Bryce on work, family and CF
In this episode of the CFStrong podcast, we speak with Bryce, a teacher from NSW, about work and family and how he manages both while also taking care of his health.
”A lot of people who are coming in to having a family think that they need to be on top of it all the time, you just, you can't be and it's hard. And it's tough. And it's not going to be easy all the time. There's certain things you can do to make it easier. But sometimes I'm just not and it's, something's got to give. And you've got to make the decisions and concessions as to what's going to give. But always trying to make sure that health kinda comes first.
Voiceover: Welcome to the CFStrong podcast. CFStrong covers the successes and challenges faced by those living with cystic fibrosis. You’ll hear first person stories, conversations with health professionals, friends and partners. Just a heads up, guests may share their personal views about treatments and health management. But please remember, this is not medical advice and you should always follow the advice of your clinic team regarding your health.
Sam: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the CFStrong podcast. My name is Sam and today we have Bryce, Bryce would you like to introduce yourself.
Bryce: Yeah, absolutely. I’m on the man. I go by he/him. I am 33. I’m a secondary science teacher, I teach chemistry as kind of my major area. And I have cystic fibrosis.
Sam: Lovely to have you on the show. Can you just start by kind of talking to us about your job and how did you kind of figure out that teaching was what you wanted to do with yourself.
Bryce: Um, I’ve always kind of known that I wanted to help people, I didn’t really know what that really looked like. I spent a lot of time just thinking about how I could go about helping people. And that kind of changed over time. As I kind of went through high school, I kind of thought about all the different options. And I thought that maybe nursing or being in the police force or something, is something I could do. But with my condition, I didn’t think either of those two kinds of things were kind of best suited to the work that I would end up doing. So I ended up switching to– I really enjoyed science was the main big thing. I really, really enjoyed science had some great teachers, and it’s just kind of how my brain works. Not very good at English, any of those kind of written works. And so I kind of moved towards that way. And I just said, how could I help people and I think teaching people, I think I had something to give, and something to offer to others. So that’s how it all started.
Sam: Excellent. So just going back to what you were saying, do you think that obviously having cystic fibrosis is a quite a big thing to consider when you’re looking at their career path, do you believe that really affected how you went about, say, looking for a career?
Bryce: This is an interesting thing, I think I was quite privileged to have a really, really supportive household as I grew up, and not to say that other people don’t, I just think I’m very lucky. I was kind of brought up with the mentality that regardless of my condition, I’m going to be here forever, like a normal person, and I was treated accordingly. And the expectations were that regardless of my condition, I’ll need to be exercising regularly, I’ll need to be, you know, doing all the things that everybody else was doing. And that included work. The main consideration was more about what germs could I pick up. And so something like nursing, which I was really interested in having a bit of a background in science just wasn’t going to work just because of the exposure at the time. And it just didn’t seem like the right thing for me. It could have been, maybe, but it just wasn’t going to work. So teaching seemed like the next biggest thing. And I really just thought it was the right way to go. And then I ended up being a parkour instructor for about five or six years, kind of started something in Newcastle up north of Sydney, and started that up with my brother and some friends. And we started coaching parkour for a really long time. And that was more out of an interest and that there was just people who wanted to learn and we had some skills to share, and started our own little thing. And as we started to realise that I really enjoyed that. I kind of ran the show to some degree, and I was enjoying helping other instructors become instructors or get better at it and interacting with kids. I kind of realised that high school was going to be definitely where I wanted to be. And that just kind of led straight into teaching.
Sam: Cool, so parkour I’m guessing, you obviously have to be very fit for parkour as it’s been, has parkour kind of just being one of your main forms of like, say, physio and exercise to stay fit and strong with cystic fibrosis?
Bryce: Well, it was at, it was it kind of at first, I guess I’m kind of since left them in doing a lot of other things. At the moment, aim to be kind of working out in some way shape, or form about five times a week or so if I can fit in more great, if I don’t fit in five, then that’s just the way it is. But I’m kind of aiming to be exercising most days of the week. And it’s just kind of been like that forever. But parkour definitely helped with it, had to kind of be being on the fitter side of things at all times. It really helped. And it was probably one of the most important things I kind of had because I’ve always had the idea of being strong to be useful as a kind of mentality, and really showed me what my limits were mentally and physically, and how my body worked and taught me how to listen to my body, and then also learn how to push my body. So it allowed me to do things that I probably never would have done without it. So I was, I was very lucky to have also had that experience as well and kind of be able to push myself with peers in a safe environment. Allowed me to do things like climbing mountains in Nepal. , I’ve run with the bulls, jumped off the bridge in Mostar. Done lots of random things that, um, either physically strong or mentally strong.
