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Michelle Miguez: Living—and thriving—with Cystic Fibrosis

Posted by Emily Beers on


Your legs are on fire. Your heart is racing. You seem to have lost vision in one eye, and your lungs burn like a bitch. If you’re a CrossFit athlete, you know that feeling—all too well.

Now imagine that feeling if you had Cystic Fibrosis (CF), a genetic disease without a cure that affects the digestive system and lungs, characterized by constant lung infections and eventually the loss of lung function.

 

This is the reality for Michelle Miguez, a masseuse and energy healer from Vancouver, who suffers from CF. 

Miguez, who trains once a week at CrossFit Kitsilano with coach Fynn Mulligan, is also a professional Burlesque dancer. She dances three to four days a week and performs regularly as “Veronica Vex”—her Burlesque stage name and persona.

“(Mulligan) has me do strength training, focussing on both the lower and upper body. I find the WOD to be extremely overwhelming, so we stick to mostly low-impact workouts,” Miguez explained.

 “He’s really good about not overloading me with intensity.”

Living with CF doesn’t just make working out more difficult for Miguez than it is for the average person; it makes life insanely more challenging.

“I battle many different symptoms,” Miguez said. “Coughing everyday, sometimes all day and all night. I lose a lot of energy and a lot of sleep from coughing.”

On top of the coughing, there are the constant lung infections. 

“When there is infection in the lungs, coughing can be very intense and violent, which either leaves me exhausted or in the bathroom vomiting,” she said, adding that shortness of breath, sinusitis, stomach cramps, depression, inflammation, chronic pain, chest pains and joint pain are other symptoms she battles.

But the hardest part, Miguez explained, is the breathing.

“Sometimes it feels like there is a big weight sitting on my chest and I just can’t get it off to take in a full deep breath. This aspect of the illness has always baffled me,” she said. “Breath is life. We need breath to live. How can something exist that limits this in a person? Many days I have pondered this.”

She added: “I just want to breathe. That’s it. Let be breathe.”

With all the struggles she faces, it’s a miracle that Miguez even bothers to exercise.

But she explained that working out—despite the additional challenges it brings—is therapeutic for her body and soul. 

“Dance nourishes my soul, my spirit. I get lost in the music and then I get lost in dance,” she said. “Exercise strengthens my mind. When I workout and I feel like my body is so tired and I can’t breathe and I want to cry, I just keep telling myself, ‘You can do it,’ over and over.”

Soothing for the soul, and she also believes working out and dance help to physically strengthen her lungs. 

“I have to really breathe deep and focus on the breath while exercising, which allows the lungs to expand and get air into all those little spaces that generally don’t get airflow. It loosens up the gunk that gets stuck deep in the airways,” she said.

While CF affects every aspect of Miguez’ life, she said it isn’t her identity. She credits her parents, who found out their daughter had the disease when she was just six months old, with helping her separate who she is from the disease she has. 

“They were always very protective of me and made sure I was taken care of, but never made me feel like I couldn’t do anything because I have CF,” Miguez said.

Another way she separates who she is from her disease is through her Burlesque persona “Veronica Vex." Miguez describes Veronica as a kind and gentle soul with a fierce and provocative presence on stage. Veronica has performed all over Vancouver—and as far away as New York—for 13 years. In 2012, she won the Vancouver Stripsearch competition, which landed her a spot to compete in an international competition in Toronto.

And although Miguez would do anything to find a cure for the disease that has ailed her since she was a baby, she doesn’t let it stop her from thriving in life.

“I will continue to fight the good fight with the hope that a cure will be found in my lifetime.”

“I am such a free spirit with so much life in me. There are so many things I want to do in this life, it’s endless, sometimes,” she said. “My challenge is living in a body that just doesn’t function properly. Sometimes it feels like I am trapped. My spirit is trapped.”

Despite feeling trapped and restricted, she chooses not to focus on that.

“My journey has been so full of trauma, but also so full of love and growth and learning. … It has made me search deeper for answers, for truth, for understanding of what we are as human beings and why were are here. Why I am here," she said. 

“I will continue to fight the good fight with the hope that a cure will be found in my lifetime.”

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Miguez’ CrossFit coach, Mulligan, is hosting a “CF for CF” (CrossFit for Cystic Fibrosis) charity event on Sunday, October 4th at CrossFit Kitsilano in Vancouver. The day will begin with a kids workout, followed by an in-house throwdown, and will end with a firebreather showdown, where local Regionals and Games athletes will battle through three workout in teams of two. BBQ social event to follow. Money raised will go to helping find a cure for Cystic Fibrosis.

Check out the Facebook Events Page for more details.

 

 

 

 

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