David Cobb says that over the course of his life there have been moments where it was easy to breathe, but many more moments when it’s been very difficult.
He’s grateful for both, he noted, since both have come from the Lord. Without the difficult breaths, he wonders if he would ever have come to know Jesus.
Living with CF
Cobb, a member of Heflin Baptist Church, has cystic fibrosis, a progressive disease that causes severe damage to the lungs, digestive system and other organs. For people with CF avoiding germs is a top priority.
“The way everybody acted with masks and social distancing during COVID-19 is the way people with cystic fibrosis have lived since the 1990s,” Cobb said. “It wasn’t a shock to my system; it was, ‘Welcome to my world.’”
When he shares about CF, Cobb describes it this way: “Picture your yard, and it’s full of leaves. The yard itself represents your lungs, your sinuses and parts of your GI tract,” he says. “The leaves represent all of the bacteria and viruses and dust and pollen and anything else you breathe in.”
For people without CF, it’s as if a 100-person crew comes every day and cleans the yard fantastically, then comes again and does the same thing the next day.
Here’s the difference: “You had 100 people cleaning. I had five,” Cobb says. “No matter what they do, they will never get all the leaves up.”
Beating the odds
About 30,000 people in the U.S. have CF, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. When Cobb was a child his parents were told he would not survive. Until the 1990s, few people with CF lived past childhood.
But improvements in medical care have increased life expectancy by decades, and he has exceeded it several times. That’s a blessing, but it doesn’t mean it’s been easy.
Each day, Cobb takes about 35 pills and spends 4–6 hours doing chest physical therapy and other airway clearance therapies, including hours hooked up to a chest vest, inhaling antibiotics and nebulizing medications.
When he’s sick, it’s even more limiting.
About 20 years ago, Cobb was stuck in a sick-and-well pattern, and overall he was struggling. At the same time his wife, Misty, started getting serious about her faith.
“We had a typical college experience of ‘we say we’re Christians, and we go to church some,’ but it was very much punching the clock on Sunday mornings,” Cobb recalled. “There was no life in it and no hunger to glorify God through Christ.”
When the “typical problems a married couple would have” hit home, they hit hard, he said. But all of a sudden his wife began to change.
Misty committed her life to Christ in 2002, and everything about her changed for the better, he recalled. But everything about him stayed the same — or got worse, he admitted.
“My immune system would get overwhelmed. I’d get super sick and end up at the hospital, and back then (with CF) you needed to go in for nearly two weeks.”
He also began having paralyzing anxiety and panic attacks.
“I became a diabetic from CF because it scars your pancreas,” Cobb said. “I was pumped full of insulin, so my body felt weird and was in a racing mode, which made the panic attacks worse.”
Their marital problems got worse, too. But during all of it, Cobb said his wife gave him space and prayed for him.
“She had continued to grow, and I had continued a downward spiral,” he lamented.
God at work
Nearly a year later God began to work on his heart. He read an evangelistic tract with the gospel message, and around the same time he heard someone mention a thorn one of Jesus’ followers had, so he looked it up.
“Of course it was Paul,” Cobb said. “I began to see CF as my thorn. And I read what Paul said about that, that he rejoiced in the thorn.”
From then on, “every time I touched the Bible and read the words, the panic attacks stopped,” Cobb recalled. “Can you imagine if you’d been suffering from this for years and instantly, like a light switch, it stopped? I remember crying out in my bathroom, ‘Help me and save me.’
“Every conversion to Christ is always radical, but for me it was just, ‘I’m going all in.’”
From that point on, God began to grow his faith. It became an anchor as his health declined and he had to quit his job in IT about eight years ago. He said he probably would have died if a new DNA modulator therapy hadn’t come out around that time.
“My health is stable now,” Cobb said.
His faith also anchored him and his wife over the years as they walked through infertility and the loss of four babies. They now rejoice in the gift of three children — Nathan, Charis and Jonas.
Cobb said he is grateful “God took Misty and me on the journey to become Christians and then the journey toward becoming parents … had we done that in the reverse order, our marriage wouldn’t have made it. It would’ve been too hard.”
The valleys he’s walked through and the reality of his CF “thorn” have given Cobb many opportunities to share his faith, including his work with CF-related organizations. As he grew, it “really began to sink in with me that CF is not a curse, it’s not punishment — it’s something God is going to use for His glory.”
The fact that his illness was the very thing that opened him up to faith in Jesus has also changed his perspective on suffering.
“That is a different way to think — to think that the thing I hated and feared is the thing He used to bring me to faith,” Cobb said. “For years it felt like I had done something wrong or my family had done something wrong, but in reality God was giving me the opportunity to know Him through suffering. And so I rejoice in my suffering.”
To read more about Cobb’s journey visit cff.org/author/david-cobb.