Sam: Yeah, yeah.
Bryce: That may not have happened unless I had something that kind of gave me some of those skills.
Sam: It’s really, it’s really interesting. And Parkour is such an interesting field. And so really, it’s really exciting to watch. But yeah, it’s a lot of people I’ve talked to, you really do have their outlet through exercise, or whether it be like a sport, but you’re the first one who’s actually had parkour, so it’s really cool.
Sam: So I just wanted to go back to the beginning, you were saying you kind of had a real drive to help people, which is now how you, your outlet for that is through teaching. Would you say that’s probably one of the best parts about being a teacher is how you can help students in your school?
Bryce: Yeah, I mean, it’s not definitely not the work hours, or the pay or anything like that. It’s 100% just being there for the kids. I mean, like, that’s, that’s the reason all teachers teach, honestly, good teachers are teaching because they want to be there to help people. And they do a really good job of that. And that is the best part of it, you know, take away the paperwork, and all the kind of other rubbish and staying up to midnight doing lesson plans to get rid of that. The best part is teaching. I’ve been offered a few times to kind of consider climbing the ranks and going up into different areas of work and leadership, and all that kind of stuff. And I just kind of say, well, that just takes me out of the classroom more. And I just like being around the kids, you know, that’s where you have the biggest impact. And I just enjoy that kind of relationship you end up having with students in that you can mentor them through some of arguably some of the hardest parts of their lives and see them come out on the other end, as better human beings and be able to say that, you know, see them walking up on the stage in the last days of their school career and kind of say, like I had had a hand in that, I had a part in that, is a pretty special thing. And then to have kids come back years later and tell you how much it meant to them the little thing that you did, that’s a pretty special moment. So kind of love that.
Sam: It sounds very fulfilling. And I can imagine yourself going through high school having to deal with CF, you might, it must have given me a lot of empathy for what teenagers go through at that age group, like life struggles and life difficulties as well. Yeah, definitely would.
Bryce: Absolutely, yeah, it’s just kind of one of those areas that students kind of feel like, if you haven’t gone through something, sometimes this is something that times the case, if you haven’t gone through it, then how would you ever know how hard it is or how bad it is, and my struggles are different, to everybody’s and everyone’s got their own story. And nobody’s is harder or should be considered, you know, more difficult than the others necessarily, like everyone’s got their own little things. And just because I may have been in hospital multiple times, or had surgeries doesn’t mean mine’s worse than some of the other things that are going on. And so it’s nice to be able to have some way to relate to students, to have that empathy to be able to talk to them from a place where I actually kind of understand maybe some of the feelings that they may have. And then be able to share some of the techniques that I’ve developed over time, or things or knowledge or wisdom I wish I had at the time, and just have some of them that they can relate to, you know, it doesn’t always work. But it’s nice to have something up your sleeve to kind of add to the conversation that isn’t just, you know, I was a kid once you know, everyone was a kid once but not everybody went through the same struggles that maybe you or I or other people listening to this have. And that’s important, I think
Sam: About understanding everyone’s struggles. So I’m guessing then how do you go about talking about your CF at work with either your students or your colleagues? Is that something that’s difficult? Or how do you approach it?
Bryce: I’ve always been super open with this stuff from day one. I think I’m lucky to be in a job as a government teacher that is fairly open with their kind of discrimination policies and all that kind of stuff that they’re not going to kind of–they’ve been very good with with all of these things you know, you’ve got allocated sick days that are the my bosses have always treated as their your right to have there’s no kind of anything, there’s no kind of weird feelings about it if you take extra sick days, because you have to like it’s just you’re allocated those sick days and you take them if you need them and there’s no questions asked about that kind of stuff because they just know you got to do your better health and all those kinds of things. So they’ve been super, super helpful. I’ve always been super open with everybody that I’ve talked to at school. I let all my bosses know and even my students has never really been a problem as well.
