Selwa Mitchell has got to be the most genuinely happy women I have ever spoken with. This woman makes the best out of every single moment, thankful every morning when she wakes for her breath. Being diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF) at age three and only given a life expectancy of seven years, Selwa, now age 38, is thriving just six weeks after a lung transplant. Breathing at 100%, the excitement in her voice makes you want to listen forever, not to a sad story of struggle, but to a hopeful and humble woman with a remarkable and honest outlook on life.
Strong-willed and determined to do everything she’s told she can’t, Selwa gives tribute to exercise as one of the main reasons she’s stayed healthy for so long. That and following the doctor’s orders to a tee. When she was younger, she loved to dance and run, but as CF is a progressive disease, her lung function started to weaken, limiting her activities and joy found in them. At age 34 and with 28% lung function, she found yoga thanks to a friend’s suggestion and fell in love with it. “I found a lifestyle that kept me healthy,” she beamed.
We know that this has been a difficult journey for you and that you have had a lot of unexpected challenges that you perhaps had not imagined, but you are still here, with us, and we are so honored to have the opportunity to share your story.Thank you, Selwa, for your strength and bravery and for being an incredible example to others. Your openness is admirable and inspirational. You have given me a deeper appreciation for life and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Let’s start by telling us a little bit about yourself:
Where did you grow up?
Texas girl all my life. Lived in the same house my whole upbringing.
Where did you go to school and what career path did you choose and why?
High School: I attended LD Bell 1993-1996 I was a raiderette on the drill team. Yes, high kicks and jump splits, you name it we did it. College: Baylor University 1996-2000. In my house, the question wasn't if you were going to college it was where are you going to college? My major was under the influence of my father the banker. I chose business accounting. Wise choice. I had my pick of four big accounting firms right out of college and was an independent woman supporting myself in Dallas, Texas in a cute little apartment. Loving life.
Are you married, do you have children, a partner, etc.
I met my husband at a bar in Dallas at age 23. Funny how you think you know everything then. Thankfully by the grace of God, I made good decisions then, despite how little I knew. But maybe that's the point, my decisions back then were based on gut and not thought. Now I know more and probably think too much. We were married at 25 and 27 and I was pregnant at 26. It was a race for me. Always trying to beat my disease. I felt I was up against the clock and time was not on my side. And I was right. I had to have my babies young. My body was not going to last long.
Tell us who and where you were in your life right before you got ill.
So I was diagnosed at the age of three with cystic fibrosis. I have always been ill. Always been fighting. But when my disease started to keep me from work and living my life was right after my first child. I was working as a senior fund accountant at a wonderful company called Archon Group. They are a subsidiary of Goldman Sachs. So I enjoyed working in New York for three months transitioning funds. Talk about a life changing experience. Learned a lot about myself like how much I didn't know but also that I had it in me to learn and fight for the knowledge I needed to be successful. I had to quit my fund accounting job at Archon Group at age 27 and stay home because the doctors deemed me disabled. That was a blow. I had always fought CF enough to still be in control of my life. When CF started to dictate it, I had to reprocess my mental strength and learn to manage my disease differently to get back the control I needed to stay mentally healthy.
Let’s start from the beginning. When you finished college, what did your future look like in your mind compared to where you are now?
Straight out of college I had a stable job as an auditor at Arthur Andersen. All I ever wanted was to know that I could take care of myself. I took pride in that. Every woman before they get married should live on their own just to know they can. Sure, one day get married and as a team you and your partner support each other. But it's nice to know if you ever had to, you could take care of yourself. So, goal achieved out of college. I was independent. In my mind I was proud. Today I am still proud. I have accomplished so much that no one thought I could. I had two children even though I was told my body could not do it. Proved them wrong. With 28% lung function I trained to become a yoga instructor. It was intense and life changing and I'm proud that despite the struggle, I succeeded. So still my future looks bright because I know I can do anything.
When did you first start noticing that something was wrong?
For me it is when I didn't have control. When no matter how many lung treatments I do I still can't breathe. No matter how much I fight I'm still so sick I can't get out of bed. That is when I knew it was time to apply for the lung transplant list. Even knowing a lung transplant is not a guarantee. I knew the rate I was going life was no guarantee either. It was a good decision. A scary decision but a good one. So far the transplant is successful and I am breathing deep and beautifully. Something I have not done in a long time. And although a lung transplant is no guarantee because my body could begin to reject my lungs I knew the risk outweighed the risk of how much more I could live on my old lungs. God bless my donor and the donor's family. Such a selfless act in their time of grieving. Please consider being a hero today and mark donor as your status.
What steps did you have to take to conquer your fear?
