Tough Tiff: Cystic Fibrosis Fighter and Advocate
“I realized that I was different, but it’s okay to be different”
Tiff’s snazzy room with hot pink walls and black furniture speaks volumes about fierce attitude and grace. She claims her own femininity as a self-defined “girlie-girl”, as she shows me her impressive make-up collection. Tiff Rich is a 28-year old cystic fibrosis (CF) fighter, who crafts her narrative in an incredibly lucid and relatable way to connect with the cystic fibrosis community and spread general awareness of CF.
Tiff explains to PTI that she has lost a lot of friends in her life who carried a general “if you don’t want to do this, then we can’t hang out with you” attitude. It’s not that she doesn’t want to hang out with her friends–it’s that her cystic fibrosis prevents her from leading a normal life. “I want to do all these things, but I can’t, and it weighs on you mentally, it’s–it’s a hard thing to process”, she tells me, “it takes a strong person to go with you through [CF]”. Despite the loss of other friendships, Tiff has built an iron-proof network of people indeed, with her family, her boyfriend of six years, her good friends, and of course, the CF community.
Due to the nature of the disease, people with cystic fibrosis cannot come into physical contact with one another, for fear of getting extremely sick. So, they connect with one another and relate to common struggles through social media. Tiff creates relatable content on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to encourage people, and let them know they are not alone. She does this both on her personal accounts and as part of ‘saltycysters’, a joint social media presence she shares with fellow cystic fibrosis fighter Lea Faraone on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
At age 25, Tiff received the devastating news from her doctor that she needed a double lung transplant (her reaction here: https://youtu.be/ipuUFHhFnZY ). She waited a whole two years and eight months for her transplant and stayed determined to remain positive the entire time. In Tiff’s own words, “I need to stay positive for myself first, then for my friends and families… I need to let them feel the positivity radiating out from me… I need to stay positive for the CF community as well”. The CF community helps her stay positive too, especially Lea, who provided Tiff a constant stream of texts and reassurance that her transplant would come while Tiff was in the hospital for couple weeks before she finally received the transplant call at age 27.
When Tiff woke up from the transplant, she took her first deep breath without the vent, and was elated to discover she was not coughing or struggling. She describes the new incredible feeling of yawning: “I remember yawning for the first time, and not stopping”. The novel feeling was followed by an incredulous reaction to the transplant itself, “it’s weird the lungs know what to do, even though it’s a new set, the body knows what to do”. And just like that with the lung transplant, Tiff went from hours of medication daily to a few pills. Tiff lost a lot of her muscle while she was getting her transplant, but she approaches her fitness with the mindset of “ok, so now what can I do?”. She wants to start hiking, and to rediscover dancing: “I love to dance; it is one of my favorite things to do. I was so sad because last year I went to a wedding and I couldn’t dance, I was like on 5 liters of oxygen, and I still couldn’t do anything. But I’m really excited because I have a lot of weddings coming up!”
Post-op, Tiff also wants to travel to Italy, to be on the “cheesy” game-show The Price is Right with her dad, to be a tourist in her own city San Francisco. She plans on re-exploring the magical happiness of Disneyland and hopes to meet her favorite edgy artist Taylor Swift again. She has a world out there to explore and plans on living life to the fullest to honor herself, her lung transplant donor, her family, her friends, and finally: the cystic fibrosis community.