In fact, I use it a lot to teach for various things you know how the body works and talk about pancreas and enzymes, all those things as well as lung capacity when we do experiments and stuff like that. So it makes it again another way to kind of relate to students. But I also practicality wise I need them, them being students and also the teachers and the bosses to kind of know what’s going on so that if I need to take leave they’re understanding of it, it’s not just randomly, Bryce disappears for a week or so there’s a reason behind it, there’s a good reason for it. But also, I’m coughing a lot. And I’m in a room that’s pretty small with eight other teachers who are grown adults who have their own families. And if you have someone that’s coughing all the time, it’s, it doesn’t sound particularly good. So if everybody’s aware of what my conditions like, then it makes a lot easier for that to be more comfortable. And for there to be no kind of tension in the staff room. And now I’m just, it’s not a problem, I can cough all I want, as long as I’m being you know, safe as covering up my mouth and everything. There’s never any worry there at all. And everybody’s really, really cool about it. In fact, I’ve had a few times when I’ve been walking around the school, and I’ll cough and then I’ll hear the students around the corner saying, like, Blackmore’s coming. Because they know my cough that well. And I put out, especially with COVID, it’s been quite difficult. We’ve had a bit of a turnover with staff at work. So I made it very clear throughout like our intranet, just to remind people regularly that if you hear me coughing, it’s not because of I’m sick or anything like that, it’s because of my condition just so that there isn’t kind of any worries that go on inside of the school. So I’ve been really, really open with it. Everybody’s been super supportive.
We had a CF fundraising day a few years ago, when I got up in front of the school and talked to literally 1200 students about it, which was really hard at the time. But a really, really positive experience overall, to kind of pour it all out there and let everybody know, but now I will teach students years later, and they’ll just kind of say up, you know, you’ve got that CF thing and they’ll they’ll know what it is. So you know, 1200 students know what CF is. And that’s a good thing moving forward. So there’s a lot of positives that came out of it and almost no negatives. So it’s been a really positive experience for me so far, but might be exclusive to my situation. And I’m not quite sure what everybody else would be like, though.
Sam: It’s it’s kind of a hard topic. It’s it’s a very, very, very personal thing to come out and tell people about your deep vulnerabilities. But it sounds like it’s a really positive thing for you. And as you said before, kind of spreading awareness to the kids and like younger younger generation as well about this particular disease and, you know, putting out the good word that it’s not as scary as some like, sights may display. It’s, it’s, it’s yes, it’s a struggle, but you here I am. I’m just like everybody else, I’m healthy. It’s just a few irregularities, and I was gonna say I do very, very much relate to the COVID the whole COVID thing situation, especially being at uni, like a library trying to study and you’re around your peers, and you’ve got obviously got a cough, and it’s just an awkward situation with the COVID situation. Definitely is
Bryce: Yeah, well, it’s, it’s nice to not have to worry about it, especially when you’re teaching 30 students five times a day, and they’re all different students not having to have that worry. And then also not having anyone to kind of spread any rumors or anything like that. It’s just, you know, there was a few comments early on for students that didn’t know any better. And that’s, that’s fine. They either having a joke, or they just didn’t know any better until I kind of talked to them about it. Made them aware of the situation. And they’ve all been really cool about it so far. So yeah, just, it’s just been awesome. And just allows me to show, I think as a bigger kind of picture, as well as just showing students, especially adolescents, that it’s okay to be vulnerable, as well. And that we all have our own little stories and the amount of students I talked to have all you know, from the outside looking in have this perfect lifestyle, and mum and dad are very happy, blah, blah, blah, Instagram, Snapchat, it all looks very good. But realistically, underneath that there’s a lot of things going wrong and they’re not willing to, to kind of reach out, because everyone around them looks like they’re all very strong, and nobody’s got a problem. But reality is, is that everybody’s got a story. Everything’s not perfect all the time. And it’s okay to be kind of vulnerable in those situations. And showing that on a public stage and being able to show that the students regularly, it’s just part of kind of my push to help students kind of get better, you know, be better humans be better human beings to other people as well and be more empathetic to others because everybody’s got a story.
Sam: Yeah, I think the kids are very lucky to have you teaching them because it’s sometimes the most important lessons you learn don’t necessarily relate to what’s happening in the classroom. It’s what teachers can teach you on a more personal level, outside of like, the school curriculum, and stuff like that.
Sam: So what advice would you give, say, people in a similar situation going into the workplace? Maybe they’re just starting out and they’re not sure how to really approach the conversation about their cystic fibrosis with colleagues or just in that environment
Bryce: That’s going to be tough, that will be job to job won’t it and its dependent on whether you actually need to share that information. For some people there may be a short term job. And you definitely need to make that choice whether it’s worth kind of going through it. I know I’m going to be teaching for a long time, well I hope to be and at the same school for a while too. So it made sense that I was going to be telling everybody fairly quickly, because I need it to be easier for my mental health as well to not have to worry about what people are saying, and all those kinds of things. So that was a fairly easy decision for me. So it’s all dependent on what kind of job you’re doing, whether they need to know, it’s a need to know kind of basis. Is it going to make your life harder if they don’t know. And is that a worthwhile decision. And so there’s a lot of kind of factors you’ll have to take into when making that decision. And it definitely will not ever be a one size fits all. But I, from my experience, people have been very supportive of me, and having the kind of sick days and all those things that are generally kind of owed to you and owed to everyone in that particular profession and allows for a little bit of leniency here and there. And in the end, we’re all human beings. And if a person wants to treat you like, rubbish because you have some disease you can’t control but you can still turn up and work then they’re probably not a boss you want to be working for anyways. So that’s the kind of approach I would kind of take for it. If it’s something if someone’s going to treat you like that, then I don’t think I’d want to be there, if that’s the case, I want someone that’s going to be empathetic towards anyone I work for or with. So that’s the approach I’d probably take.
Sam: Definitely. Yeah, so it also kind of filters out the negative people you don’t need in your life if you’re really forward with this kind of stuff. It’s a good way a good way to see it. Definitely. So as well as being a teacher, you are also a father, aren’t you?
Bryce: Yep. I’ve got a two children. I have a four year old and a two year old, four year old boy named Oliver and a two year old girl named Maeve.
Sam: Wow, that must be a busy household.
Bryce: Yeah, no kidding. It’s ridiculous. Yeah, we’re both, my partner and I are both teachers. So it’s just late nights, late nights. It’s been rough. Yep.
Sam: So how do you manage that working the teacher hours as well as trying to manage a young family as well? And also, on top of that, your health concerns. How do you manage all that together?
Bryce: Sometimes you don’t, and that’s the reality is that I think a lot of people who are coming in to having a family think that they need to be on top of it all the time, you just you can’t be and it’s hard. And it’s tough. And it’s it’s not going to be easy all the time. There’s certain things you can do to make it easier. But sometimes I’m just not. And it’s, something’s got to give. And you’ve got to make the decisions and concessions as to what’s going to give. But always trying to make sure that health kinda comes first. Sometimes it’ll take a backseat for short periods of time when say reports are due or we’re having a really rough time with sleeping.
With our first one, we had good two years of very little sleep for a very, very, very, very long time. And so sometimes things did have to give, and it wasn’t easy. And sometimes it was school. Because I’m pretty particular with the way that I teach. And I like to be very organised and on top of things, and be the best that I can and for a period of time there, that just had to be not as good. And that’s just the way it is. But ultimately, if I’m not healthy, and if I’m not happy, and we’re not working as a team, my partner and I then the whole thing shuts down. And I’m not going to be a good teacher anyway. So it’s best to kind of prioritise the things that are most important, which is my relationship with my partner and making sure that we’re strong and on the same level. And we’re communicating at all times, and then my health as well. Because yeah, if I’m not, if I’m not happy and healthy then or if we’re both not happy and healthy, then it makes it very hard to do all of the other things. So we’ve had to make a lot of decisions about what’s going to give and also just waking up early have a having a program, having goals, making very clear and obvious goals, what’s the plan moving forward, how you’re going to get there? Here’s the plan to do it. And then sticking to it and just just doing your best because the best is all you can do, you got to do something, you know.
