“Five Feet Apart”‘s Impact on Cystic Fibrosis Community


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Shaelyn Drost, Managing Editor

The recent release of the YA movie “Five Feet Apart”, following two teenagers with cystic fibrosis has sparked immense emotion, especially from members of the cystic fibrosis community.

Cystic fibrosis is a life-threatening hereditary disease that affects the lungs and digestive system, interfering with a person’s ability to breathe and absorb nutrients.

Stella Grant (Haley Lu Richardson) and Will Newman (Cole Sprouse) are two teenagers with cystic fibrosis being treated in the same hospital. Upon meeting an instant flirtation occurs, though their relationship is hindered by their diseases and the rule that two people with CF must stay six feet apart from each other in order to lower the risk of cross infection.

There has been significant discourse surrounding the film, especially in the CF community with some relating to the characters, while others have expressed concerns of misrepresentation.

Gemma McLarty (23) states, ”As a teenager I definitely related to Will’s character… I’ve always kind of lived as though CF was not me, so when I was a teenager, I think I was in denial of being defined [by CF] and I pretended it wasn’t real because it scared me so much. I didn’t want people to know about it, and I think the fact that I hid it also pushed me to rebel and not take as good care of myself. They say CF is an isolating disease. It’s true.”

“In the movie, [Stella] was helping her friends pick out bikinis for spring break and she couldn’t go with them. She would FaceTime her friends at parties and that’s what I would do. In front of her friends she’d act all happy and excited for them, but in reality, she was upset that she couldn’t be joining them. I definitely feel that way sometimes. Not only am I trying to live for myself, but more for my family and my friends because I don’t want to let them down,” Annie McMahon (22)  similarly says.

Shelby Klug (21), however, has a different take, “I wish [the movie] had shown more of what is CF when you’re out of the hospital. CF changes every day with where you are. It’s different in a hospital, in a classroom, sometimes you’re trying to hold in how much you cough in a classroom and then you can be in the hospital just hacking it out… I feel like they could have shown that because it’s not just like a person with CF is only sitting in a hospital and doing treatments and pills, it’s actually living with it.”

Mariah Hanley (26) comparably does not agree with the way life with CF was represented in the film. “I just don’t think the plot point of two CFers falling in love is really a storyline that should have ever been made. By having them galavant around the hospital and go on scavenger hunts and hikes, and go swim in the pool together … that just doesn’t represent life with CF. And if it had [to be] made, they could have made sure that it actually represented what life with CF looks like, not a fairy-tale of what people think CF looks like.”

Despite this, many cannot deny the newfound and much needed awareness of cystic fibrosis and the struggles that ensue because of this disorder.