When I was a child and heard the word kidney, I always thought of the bean. You know the one I mean. The kind they put in chili or a bean salad. I never once thought I’d learn that kidneys were so much more!
When I was diagnosed with Chronic Kidney Disease, I was clueless as to what this really meant. My doctor sent me to a nephrologist (a what?) to have my kidneys evaluated. At first, they were working fairly well. My amazing nephrologist gave me great advice about what would help me keep my kidneys working at their best. I wish I had known right then the first of the important lessons I’ve learned: “Listen to your doctor!” I didn’t follow all the advice and I didn’t know what the real consequences would be. I soon learned many more valuable lessons I wish I’d known earlier.
I wish I’d known that a diagnosis of Kidney Disease does not mean you have been handed a death sentence. It was, and is, a disease that you can live with for years…and you can feel good and stay active. I wish I’d become more educated earlier about options and treatments. I wish I’d known that I could and should reach out to find more information. There are great organizations that provide valuable information.
I wish I’d known that trying to keep my family in the dark and not sharing everything that my doctors told me would only hurt me. My family members are my greatest supporters, and when I opened up after several years, they began to help me and cheer me on even at the most difficult times. I wish I’d been more open with my best friends. There were days I was feeling really sick, but never said anything or asked for help. All that this did was make them wonder why I was so aloof and didn’t want to spend time with them doing the things we enjoyed. Once I opened up, I had a new group of supporters. I wish I’d known how many friends would give me their help and their hearts.
“A diagnosis of kidney disease does not mean you have been handed a death sentence.”
I also wish I’d known that being diagnosed would cause me to become depressed, and that realizing I was depressed would spur me to get help. The crazy thing was that once I had to go on Dialysis, the depression went away. I hadn’t realized that the possibility of needing that treatment had affected me so deeply. The most amazing part is that Dialysis isn’t a horrible thing…I certainly would have liked to have known that!
I also wish that I had known how strong I was emotionally and mentally. I wish I would have known that I would still be able to do physical activities and I wasn’t going to be an invalid. I was scared of becoming “invalid” to other people; I wanted to continue to be an important part of their life. What I didn’t know was that I would be able to become a patient advocate who helps others who are struggling like I did. I didn’t know that I would meet a new group of friends who understood exactly what I was going through because so were they! Who knew that there were so many amazing people that would become important in my life. Talking to others who have the same disease helps a person to understand that they are not alone.
I also wish I’d known what marvelous health professionals would come into my life and how caring they would be. Doctors, nurses, technicians, dieticians, social workers and so many others who work to help me manage my lab results, my diet, my weight and who answer my questions. I wish I’d known that I will never be alone.
Looking back over the years, what I wish the most was that I had not spent time being scared. I wish I had focused more on staying as healthy as I could, planning for the future, finding an organization that would provide me with information, and being more honest with myself and others about what I was facing. I wish I could have educated myself and others more fully, but that came with time.
So, I’ve learned that kidneys are a lot more than beans, and I am grateful to so many people who have helped educate me so that I can educate others.
Debbie has been a teacher for 31 years at La Habra High School in the Fullerton Joint Union High School District. She has been married to Eric Sorensen for 25 years and is the proud mother of three sons, Matthew (21), Sean (18) and Brandon (17). Debbie receives in-center dialysis at Fresenius Dialysis Center in Anaheim.
Debbie was the winner of last year’s essay contest with title “Helping Other People Evolve.”
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