife Kathy makes note that the boats are all Bob’s.

Yet, on Bob’s bucket list there remains a few items unchecked.

“I didn’t want to share my story until it had a happy ending,” says Bob and while his story isn’t finished yet, he has finally chosen to tell it for the first time.

The mother of a son and daughter, both diagnosed with CF, recently reached out to Bob because her daughter had succumbed to the disease, and her 17-year-old son was struggling.

Bob calls the young man with CF. He tries to tell him, it’s worth the fight.

“Did I get through to him?” Bob questioned. “I don’t know.”

And, Bob has decided that now is the perfect time to cross one of the last items of his list.

“I don’t want CF patients to have to live with a number looming over their head counting years,” Bob said.

“I want them to have every opportunity to live. I’ve tried to never let the disease define my life.”

Staying alive for Bob has always been mission impossible—but with countless donations to research, Bob’s will and the help of others it became mission possible.

This time Bob faces a new mission impossible—by choice.

Bob has decided to take on the 1,200 km, nine-day cycling marathon from Vancouver to Banff, called GearUp4CF, to support CF research. At 50 years old, he is the oldest person with CF, with or without a lung transplant, to attempt this feat.

This challenge makes one thing clear: Bob is living one extraordinary, ordinary life.

Support Bob and his niece Laura, in their nine-day marathon of 1,200 km from Vancouver to Banff to support those who dream of an ordinary life.

Follow Bob and Laura’ s journey at www.facebook.com/cfmissionpossible.

To donate to Team Mission Possible visit www.cfmissionpossible.ca or make a donation at any Bank of Montreal, transit #0747 – account # 8978-333 mentioning Team Mission Possible. All donations over $20 will receive a tax receipt.

– submitted by Allyssa Costerton-Grant