“My life isn’t over until I give up or I choose to give up”
The doctors diagnosed Kassandra with cystic fibrosis in-utero after her stomach exploded. Essentially, Kassandra has frequent hospitalizations since the moment she was born. Even so, Kassandra had always kept a positive mindset. She committed to staying active through competitive gymnastics, among other sports. Yet, she found her true passion for hiking because it also allowed her to explore nature and accept herself as a part of it.
At age 19, she hiked mountain ranges in Brazil, Argentina, and Peru. Kassandra describes these hikes through rose-colored lens, “Seeing all the beautiful nature makes me have a deeper appreciation of why I am here, why I was made. In an ecosystem, every single part works together for the best. I am for a reason, not just to exist… I guess it motivates me to keep going.”
Kassandra especially needed this reminder at age 20, when her lung function plummeted and the extent of her hiking was reduced to walking around Walmart with an oxygen tank. She did not think she was not going to live much longer and asked her sister to take her to her favorite hiking spot. When she and her sister finally reached the top of the hill Kassandra looked out over the mountains and realized: “my life isn’t over until I give up or I choose to give up… so I try to push the limits of what I can do and practice self-care. It’s sort of like falling in love with myself—putting myself first”.
For Kassandra, caring for herself involves surrounding herself with supportive relationships. In her early 20s, she moved out of her family’s household to live with her aunt because her drug-addicted father abused Kassandra for having CF. Kassandra then moved from her aunt’s household into her best friend Angelica’s household because Kassandra’s aunt and cousin pawned all of Kassandra’s valuable jewelry. On top of that, Kassandra recently found out from her CF doctor (who accidentally told her) that she was adopted into the family she thought was her own for her whole life.
Yet, Kassandra maintains a persistent optimism in approaching anything in her life. About her family situation she explains, “I just look at it and laugh about it, because laughing is better than crying.” Her face lights up when she talks about how she loves fashion and got an internship offer in New York City at J. Crew even though she could not accept because of the health restrictions, how she loves her college major Linguistics and speaks four languages (Spanish, Russian, Ukrainian, Polish), and how she used to travel every three months to Colombia to experience the local culture and practice her Spanish.
Kassandra uses a recent discovery of being adopted as a chance for personal growth. At age 22, Kassandra is now in the works of finding her biological mom. “I have always felt different, now I understand why.” Kassandra has always been endlessly fascinated by Hispanic culture; and she recently discovered her mother was Hispanic. “My heart always knew where I was from,” she laughs.
Kassandra laughs when we ask her how she met her best friend, now adoptive sister, Angelica. Kassandra, embarrassed by her CF coughing fits and oxygen tank, sat in the corner of her college biology class as to not bother anyone. Angelica walked right up to Kassandra and plopped down in the seat next to her. Kassandra was pestered by Angelica’s disorganized papers and incessant attempts at conversation in the form of requesting office supplies. After the class, Kassandra left as quickly as possible.
Yet, Angelica flagged Kassandra down and insisted on exchanging contact information. “We just clicked,” Kassandra shrugs. Finally, Angelica and Kassandra decided to go on a hiking adventure together. When Kassandra got home after hanging out with Angelica for the day, she discovered that her aunt and cousin had stolen and sold all her jewelry. That very night, Angelica picked Kassandra up from her aunt’s house and moved Kassandra into Angelica’s house.
The next morning, Angelica explained the situation to her parents and Kassandra has been living with Angelica, her parents, their dog and cat ever since. “I needed someone stable, and I realized she was that stable person… she just always wanted to be there,” Kassandra explains her appreciation for Angelica, “My love for hiking, nature and life has blossomed even more by living with my new adoptive family.”
Despite the family turbulence she faced during childhood, Kassandra has taken a positive approach to forming new supportive relationships: “I feel like everyone and everything comes into life for a reason; and everyone can teach you something that you don’t know; and you can teach others something you know. The more knowledge you can have the better”.
After a childhood of hiding her CF out of shame inflicted by her family, Kassandra has finally decided to start advocating for CF awareness. She has already started as an ambassador for ‘65 Apparel’, a brand by Taylor Stroop to promote awareness of cystic fibrosis. Who knows what she will take on next? With Kassandra’s optimism and curiosity, the world is her oyster.
You can follow Kassandra and her story here: