This story is about a girl who looked her future in the eye, took a deep breath, and bravely set out to share the song that was born on her heart and live out the dreams that filled her head.
But theoretically, this life she dreamed of shouldn’t have been possible. The odds from her very beginning were built upon shifting sands. You see, when this girl was born, she wasn’t expected to live to celebrate her 20th birthday. The very breath that gave her life would slowly be stolen from her. A disease called Cystic Fibrosis (CF) would rob the very song that was born on every breath, a disease determined to ruthlessly destroy her lungs through the creation of thick, sticky mucus that would cause scarring and life-threatening lung infections.
But the very disease that would threaten to silence the music alive within her soul would actually spark an untamable passion and commitment to breathe deeply, live fully, and sing purposefully.
Staying with the song
The art of singing became a way for her to combat the stresses of CF, both mentally and physically. She knew for every measure that was sung, she was still alive. She was beating CF at its own game. She was still breathing. CF may have strived to steal every breath, but it could not silence the song that resounded within her heart.
Staying in tune
But there were benefits that she gained from singing that she could have never fathomed. She began to realize just how “in tune” she was with her body and the acute awareness she had with her respiratory system, able to get clued into looming infections or complications at the earliest of onsets based upon her ability to merely breathe and sing.
She always knew singing was a means to help her fight CF, but she never realized to what extent until CF threatened to claim her very life. It was not until her voice was silenced and each breath painstakingly ripped from her lungs that she realized just how valuable singing was to her life. She kept thinking, “If only I could sing again.”
Staying in the fight
So she fought. And after months of silence, she sang. With each note came strength to stand, the strength to breathe, and the strength to fight.
At the age of 27, with lung function of 25%, she thought her song had ended. But little did she know, it had only just begun. After months of tears, fighting to breathe, and the incredible care of her doctors, nurses, and pharmacists and a lung function of 54%, she stood on a stage and gave her graduate voice recital. Two days later, she graduated with her Master's degree in vocal performance.
That girl? She's me, Ashley Ballou-Bonnema. At 30 years old, I have lived a life against all odds, none of it being possible without the gift of music that has filled my life. Against all odds, I am alive. With every breath I take, I am grateful, and with every song that is born in my heart, I know that singing has helped save my life. Today, I am gratefully living as a professional musician and maintaining a private voice studio of 25 passionate students.