First, pray for guidance. Pray for strength and knowledge needed for a successful journey. Second, in order to move forward, you must come to the realization that doing nothing is not going to get you what you want. If you want happiness or change you must move forward. Doing nothing is not an option; therefore, fear is irrelevant. Scared or not you must move forward to gain. Third, it's about trust. Knowing you are on the right path. You must believe in Him and yourself. Believe you can make a difference in your life. Believe in your path. Fourth, be completely fine with failure. Know that it is not going to be easy. No journey worth having is easy. What do you learn from easy? How do you become great from easy? It's the hard that is going to shape you and make the journey worth the fight. So pray, move, trust, accept, fight and learn and fear becomes obsolete.
What lessons do you feel you have learned from this that would be helpful to other women going through something similar?
So many people want to help and be a part of your journey. Once I became more open about my transplant journey, my story had a purpose. Friends and family were touched and changed by the journey and I had less burden to carry. I realized my story does not make me weak but stronger. I used to think my disease was a weakness. I was ill and had to do things differently than others. But now I know my disease created strength inside my soul. Created a fighter. Your struggles don't make you weak they make you fight and that fight strengthens every part of you. So share your story. Ask for help. And realize your story is only going to make you stronger and teach others.
Since your husband has lived through this with you, what lessons do you think we can learn from love and marriage?
Oh where do I begin? So I have been married for 13 years. And we are far from perfect and have learned so much from mistakes and fights and love. First thing is we put each other first. So at no time is anyone thinking of themselves. It works because I consider him during a situation and he considers me so that no one person is thinking of themselves when deciding a solution. Next, I have learned to respect him and watch how we speak to each other. Communication is extremely important. He cannot read your mind. If he has upset you, most likely he did not do on purpose. But no matter, you are upset and he needs to respect that too. He can learn how not to upset you in the future. See, you are learning from each other by communicating your feelings. This takes time but when communicating, do it with a respectful tone. No matter how mad I get at him I try my best not to belittle him or snap at him. It's amazing how some people talk the rudest to the person they are closest to. Also, we try our best to keep our crap to ourselves and let the kids have peace. Our children didn't ask for our problems. They understand that mommy and daddy have disagreements but we discuss them in a civil manner and let them see two grown adults work it out in a polite manner. Children should be spared adults being idiots. Trust me, my husband and I have had some dumb fights so we keep those behind closed doors. I wrote this for my husband on our anniversary once and I truly believe it especially after my lung transplant.
"To my Husband:
Our love has been tested time and time again but always grows stronger through each test. And we both know why...we didn't choose us. He did. So anything that tries to falter our true ways doesn't stand a chance because He is fighting for us. Because from the very beginning our Lord made you while thinking of me. So when God was making you, every part of you he was making was for me. Just like all of me was made for you. So life test our love, test our faith but we both know what God wants God gets..."
It's so obvious God chose him for me. And everything we have been through before that..our fights..everything was preparing us for a huge life changing experience. The lung transplant process can be tough on a spouse but my husband was a saint through the whole journey.
What do you love most about your profession or were you are today?
So I went from accountant to yoga instructor. It took me 20 years to find my calling. I love being a part of someone's yoga journey. Sharing my love of yoga fulfills my soul. I love seeing my students on their mat knowing that everything we are doing is only making them better and stronger from the inside out. It's a beautiful lifestyle that brings so much peace, happiness and health. A lifetime of love anytime and anywhere. Yoga has taught me who I am. It created a desire in me to find my full potential. You see every day I wake up and wonder, "hmmm...let’s see what my body can do today." A thought that drives you to greatness. When I started this journey, I had no idea the amazing things my body could do. Every challenge, every test introduced me to my true body, my true self. Sure we know our bodies can walk/run or pick up heavy things. The question is how long can we walk, how fast can we run or how heavy can we lift. Those challenges, those tests drive us to meet goals. Those goals push us to work hard and the working hard builds our true character, creates health and opens the door to our soul; thus, creating wellness. I am blessed and I am well and I love teaching that mindset. I love watching my students find their true self.
If you were to pinpoint a few tools for success, what would they be? Whether it is in life or in work.
Learn from other people's mistakes and/or learn from your mistakes. Nothing is more of a waste of a life lessons than to make the same mistake over again.
Confidence. No matter how you feel inside always show confidence on the outside. I'm not saying act like you know everything. That's the worst thing you can do. If you don't know, best just keep your mouth shut and listen. But listen with confidence. Head held high and learn.
Also keep an open heart and an open mind. The last thing I am is judgmental. I surround myself with all kinds of people. This world is so full of amazing people and places. You can learn and shape yourself so much better by being more accepting and open-minded. And life flows so much more nicely when your heart is open and loving.
