Millennials Rising — Melissa Bass

woman-carrying-world-earthYou’ve likely heard the stereotypes about millennials: They’re a generation of entitled misfits. They lack a strong work ethic. They’re only interested in activities that offer immediate gratification.

You want the truth? This generation isn’t going to wreck the world. They’re going to save it.

If millennials feel entitled to anything, it’s the opportunity to be passionately engaged in a vision they can pour their entire heart and soul into. Show them what success looks like, then get out of the way and watch what awesome looks like.

I’d like to introduce you to Melissa Bass, one of nine millennials I interviewed who have faced and overcome significant obstacles that stood in the way of their goals and dreams. It’s a privilege to share their inspiring life stories with you here.

Click here to see all the Millennials Rising stories.


Melissa (Missy) Bass

Melissa (Missy) Bass

Melissa (Missy) Bass (nee Hofmann), born in 1980, is a freelance global event planner for both corporate and social events worldwide.

I’m an adventure seeker. I’ve gone bungee jumping in New Zealand, skydiving in Switzerland, parasailing in Mexico, and sailing in Croatia and Thailand. There’s not a lot I’d say no to. Oh, and when I first met my husband, I was dressed as a hamster.

On the outside, I look like your average Midwestern female: five foot four, blonde bob, athletic build. But on the inside, I have a life-threatening disease called cystic fibrosis.

I was diagnosed with CF at two months old. Cystic Fibrosis is a genetic disease that causes my body to produce thick and sticky mucus that blocks my airways and pancreas. There is no cure. When I was born, the life expectancy for someone with CF was eighteen. Today, a CF patient’s average life expectancy is thirty-seven. I just turned thirty-seven.

When my mother’s sister, Susan, was born with CF in 1940, she wasn’t expected to live past the age of eight. Her form of treatment was hanging off the side of a bed and trying to make herself cough. The fact that she lived until she was thirty was unheard of back then.

As a little kid, my mom or dad had to pound on my back for an hour every day to help me cough up the mucus. When I was ten, the vest machine was invented. It looks like a life jacket. Two tubes connect to it and fill the vest with pressured air. The vest thumps at different frequencies, shaking the mucus loose from my lungs while I inhale a nebulized mist. I wear it for two half-hour sessions every day; if I’m sick I’ll do three or four sessions. It’s an amazing invention that’s allowed me to be self-sufficient and the independent adventure seeker I am today. I simply couldn’t travel or do my job if I had to rely on someone else being with me and pounding my back every day. It’s a godsend, even if it means always having to check a forty-five-pound bag at the airport.

Active and Engaged
Growing up, I had the greatest group of friends. No one made it a big deal that I had CF. In fact, to make me feel more a part of things, they would take turns trying my vest on. It was like a fun game. Kids can get scared about things they don’t understand, but when you help them understand it they adapt really quickly. I often had a friend sit with me while I did my therapies.

When I was nine, I was one of three poster children for the Minnesota chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. They would get CF families together for holiday parties and a weekend summer camp, which was great because I could meet other kids with CF. Unfortunately, those gatherings stopped because researchers discovered that patients with CF carry a variety of infections that can affect other people with CF much differently.

The CF Foundation now recommends that people with CF maintain a six-foot distance from each other to reduce the risk of cross-infection. Pretty much the only way you can safely be friends today with other CF people is on social media. When someone is in the hospital, which we call “the clank” because it’s like jail, we all send well wishes. It really helps to have that group support from people who know what you’re going through.

When my aunt was little, CF kids were advised not to be physically active or even to go outside because of the risk of infection. Fortunately, by the time I was born, research had shown that CF kids did much better when they were physically active.

My mom really pushed me to be involved in sports. She enrolled me in swimming classes when I was less than six months old. I swam until I was eleven, which I believe helped develop and expand my lungs and made them stronger going forward. I participated in dance line competitions and played the trumpet in my junior high band.

I ran cross-country and track and did Nordic skiing in junior high and high school. I was captain of all three sports. I never wanted to be treated any differently because I had a lung condition. I did every workout and pushed myself to excel, just as my peers did.

I later went on to Nordic ski for the University of New Hampshire’s Division 1 program. I truly believe that my lung scores were much higher than they would have been if I hadn’t participated in those kinds of sports. I’ve found that doing some kind of activity is like doing an extra treatment with the vest.

