On paper, LSA sophomore Hannah Buck looks like every other high-achieving person enrolled at the University of Michigan. She double majors in English and Communications with a concentration in creative writing. She is currently acting as the Public Relations Chair member for the Groove Performance Group, a percussion team that entertains audiences with trashcan drumming and plenty of glow-in-the-dark paint.
However, the people that she befriends (and there are many) might be surprised to learn that Buck has more than just a rigorous class schedule and Groove performances to keep up with. Every day, Buck has to focus on her breathing, something that most people can take for granted. She is constantly battling cystic fibrosis, a chronic illness that attacks the lungs, causing often severe damage over time as well as many other issues that affect quality and duration of life.
“It’s really hard to get out of bed in the morning when your body is just fighting itself,” Buck said. Yet somehow, she manages to not only get out of bed, but also accomplish more each day than many people do with a healthy set of lungs.
Buck’s disease is something that is hard to comprehend and even more difficult to live with, so she has dedicated herself to easing the burden for others by sharing her story. Her YouTube channel, HannahBreathes, is where she shares information about how she’s feeling, what her current health status is, and any helpful tips she has for other people with CF. She also runs a blog for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
“I get messages and e-mails on probably a weekly basis, from mostly students around the country and around the world either saying that I’ve helped them or asking for advice,” Buck said.
Her advice is usually about things like how to stay organized with the almost 30 different medications she has to keep track of. However, most of the reason she has such a large audience is that her video chats tend to spill into general life philosophies and ideas that she is passionate about.
“I have so many platforms. I feel like that’s what I am on social media, just a human platform,” she said, ticking them off on her fingers. “You should read books. You shouldn’t smoke cigarettes. You should be an organ donor. You should be an advocate for mental health and you should fight the stigma. Just be a decent human, really, is my main thing.”
Buck’s life is an open book for the most part, even when talking about things that most people try and block out of their minds, for all the world to see and critique.
“Some things are uncomfortable,” Buck said. “More uncomfortable for me to share than my cystic fibrosis or my asthma or all my physical things was when I started speaking out about my anxiety and depression, because that is something that the general public is conditioned to believe should be kept secret. You shouldn’t talk about that, it’s so embarrassing. And it was embarrassing, until I started getting those messages about how other people felt the same way.”
Many people that have cystic fibrosis do not attend college, and if they do, they take courses online or at a community college close to home. Just the fact that Buck is here, several hours away from home at the University of Michigan, is a huge deal.
“The biggest thing is that it is very hard and the balance does not come easily,” Buck said. “The semesters where I physically felt better, my grades were not as high, because I spent a lot more time focusing on running every day and I spent more hours doing treatments. The semesters where my grades were better, I just felt like crap by the end of the semester because I neglected everything.”
It’s easy to forget that this vibrant, well-spoken girl in the neon pink and yellow sweatshirt also sometimes finds herself laying in a hospital bed connected to a breathing tube. It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally her health declines to the point where she has to go to the hospital for a few days so that they can monitor her breathing and get her back on track.
“For the record, cystic fibrosis is the most curable incurable disease. All we need is funds,” Buck said. “I’m very looking forward to new treatments and eventually the cure for CF. I am very confident in saying that it is within reach within my lifetime.”
In the meantime, Buck will be focusing on finding her perfect balance between school and health, writing, blogging and, of course, drumming on trashcans.