The opening verse to Colby Crisler’s “May 26th” details the long odds a child with cystic fibrosis (CF) faces of making it deep into adulthood.
Crisler’s lyrics hint at the cruelty of the incurable disease for CF patients and their families, and lament the lives that are bound to be cut short, even if they’re well-lived.
The song is named for Crisler’s own birthday in 1985, the day she effectively received her death sentence.
I was born into a curse
Doctors said nothing could reverse
Sickness had taken hold of me
All before my heart had ever learned to beat
Gave my parents 18 years
’Til my lungs gave way to their fears
But as the verse builds to the chorus and Crisler’s guitar chords turn from minor to major, she reveals the triumphant twist in the song—and her life.
Oh, but death was not my maker’s plan
And 30 years strong I stand
Three years ago, when she recorded “May 26th,” Crisler had indeed outlasted her prognosis and fashioned a flourishing life for herself as a registered nurse, new wife and mom, and a singer with a God-given set of pipes cutting her first album. Back then, however, her lungs were getting weaker, and she needed to put her songs to tape before it was too late.
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Today, Crisler is standing stronger than ever. Fresh off a double-lung transplant last August, she no longer has the breathing problems that once prevented her from performing in public.
The timing of her return couldn’t be better: As Crisler put music on the backburner to focus on her health, “May 26th” quietly became a hit in the CF community.
Look at the comments on the song’s YouTube page and you can see the impact Crisler’s words have had on fellow CFers. “This is a beautiful reminder amidst the journey of CF,” reads one message. “I have CF, too,” reads another. “This music is such a blessing and makes me so happy.”
“My music is an outlet for what’s in my heart,” says Crisler, 33. “But for someone else with CF to hear it and say, ‘Oh my gosh, you wrote that for me’ is the most exciting thing ever. To know that others are finding hope and encouragement in my music justifies me putting it out there. I’m actually helping people.”
For Crisler, staying alive is a matter of her body accepting her new organs. So far, so good. As long as the anti-rejection drugs keep working like they’re supposed to, she wouldn’t be surprised if she lives well into her 60s or 70s. The average life expectancy for CF patients in the U.S. is 37 years, per the National Institutes of Health.
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Of course, she’s never spent much time worrying about her life expectancy, so why start now?
“I’ve never stopped living a full life,” she says. “CF can either drive you to depression and anger and bitterness, or it can drive you to take advantage of the years you have left on this earth—and do all that you can with the breaths you do have.”
So that’s her plan. And if it sounds like a lyric from a future Colby Crisler album, you’d be right.
“This next group of songs will come out of my transplant journey,” she says. “I can’t wait to start writing.”