People assume that I must have felt sorry for myself. I really never did. I’ve never been one to dwell on a problem or be down on myself. I choose to focus on the “why nots” instead of the “what ifs.”

I also don’t dwell on the sadness of someone dying. I’d rather remember the good times we shared. From a young age, I always thought of people who had passed away as being on vacation. When a close friend with CF passed away at sixteen, yes, it felt strange, but now it just feels like I haven’t seen her in a long time. When she died, I never thought, She passed away, maybe I could too. If you’re always worrying about dying too soon, you might as well crawl under a rock.

One Big Adventure

Missy and Tom

Missy and Tom

I am an avid traveler; I’ve been to fifty-three countries and counting. Traveling has always been a priority because experiencing new things and places makes me truly feel alive. I moved back home to Minnesota after college and found a dream job at a travel company in Edina as an event director. I was only home five days out of the month, often just a day here or there. I didn’t even have an apartment. I’d go to my parents’ home in between trips, do laundry, then leave again. I did that for three years.

These days, I work remotely for a variety of Fortune 500 companies, managing the logistics and content for executive advisory councils, activations, trade shows, meetings . . . you name it. I love that no two days are the same. Working remotely allows me to work from home, where I can manage my daily treatments more easily. I’m so fortunate to have a job that can accommodate my health regimen.

Missy and Tom at Oktoberfest in 2015

My husband, Tom, also loves to travel. When we’re at home, we’re always looking for an adventure. A couple years ago, our travel schedule looked like this: In March, we went to Beijing and Shanghai for ten days; he was there for his executive MBA program. We were home the whole month of April, which is unheard of. In May, I left for seventeen days to scout event locations in Madrid, Barcelona, Rome, the south of France, and Budapest for events. In July, a group of eight of us who go on big trips once a year went sailing in Greece over the Fourth of July. In September, I had an event in Switzerland, and Tom met me there when the event was over so we could take the train to Munich to attend Oktoberfest.

Missy skydiving

I’m always searching for a new country to visit. I have a map board with sewing pins on it to mark all the places I’ve been. I’m always up for a challenge and trying something new. The only things that I’m not supposed to do but have tried anyway are scuba diving and skiing at high altitudes. One of my favorite quotes is by Erada: “If it’s both terrifying and amazing then you should definitely pursue it.”

Missy and Tom on the Great Wall

Missy and Tom on the Great Wall

Of course, no matter how well I take care of myself while I’m traveling, I still occasionally experience a health challenge. Even then, I feel fortunate because my “worst ever” is nothing compared to other CFers my age. In February 2015, I was in Glendale, Arizona, for the Super Bowl and got pretty sick. I had been traveling for a couple of weeks and hadn’t been able to shake a cold I had caught two cities prior. Finally, by Super Bowl Sunday, I felt absolutely terrible. I was so tired and run down.

The day after the Super Bowl, I was flying from Phoenix to Des Moines with a layover in Minneapolis. I got off at the layover, called my mom and said, “I need you to come pick me up. I think I need to check myself into the hospital.” Usually, I’m the last one who ever willingly goes to a hospital, but when I checked in it felt like a hotel. I was diagnosed with pneumonia and given antibiotics. After a week in the hospital, I was sent home to continue my IV therapy myself for the next month. It was the first time I had ever felt like, “Okay, I give up. I feel terrible and I need to fix this now.” It was only the second time I’d been in the hospital in nine years.

My greatest challenge for my health was being pregnant and the blessing of being able to naturally give birth to our daughter Taylor Elizabeth in April of 2017. My entire medical team made sure to watch my pregnancy closely, monitoring me every step of the way. The result was a beautiful healthy baby girl, who will only be a carrier of the CF gene. She has been our greatest adventure of all and we could not feel more blessed.

I’ve been asked whether I’m an adventure seeker and live life to the fullest because I have CF. I honestly don’t know. I certainly didn’t make a conscious decision to be this way. Even without CF, I think I would have been a world explorer.

Missy, Tom and Taylor

Every Day Is a Gift
I think I can best be described by my Instagram profile:

Traveler. Laugher. Partier. Runner. CFer. Music Lover. Joker. Photographer. Friend Maker. Instagrammer. Wanderluster. Dancer. Love of Lifer.

I simply enjoy every single day, especially the healthy ones. I strive to make any occasion a reason for a costume party. Literally. I was born around Thanksgiving so I have a themed birthday party fundraiser every year in late November called Bash for Breath. Recent themes have been “Fringe and Fur” and “Neon.” One year it was “Vest Fest” in honor of the vest treatment. It’s a fun way to celebrate life while raising awareness about this disease. All proceeds go to the CF Foundation.