Sam: Yeah, the best is all you can do I love that.
Sam: I just want to go back to a little bit further. So being a parent, what were the steps you took towards parenthood because obviously with cystic fibrosis, it can be quite challenging to to actually get to that stage in life. Do you mind telling us about your steps and where you, and how you approached it?
Bryce: Yeah, absolutely. So we started off with genetic testing for my partner to me to see whether she had the CF gene or not as to whether we decide whether we’re going to have a family based on that information. She did not have the CF gene recessive. So we didn’t really have to worry about that, which was lovely. Just, you know, CF’s tough. There’s no doubt about it.
Sam: Yes, yes. Yeah.
Bryce: So if I don’t have to worry about it, that’s no, no talking down at anyone with CF or anything like that, that’s just, if I don’t have to worry about that is one less thing I’d have to worry about for my kids. So–
Sam: Yes, definitely.
Bryce: We wanted to make sure that, you know, we at least knew what we’re getting into. So we had a genetic testing. And that takes some time to do a full test. So we got it onto that. And then after that, we had to test to see whether I actually was producing sperm. And it was found that I had the blind vas deferens, which seems to be a thing that a few CF people have. So we then went into going into IVF stuff. So after that, I had sperm taken from my testicles, and through a small operation, and then we started IVF, with my partner. And then the full IVF cycle, where luckily my partner had a lot of eggs. So we ended up having plenty of embryos to work with, which was very lucky. Extremely thankful we didn’t have to do multiple rounds. Because it wasn’t a fertility issue in the sense that either of us didn’t have eggs or sperm, it was just the fact that the boys couldn’t get out. So yeah, once we could get them to where they needed to be. Fertility kind of wasn’t really a problem after that.
Sam: Yeah, all the extra steps you do. Was it a stressful time for you and your partner?
Bryce: No, I mean, this is pretty low end stuff. It’s just time consuming. You know, I’ve been through so much worse. And there, there are so many other things that could have been a problem in my life so far. So having a wait time to get genetic test results back is, you know, it is what it is. Blind vas deferens is a small operation. That’s no problem. We’ve had a few of those. And IVF is just the way it is, you know, there’s nothing you can do about it. And if you want to have kids, you just got to get it done. So the process wasn’t particularly like lots of fun. We weren’t having a having a blast, but it’s just something that we needed to get through and was relatively painless in comparison to everything that led up to three months into having my child because we, well after he was born because he ended up having a distended bowel. I think it was, so it was all twisted. And he had to have an operation when he was born and all that kind of stuff. So it was nothing in comparison to that.
Sam: Yes. So the the stress came after that, after the IVF treatment.
Bryce: Yeah, yeah, it was pretty chill up until we had a kid and then three months in the NICU, and yeah, emergency cesarean.
Sam: Oh, wow okay.
Bryce: And several major operations in a few weeks of a five week early baby. That’s that’s when the stress really hits you.
Sam: Yes. Yes.
Bryce: And working full time.
Sam: Yeah how did you manage your full time role with all that stress as well? Was that something that your your school helped you with? Or did you just have to do your best to make it work?
Bryce: Yeah, I just did my best. It was tough, too, because the new syllabus had just coming out for the HSC. So I was teaching chemistry on a new syllabus that hadn’t been really taught before. And I was the only teacher teaching chemistry at my school. So I was doing all the work for it. So I was developing resources and teaching the course I’d never taught before when my son was going through while he was in the NICU. And yeah, it was rough, it was pretty tough. And like I said, he didn’t sleep very much for the first two years. Maybe as a result of that, we don’t really know. He had about 40 centimeters of his intestines removed the day he was born.
Sam: Yeah, wow.
Bryce: Yeah, it was pretty trying time. But you just got to do what you gotta do, right? Like, what’s the other option, the other option is to do nothing or to give up and that’s just not an option. So you just got to find a way for it to work. And as long as we kept our communication up, and we kept working together, that’s my partner and I we were going to be okay. The balls dropped in various areas. And definitely my health was a little bit compromised and mental health and a few other things, but you just do what you have to and you try your best and you get to the other end of that it gets better.
Sam: It sounds like you and your partner have a really strong bond that you can work through this stuff together like that.
