“Though she be but little, she is fierce”

Photo of Brenna outside
Brenna “Big Red” Digison

Shakespeare did not know Brenna Digison, but this is a great description for the office manager in our own Hope College Events and Conferences Office. And while we don’t call on her to be fierce too often in our office, her self-confidence does lead to points on the roller derby track. 

Granted, the small frame topped by fiery red hair is not the usual look for a “jammer” in roller derby. But Brenna is one of the people who actually score the points for the Lakeshore Roller Derby Team as her teammates block her way.  If you see her in action, you’ll see her cruising around the track, her shoulders dipped as she plows through opponents twice her size and, yes, you’ll even see her in the penalty box. She is fierce.

But it is not roller derby that brings Shakespeare’s quote to mind.

Brenna was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis (CF) when she was four-years-old and has never let the disease slow her down. Instead, she embraces life with a fierce faith that has let her redefine how someone with CF is supposed to live. She works full-time, plays roller derby, volunteers for the Park Theatre, is a member of Holland Young Professionals and gets involved in the community in many ways. 

“I see CF as a blessing. There is a reason God gave me CF,” says Brenna.

Brenna battling an opponent in roller derby.
Brenna claims she is not hitting her opponent, it is just the angle of the picture. We don’t believe her.

Her foray onto the roller rink was less out of a desire to be knocked to the ground and more about her love of roller skating. 

“I started derby because I needed a hobby” Brenna notes. “Plus it is a great workout and I get to be with people.”

Staying active is one of her main offerings of advice for other CF patients. 

“My doctor says the runners are their healthiest patients.” But, Brenna feels more at home skating than running, so roller derby it is. You’ll also see her at a lot of Hope College hockey games where her husband, Caleb, is an associate coach. Another way she stays active.

Staying active is just part of her work toward living with CF. She also takes medications every morning and evening, uses an inhaler and nose sprays, and completes a nebulizer treatment every day. She admits she should be doing the nebulizer and chest percussions up to four times a day, but she does not. Do her doctors care? 

“They take what they can get from us,” she says with a smile.

Brenna taking on an opponent in roller derby.
Brenna, wearing her faith on her helmet, never hesitates to engage!

But the most important part of how she addresses her CF is through her faith.

“I see CF as a blessing. There is a reason God gave me CF. I do struggle every day with anxiety and fear, but I rest in Him,” Brenna says.

Her work email signature includes her life verse:   “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

She encourages other CF patients to explore their faith and “to take opportunities to do things that might not come around again.” She is thankful that her parents raised her with this mindset.  It is a mindset that people outside of the CF community may not understand.  

If you meet Brenna, you cannot tell she deals with CF every day.

“There is a reason they call it an invisible disease because you can’t tell when someone is struggling,” Brenna notes. “It only shows when its really bad, but you are suffering long before that. And it can change day to day.”

Brenna Raising Arms in Victory

One way people can learn about CF is to visit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation website, which has videos and clear written explanations of the disease and how it impacts people.

Five Feet Apart Movie Poster

You can also learn more by attending a special showing of the film “Five Feet Apart”  on Sept. 28 at 7:30 p.m. in the Knickerbocker Theatre. The film was inspired by real-life couple Dalton Prager and Katie Donovan who both suffered from cystic fibrosis and try to have a relationship despite always being forced to stay a certain distance away from each other.

Brenna will be at the movie to talk about her experiences before the movie and then lead a discussion for anyone interested after the movie. All the Hope College proceeds from ticket sales will go to the Michigan Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Join the Conversation


  1. This little redhead is my cousin’s daughter. Since her diagnosis she has never stopped living life to the fullest!! Love and respect you, Brenna 💓.

  2. Brenna, you are an inspiration to all! You have never let your disease define you or keep you down. You have always moved forward in the most positive ways. Take college for an example. Instead of sitting back and using your disease as an excuse not to enroll, you decided to push forward, hoping that in your lifetime they will find a cure. Your faith, marriage, and job are other indicators that you never give up, you always believe.
    I am so proud of you and your accomplishments. Stay Strong.
    With much love,
    Aunt Sue.

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