Calm is another key to success. I'm always calm in any situation. You think better that way. People love to be around calm.
What advice would you give a young girl about getting out in the “real” world?
I want every girl to know that no one can make her feel inferior if she understands that perfection is not attainable by anyone and that we are all the same in God's eyes...beautiful. Her strength and confidence should come from unconditional love from herself and that she may never feel inadequate against anyone because she sees herself and everyone the way God sees us. I hope she strives to love unconditionally and understand that sometimes our true beauty is in our faults. Don't listen to anyone that tells you you are less than you are! Don't listen because really they really don't know.
Also managing your expectations helps control your happiness in the "real" world. It seems in the past when life did not go as I expected, I realize my unhappiness was linked to my expectations and not the actual situation. I was more caught up in what I thought should be instead of loving how it ought to be. This goes for relationships and people in your life as well. Think about all the times you were let down by someone because you expected them to fill your void. Don't force your expectations on someone. Let them give what they want to give and you fill in the blanks that fulfill your own happiness.
Let them be who they are and you love them unconditionally. Don't depend on others to create your happiness. So take a situation or a loved one as is...You be who you are and give life your all and let Him keep that smile on your face by accepting His course for you. So for me I'm not smiling expecting to have the most perfect outcome to life but I'm not frowning either...I'm more determined and focused to do my best and completely happy to let God take care of the rest. So don't feel inferior because no one is perfect and no expectations no disappointments.
After this difficult and challenging journey, can you advise us of three things that you think should be priorities in your life?
Do all things with a present mind, body and soul. Slow down...please. People just rush through life and never really live. Live, feel, bleed, love, cry, smile…do it all with a present and blessed heart.
I like living simply now. Materialistic things seem to just take up time, space and resources. Now I want my time spent on love and travel and changing the world. So less clutter and more living.
Tell the world!! Tell your loved ones. Tell your friends. Tomorrow might not come so tell everyone how much you love and appreciate them. This will give you and your loved ones a peace of mind. You know they know that you love them. There is so much satisfaction in that.
What / who inspires YOU to get through each day and overcome every challenge?
My breath! Every breath is a reminder of my fight. So breathe! Hell yes you are alive and you will not be forever so live and I mean really live. Feel every smile, love every laugh and breathe in every second, for this life is a gift giver of moments. Feel those moments with every inch of your soul and be free from the binds of time. Breathe deep, look up to the sky and say thank you.
What is your definition of BEAUTIFUL?
I truly believe beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So I ask you to look with unconditional and loving eyes.
"Everything is so beautiful when you stop looking for flaws."
I wish we all had eyes like this...where all you see is beauty. Our world is so quick to judge and loves to attack on imperfections. Our world enjoys pulling out the bad and highlighting it, instead of embracing the bad with the good.
Sometimes our world will pick at beauty until all you see is ugly. Today let's all try to only to see beauty. Let's immediately erase negative views from our mind and replace them with unconditional understanding. So when you see me, only see my heart and look past my flaws and what flaws you do see, see them as beautiful, because I will always see the beauty in you.
What is your favorite shade of Lipstick?
I have two. A deep red when my lips are my accessory and a neutral gloss when my eyes are my accessory. Ha!
Why do you think women’s organizations like Lipstick Sister are important?
Lipstick Sister sets an example of how it always should be when woman come together. It’s disappointing when insecurities drive woman to react unfriendly or hateful. I have always naturally been friendly. Something that sadly was taken as fake or flirty or weak to women that were naturally not friendly. I still stayed true to who I was and I am proud of myself for it. Lipstick Sister guides woman to react to each other in a way that promotes woman to celebrate each other therefore eliminating insecurities and helping woman see each other as a team instead of competition. I'm so thankful for it. We need more of it!!
Do you have a favorite quote that empowers you, if so, share it with us!
"I have no limitations only a harder fight." You see...we are fighters. Pain and illness can wear at a person's soul and strip the fight right out of you. But not us, not CF patients. We were born to fight. Every breath we have taken since infancy has been a fight and an understood blessing. Our disease has brought us to our knees time and time again but only to pray for strength, stand again and continue our fight. We know how to fight through the pain and mental anguish this disease causes. We have fought every day for every breath. Even when that breath was a humbling reminder that we are not well. We still fight for it because no matter how hard, it is still a blessing to breathe and be alive. So I tell anyone who thinks they are limited. You are not! Instead you are blessed with a journey of struggle that will lead you to success and shape you into your true self because a journey of struggle teaches you appreciation and there is power in that knowledge. We will all reach that mountain just all in different ways and different times. And the harder the climb the stronger the soul and that's what is important.
Here are some links to connect and keep up with Selwa: