Oceans of Possibility Writing Contest Winner

smiling woman with long strawberry blond hair in a blue sleevless top

Amber Dawkins

Amber Dawkins
Aug 17, 2022

Johnson County Library is pleased to announce that Amber Dawkins has won our writing contest on the theme of Oceans of Possibility with her piece "Oceans of Possibility."

Amber loves jellybeans, morning snuggles, and new adventures. Personality tests peg her as 93% extroverted. She loves to write, but most of the time, you’ll find her behind her camera lens. Amber left her teaching position in 2016 to turn her passion into a full time photography career. She now spends time photographing homes for real estate agents and creating branding imagery for businesses by capturing their spaces, products, people, and processes. She also does portrait sessions for families, children, and high school seniors.

Amber met Jerry training for American Ninja Warrior, and after he proposed in front of the warped wall at a ninja competition, they married in March 2020 in a small pandemic friendly wedding. As mama to one and stepmama to four, Amber thrives on the happy chaos of a large, blended family. She lives with both Cystic Fibrosis and CF Related Diabetes and thanks God daily for His blessings and the medical advances that continue to keep her as healthy as possible.

You can find more of her writing at the Kansas City Mom Collective.

Oceans of Possibilities

Many Cystic Fibrosis patients relocate to live near the ocean as their lung function declines. The salt in the coastal air simulates a hypertonic saline treatment, helping to break up the mucus that slowly collects in their weakened lungs. Like the daily nebulized breathing treatments and inhalers they do at home, this helps them breathe a little easier.

For them, the ocean is a possibility.

Years of repeat lung infections cause scarring in the lungs of those with CF. Although the disease affects multiple systems of the body – digestive, endocrine, reproductive – it is the respiratory system that takes the most damage. Respiratory failure is how this diagnosis ends for too many. Once lung function decreases to 30%, CF patients are put on the list to receive a lung transplant. Unfortunately, the average wait for new lungs is 18 months.

While they wait, the ocean is still a possibility.

The year I was born, the average life expectancy for someone with Cystic Fibrosis was 20 years old. Within days of my birth, my parents were given the devastating news that I might not ever make it to adulthood. Within weeks, I had lived through my first emergency surgery and was on a medication regimen to fight the toll Cystic Fibrosis was already taking on my tiny body.

For us, the ocean was a possibility.

Growing up with CF certainly affected my daily life. I did breathing treatments and used airway clearance devices every night. I took medication by the handful. I had quarterly appointments to check blood work and do Pulmonary Function Tests (PFTs). But my hospital stays were minimal, and I stayed active. Cheerleading, martial arts, and diving kept my lungs strong and working hard. It wasn’t until I was nearing the end of high school that a significant health event made me stop and evaluate my future with unexpected trepidation. After strong antibiotics failed to eradicate a persistent bacterial infection in my lungs, the doctors inserted a PICC line in my arm that delivered medicine straight into my heart. I did IV infusions twice daily at home for three weeks. The site in my arm was a constant reminder that CF threatened to bring more than an inconvenient medical routine to my young life.

Suddenly, the ocean was a worrisome possibility.

As a young adult, I watched online social accounts of fellow CF warriors become abruptly assumed by their families, turned into memorial accounts before they had even begun their careers or had families of their own. I felt guilty. Why was my health more stable than theirs when we shared this genetic diagnosis? I married young. I started my career. I became a mother. And still, others lost their lives far too early.

Because the ocean isn’t a guarantee. It’s only a possibility.

Then came my 30’s. I was sick more often. I was slower to recover. I was adjusting to a new diagnosis: CF Related Diabetes. I was attached to an insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor. I was doing 266 minutes of breathing treatments a week. Taking 182 pills a week. And the line on the graph that showed my lung function over time was starting to dip. Slowly but steadily, I was seeing the progression of the disease. I woke up remembering I had CF with the first breath of each day.

Was the ocean more than just a possibility?

I believe time is perceived differently by those who face uncertainty in their longevity and that the phrase “live life to the fullest” takes on a very tangible role in our lives. This might be what drives us to pursue our dreams with intense determination and unwavering resilience. This might be what fills us with such zest for life. In just a few short years, I suddenly saw almost every aspect of my life change, and I relied on that determination and resilience more than ever. I left my teaching career to pursue photography full time. My marriage ended. I mourned. I healed. I let my zest for life bubble up in spontaneous adventure. I skydived, line-danced, and traveled. I found abundant and overflowing joy. I remarried. I blended a family, adding four step siblings to my son’s life. And I began an exciting journey training for American Ninja Warrior.

Because the ocean isn’t a guarantee. It’s only a possibility.

At 37 years old, almost twice what my life expectancy was at birth, I was struggling to recover from another bout of sickness. Endless coughing fits. Pulled back muscles. More antibiotics. A two-week hospitalization was on the horizon, but the doctors said to wait. A new medication was coming. A modulator that targets the cause of CF. A pill that would refold my mutated proteins at a cellular level. A pill that could change everything. So, we waited.

Within days of starting this miracle medication, my lungs began to clear. Within weeks, my lung function began to improve. Within months, I was competing on American Ninja Warrior. I walked out onto the starting platform, and under the sparkle of the lights and the hum of the cameras and crew, I threw my airway clearance vest down, took a deep clear breath, and exploded onto the first obstacle.

The ocean used to be a possibility for me.

Now, there are oceans of possibilities.

Reviewed by Helen H.
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