For New Year’s Eve in 2010, I dressed up and went to a bar as a character I called “Vinter Vonderland.” I was the only one there in costume. I wore knee-high silver boots, a silver sequin dress over blue spandex, and a fur hood with silver lining. People may think I’m crazy but I think it’s fun to be different.

Nothing attracts a husband like a rapping hamster costume

When I first met my husband, Tom, I was dressed as a rapping hamster from a popular car commercial. It was Halloween 2011. I wore a big body pillow around my waist with gray sweat pants, painted my face gray, and had a hoodie on. I was basically unrecognizable as a fat little rodent. Fortunately, Tom also likes costumes, so our guest room is entirely devoted to our costume collection.

Prior to my pregnancy, Tom and I absolutely wanted children. Before Tom got tested for the CF gene, we discussed whether we would want to proceed in having children if he was a CF carrier because the odds of our child having CF would then be 50 percent. Given the normal life I’ve been able to lead, we both agreed that yes, we would still take the chance. As it turned out, Tom is not a carrier, and therefore, because I do have the disease, our kids will be carriers but will not have cystic fibrosis.

Missy and Tom at their baby shower

Missy and Tom at their baby shower

Of course, I am a high-risk pregnancy, not only because of my lung disease but due to my age as well. I am being watched closely and carefully by my doctors at the University of Minnesota, where I go four times a year for lung function tests and check-ups. I attribute a lot of my success to my medical team. They truly care about their patients and view each one as a unique individual. Fortunately, my clinic happens to have one of the highest life expectancies for CF patients in the country.

An Independent Disease
Kids with CF mature faster. We don’t have a choice. I learned pretty quickly how to listen to my body and how my different medicines and treatments would affect me. I remember being followed around by a reporter when I was a CF poster child. He’d say things like, “She’s ten years old and she’s already reading her X-rays like a seasoned vet.” He was joking but there was a lot of truth in what he said.

I had to take on a massive responsibility and become self-sufficient at a very young age. When I started school at five years old, I had to go to the nurse at lunch because I was too young to carry my digestive enzymes with me. Not taking my pills was not an option. If I didn’t take them, my food wouldn’t digest and I’d get a terrible stomachache. You can’t rebel against your own health. Nothing good comes of that.

The courage of CF kids is amazing. Our bodies may be frail and slowly deteriorating, but we can take a needle in the arm without flinching and withstand the pain of having unimaginable things done to us to try to save our lives. You have to be strong. If you aren’t, if you don’t have a tough armor and you aren’t a warrior, CF will take you out.

Team Missy

Team Missy — raising funds and awareness

Those amazing childhood friends who supported me and my disease back then are still avid supporters of CF today. Back in 2006, one of my best friends since grade school, Lauren Warner, organized a team to participate in the annual Great Strides walkathon in Minneapolis to raise money for the CF Foundation. She called it Team Hofmann and set a goal of raising $1,500. We crushed our goal and raised over $12,000! Lauren oversaw the walkathon until I took it over a few years ago. We now call our group Team Missy. Lauren still comes every year to walk with me, and this past year we raised $25,000. This year, we are looking to surpass $300,000 for our lifelong Team Missy total raised. We are so proud!

Another lifelong friend, Jon Bader, is on the board of the Dallas chapter of the CF Foundation. He does that very quietly, and doesn’t even tell me much about it. He just took it upon himself to be involved. How awesome is that?

Simon Halpern, another friend from grade school, decided to climb Mount Toubkai, the highest peak in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, to support me and raise money for CF in 2010. The mountain is 4,167 meters high so he set out to raise one dollar for every meter of the climb. He tied his Team Missy T-shirt to the back of his backpack and took pictures of himself during the climb. At a party back in Minnesota after he had made it to the top, he surprised me by presenting me with a flag that said, “You will never walk alone.” I was so incredibly touched.

Over the last decade, Team Missy has raised over a quarter of a million dollars for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. More than 90 percent of every dollar goes toward medical studies and research that will hopefully lead to a cure one day soon.

I may have an incurable disease, but I’ve never let it define me. I take life one day at a time and make a point to have fun and live each day to its fullest. I feel very, very blessed.


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Just click on the link below to download your free PDF sampler!

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