Michael Stein, co-founder and executive director of the Harvard Law School Project on Disability, taught Tellier in a Kennedy School course on global disability law and policy and serves as her faculty adviser.
“Having to engage with additional challenges has given Elsie experience and expertise in being a problem-solver, and a well-balanced perspective,” he said. “Her experience here is both one of great community and great friends and institutions and mechanisms, but there are also times when someone like Elsie can feel isolated, with her perspectives unacknowledged. Still, she doesn’t come out of a negative experience with bitterness or sarcasm, but instead sees it as a learning experience.”
Tellier is open about her loneliness, and pretty much all aspects of the battle she is fighting with no-nonsense bravery. Her social media posts range in topic from fashion, faith, and queer life to her College work, her love of “Star Wars” (she has dressed as Princess Leia for the past three Halloweens), and her disease.
“I have become more open about it because I wanted to know other people,” she said. “I look fine to a lot of people if I’m not wearing my mask, and some people feel it’s taboo and awkward to ask me questions. For me, there’s nothing embarrassing about it.
“I have to choose my every day very carefully. Sure it would have been fun to have roommates, but I need my own bathroom because other people can make me sick. I have to recognize my limits and be OK with that.”
Tellier treasures her Friday game nights with the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association — “anything vaguely nerdy” — and is president of the Harvard College Disability Alliance, a group that advocates for a more accessible campus.
She also stays connected to others fighting cystic fibrosis.
“Having a terminal illness that’s not cancer is a different culture,” she said. “For CFers, dying young is the norm. You feel like your life is happening faster than everyone else’s and you become used to losing friends at young ages.”
And she is constantly grieving a baseline of health ever in retreat.
“Something is always being taken away from me,” she said. “For example, I’ve suddenly developed painful esophageal spasms. I can be sad about it, but I have to accept it and move on. I’m already getting arthritis, and I’m learning to deal with it. Being sick is my full-time job, and the rest comes later.”
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