In Australia, one in 2500 children are born with cystic fibrosis (CF) every year: around one every four days. Cystic fibrosis is a genetic, chronic disease that worsens over time, severely affecting both the pancreas and the lungs. The debilitating disease renders the pancreas unable to break down enzymes, meaning food is harder to digest. It also creates thick mucus in the lungs, which results in difficulty breathing.

My name is Dallian Macadam; I am a 26-year-old aspiring travel photographer from Adelaide, and I am that one in 2500. But I won't let this stop me from doing what I love.

A street scene in Tokyo. Neon lighting illuminates the walls, while, below, large groups of people walk along the road.
Dallian's dream is to work as a professional travel photographer © Dallian Macadam / Lonely Planet

Living with cystic fibrosis

Growing up, I never really knew the cold hard reality of having cystic fibrosis. Of course, I had all my treatments I had to do each day, but the seriousness never truly dawned on me until I found out that most children with cystic fibrosis fail to live past their teenage years.

Reflecting on that day, I think it changed me in more ways than one. I became more aware of my illness and realised that it can and does limit some people with it. The average lifespan for someone with cystic fibrosis is around 35 to 40 years old. Quite often it feels like I have a timer ticking down which is why I aim to make the most of the time I have here.

While it can differ from person to person, CF for me personally can be incredibly draining on both my physical and mental health. Some days it can be so draining that I never make it out of bed. While I have never noticed this myself, scientists have stated that breathing for a person with CF is like breathing through a straw. As one would expect, this can make the thought of travelling overseas quite daunting.

When my health gets bad, I end up in hospital for around two weeks for a course of IV antibiotics. This occurs at least 3 to 5 times a year, which only adds to the worries of travelling. Most people with CF will undergo lung transplants at least once in their lifetime, and I am grateful I have not needed one yet. With such odds stacked against me, you might wonder why I would even try to travel with such a risk? But it all comes down to chasing your dreams. I’m a fan of the metaphor that life is like a game of cards; I was dealt a bad hand, but sometimes you just have to be willing to gamble.

A landscape photograph of Mt Fuji from a distance. The mountain has been photographed at dusk and has a pink tint to it; a small town is visible in the shadow of the mountain. In the foreground a Japanese temple occupies the right side of the image.
Many of Dallian's photographs were taken during a recent trip to Japan © Dallian Macadam / Lonely Planet

The realities of travelling with cystic fibrosis

Even if well prepared, I still face many odds and restrictions when it comes to travelling. While most people travelling abroad will get travel insurance, the unfortunate reality for me is that my condition is almost never covered by insurance companies, making it risky to spend time a long way from home.

I also need to plan days down to the smallest of details. I mainly do this because I quite often will need time to rest and catch my breath. I’ve found taking time to do this and generally slowing down the pace of life when on the road works wonders. I’ve found that having a whole day dedicated to recharging is incredibly helpful, especially when I’ve overworked myself, trying to squeeze in as many activities as possible.

Given the risks to my health travel poses, I start to combat them before I even leave home, by voluntarily admitting myself into hospital for a quick ‘top-up’ of IV antibiotics. That way I am at my very best before leaving. I also take my medications with me, such as my inhalers, and try my best to stick to my routine even while exploring. Though I won't lie, it is incredibly hard to stick to it when you are just bursting at the seams to get out and explore.

A woman in a colourful, floral-patterned dress stands in a tunnel in Tokyo, staring into the distance.
Dallian uses his photography to help fund his travels © Dallian Macadam / Lonely Planet

All of this is made harder due to the costs of having CF. Treatment and medication costs mount up over the months, making saving for travel difficult. This problem is exacerbated by the fact I struggle to find work due to my illness. I do hope that one day I can find an employer that will take me on even with my health risks, as that would make life much easier. Until that happens, I do my best to save by any means possible, including through my photography work. 

I got into photography a little over two years ago while I was in a bad spot with my health. After searching around and months of saving, I bought my first camera and began to focus all my attention on learning everything I could about photography techniques and equipment. It didn’t take long for me to see vast improvements in my pictures, and this new interest quickly evolved into a passion, fuelling my desire to travel even more. 

Photography to me is so much more than a pastime. There is something magical about capturing beautiful moments and places frozen in time. While still technically a hobby (with work showcased on my Instagram page), I hope to one day couple my love for photography with my passion for travel and work as a professional photographer full time.

Two toy robots stand in a field surrounded by brown, autumnal leaves. The robots, made from a series of cubes, look towards the sky as leaves fall around them.
Dallian sometimes uses props in his imagery © Dallian Macadam / Lonely Planet

Why I won’t let my condition stop me exploring

While travelling poses extra risks for people such as myself, it has most definitely changed my life for the better. When home, I feel like a bird trapped in a cage. Some days almost become unbearable because I would rather be anywhere else (especially during a long stint in the hospital). But travel offers an escape, and something to look forward to. I have always strongly believed that we were never meant to simply stay in one place, and that culture and knowledge should be sought from all corners of the globe.

Having CF has given me limitations but that doesn’t mean I have to give up on my dream of becoming a pro travel photographer. In fact, knowing that my time here is slowly ticking away makes me even more determined to see that dream realised. Ambition and perseverance go hand in hand, a sentiment that's especially true for people living with a chronic illness like cystic fibrosis.

Of course, none of this would even be possible if it weren’t for the support of my parents, brothers, closest friends, and partner – who have stuck by me through thick and thin and been there for me when I needed them most.

While CF continues to limit me in some ways, it has also shown me just how strong I can be, and aided my ability to face challenges head on. For this reason, despite the risks, I won't let it keep me from doing what I love – and hopefully, whatever obstacles you face in your own life, they won't stop you from seeing the world either.

As I said, life is like a game of cards: I was dealt a bad hand, but I’m going to play that hand to the best of my abilities. And who knows, I might just come out on top.

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