Sam: We’re running out of time now but I just wanted to, I wanted to, I have one last question I wanted to ask you, as a teacher, out of all the great teachers portrayed in all forms of media, which one do you believe you relate to the most?
Bryce: Oh that is a tough question. I have no idea. We’d all like to say like Dead Poets Society or something like that right? Who knows. I don’t know. Yeah.
Sam: I was gonna say maybe maybe Robin Robin Williams Dead Poets Society. Or Indiana Jones, the professor.
Bryce: That’s a bit pie in the sky. Yeah, look, if it’s anyone that sciency that’s just passionate about the work that they do and cares about their kids. And that’s just it, you know, any of those various teachers, I mean, there’s there’s one in every movie, you see that that cares about what they’re doing at school.
Sam: Yeah, definitely.
Bryce: Whilst they might not have a name, because they’re just doing their work and doing the job that they’re meant to do. Consider me one of them one of those in the background that are silently getting the work done that needs to be done. So yeah, not so much a protagonist as much as maybe just your average teacher.
Sam: Just fighting the good fight and doing the good work.
Bryce: That’s all you can do.
Sam: Maybe, have you seen, have you seen Breaking Bad? Maybe you’re the the Walter White before he breaks bad?
Bryce: Yeah, yeah, definitely.
Sam: In the chemistry world.
Bryce: Definitely beforehand, I swear.
Sam: Hopefully, nothing breaks you soon. Well, thank you so much for coming onto our show. It’s been incredible to talk to you about your your hard work as a teacher and also as a parent, I think I’ll have to close it up now. But anything else you want to say to the listeners, or any advice you want to give out to anyone before we close this up?
Bryce: It’s really tough having CF, it’s really easy to be angry at the world, when you have CF, I think for a lot of people. And that’s not necessarily fair, you just got given a, dealt a wrong hand, you know, but I kind of see CF as being the gifts that you didn’t really know you needed. It wakes up a lot of people, consider like yourself, as well as the people around you, they change, their outlook on life changes. And it’s like as if you all got given some diagnosis that you’re gonna get given, you’ve got cancer, and you know everyone says like, they start to see the world differently. Well, the people around you, including yourself, kind of get that from day one. And we’re going to be around a lot longer than you know a one year diagnosis. And so we kind of get to see the world in a different light that other people only get, when they get really, really awful news like that. I get to have 33 years of that. And not to mention that my partner also gets that my brother, my best friends, my mum and dad. And so it pushes yourself, hopefully, but also the people around you to be either better people, or to do things they never really would have done.
And so as a result, I’ve travelled 36 countries around the world, and as I mentioned, done lots of crazy things and run a half ultra marathon last year and done all wild things that the typical person probably never will do. And that’s a gift, you know, and that’s a gift you can’t really pay for and you can’t you can’t buy it from anyone. It’s just about perspective. And so it comes down to how do you look at your situation? And so I’d encourage people that may be listening to this to change their perspective if they can, because I know it can be very difficult at times, but looking at life in a little bit different way of like, well, maybe I’m seeing a bit differently to everybody else. And that’s a good thing sometimes. It won’t always be but it can be. So yeah, that’s the kind of last thing I’d like to leave it with.
Sam: Well, thank you very much. I feel like you’d be an incredible teacher have because you have the incredible life experience and the empathy that comes with a lifelong diagnosis such as CF, thank you so much for your time, Bryce. It’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you.
Bryce: Thank you so much for having me.
Voiceover: Thanks for listening to this episode of the CFStrong podcast. Make sure you subscribe on your favorite podcast listening platform so you don’t miss the next episode. And if you enjoyed this podcast, we’d really appreciate if you could leave us a review. It helps other people find safe, strong, or shares with your friends. Also, a quick reminder that the views expressed in the safe strong podcast may not be reflective of Cystic Fibrosis Community Care’s viewpoints. The podcasts are designed to share information and provide insight into the lives of those living with cystic fibrosis around Australia. This podcast was made possible thanks to support provided by the Australian Government and was produced by CF Community Care and CF Western Australia. Our theme music is spark of inspiration by Shane Ivers from Silverman Sound. Thanks for listening, and we’ll talk to you next time.