My name is Wes Hawkins, and I was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at 3-years-old. Now, I am 29, and honestly, I never thought I would be where I am today. The summer of my freshman year of high school, I experienced my first hospital stay for a collapsed lung. No one on the pediatric floor could believe that at 16, this was my first hospitalization. That’s when it hit me: everyone with CF is not just different, but unique.
I graduated from a small high school and knew I wanted to pursue something bigger. I wanted the ability to find myself and build my own life, despite recurrent hospital stays. After my third hospital stay in three semesters, I knew I needed to slow my roll. I took fewer classes and kept working full time. It took a long time, but I graduated with honors doing what I loved, hospitality.
In May 2019, I experienced hemoptysis so severe that I needed urgent medical intervention, and it took two bronchial artery embolizations to stop the bleeding. This stay ended up lasting more than three weeks. I was struggling, and no matter what I tried, my lungs were not bouncing back. It was decided I needed a double-lung transplant. June 10, 2019, I was added to the transplant list, and thanks to my selfless donor, I received new lungs August 8, 2019.
During my time on the transplant list, there was one constant thought in my head: “If I make it through this, will I live the life I truly want and deserve?” My answer was yes. How can you live your best life if you aren’t true to yourself? It became my driving force to not only make it to transplant, but through it as well. I promised myself that if I lived, I wouldn’t hide or lie about this struggle any longer. I fulfilled that promise.
I’m gay. I am a gay man. I am a gay man living with cystic fibrosis and I have pride and am proud to say that. Gathering the courage to come out to my family was very difficult. I was very blessed to have an amazing support system around me, friends near and far, and many allies within the CF community, and not just the patient side – the nurses that became family and the doctors that kept me alive. I don’t know many LGBTQ+ patients with CF, but a few have reached to me for support.
Now, post-transplant, I was able to return to my career in hospitality. Switching gears was hard, however, I quickly learned how inclusive my company is, especially with the LGBTQ+ community.
People have a natural fear of rejection. I struggled with coming out and acceptance for years. I denied it and tried to stray away. I tried to be what I thought was normal. But truly, what is normal? Nothing. Life happens, life changes. One person’s normal is not another’s. We are all unique in our own way.
Without my transplant and donor, I wouldn’t be here to write this, and I would have died living a lie. This month will be the first Pride Month I get to openly celebrate and enjoy. To me, pride is not just a word or just a feeling I get – it is happiness.