My ‘I Can’ Attitude Has Guided Me Through the Rough Time of Kidney Failure

By Jim Dineen, PEPP Speaker and weKAN Activist

My I Can Attitude - Jim Dineen

I feel strongly about it and often say that “everyone has a story.” This is usually followed by someone telling me how boring and mundane their lives have been. I used to be like that until I sat back and took a close look at my own life.

“I Love the Irish”
I love the Irish. I’m not sure their rap sheet of loud talking, drinking, fighting, and partying is always completely accurate. Through experience, however, I find them to be a smiling, generally happy, outgoing and cheerful people who don’t like to fight so much as passionately defend their beliefs.

I’m Irish, and my family came from Dublin in County Cork about three or four generations ago. There were 10 paternal aunts and uncles (11 counting my dad) in one big Irish-Catholic family. I pretty much grew up listening to my aunts sharing moral and religious views with all of my cousins, brothers and me, and my uncles sharing their bravado and phenomenal ability to tell stories. I sometimes look back and wonder just how many of those stories were true, but I really don’t want to know. It just might destroy those magical memories for me, and I’m fine leaving them where they are!

A Proud Heritage
My mom was from the South where I was born in Opp, Alabama. Opp is south of Montgomery and almost touches the Florida border.

I’m proud of my heritage on both sides of my family, and I’ve learned over the years to tell great and sometimes embellished stories about my background. If you’re Irish and Southern, your stories are “garnished with extra details,” not exaggerated as my children often mistakenly accuse me of being. My five grandchildren will learn the difference between the two early in life if I have anything to say about it.

“My Formative Years”
Now, you have my background. I’d like to tell you about my rather average, but (I hope) somewhat interesting story.

When my Dad went off to World War II, Mom and I migrated to Middletown, Ohio, where dad’s family lived. This is where I spent my formative years. Our home was near the Great Miami River, and I have many stories about exciting adventures along the river. Think of them as my own little Huckleberry Finn adventures. I played knothole baseball, peewee football, and CYO basketball. While I was not particularly proficient at any of these endeavors, I learned a great deal about life, friendship, disappointment, and victory as well as how to handle each of these entities when they came my way.

My childhood was truly wonderful. We had no money but my family, both immediate and extended, was everything to me. They are who I am today, with some minor modifications.

“Great Learning Experiences”
High school, college, and early marriage were great learning experiences in the 1950s and 1960s, and I will be forever grateful for those early years. They taught me joy. However, at some point in every great life, boring though it may seem, significant events will throw cold water on an otherwise beautifully gleaming fire.

It was 1968, and I had just graduated from Miami University of Ohio and taken a sales job with a major company out of New York. And I must say, I was very good at my job. Joyce and I had been married for three years and were considering starting a family as I had by then failed the military physical three times for what I thought were minor knee problems. I was safe. In a short period of time between late 1968 and late 1969, however, life changed dramatically.

In the Central Highlands
Following graduation, Joyce became pregnant with our first child. I was promoted to a large territory in Northern Ohio. We bought our first house with borrowed money, and I was drafted and passed the military physical. On the day I left for Fort Dix, New Jersey, I told Joyce not to worry as I would return from the draft board in the evening, knowing that I would again fail the test. I called her at seven o’clock that evening and said I wouldn’t be home.

Over the next six months, we lost our first house, without ever having moved in. My daughter was born. I received orders for Vietnam. My father and father-in-law had serious health issues while I was gone, and I, like many veterans, changed. I was in the Infantry in the Central Highlands, and life would simply never be the same. I was never heroic, but I fought that war in my head for almost 20 years before I won. It truly was a long war.

The Diagnosis… and the Challenge
The spring of 1998 was an equally dramatic period of time. Our first daughter, Shari, born while I was leaving for Vietnam, had been married a few years and was living in Alaska with her husband and two dogs. My youngest daughter, Leslie, got married in May of 1998, and, in June, I was diagnosed with renal failure. This new war would prove to be another true test of strength. I had no symptoms and was otherwise in excellent health, I thought. Well, guess again…

Over the next five years, I:

  • Had 10 major surgeries;
  • Was diagnosed with liver disease in addition to kidney failure;
  • Had my abdominal cavity drained over 35 times from fluid accumulation;
  • Lost my business which I had started in 1992;
  • Watched my wife lose her job to downsizing not once but twice in this same period;
  • Lost both my cars; and
  • For two years, had no source of income other than my savings and what little pension I had built over the years.

My first war had actually prepared me well for this second series of battles.

An “I Can” Attitude
In 2003, I was blessed with a kidney transplant from my wife, Joyce, and, today, I travel the country speaking to groups and organizations about motivation, survival, persistence, and an “I can attitude.” Following a speech I gave not long ago, a young lady in Michigan asked how I became so strong. I was quite flattered by her question, but didn’t really have an answer at the time. Today, I’m giving my answer.

The good Lord gave me the courage to deal with whatever life threw at me. I didn’t always deal with it well, but from each situation, I learned and grew in my beliefs and my focus. Like everyone reading this article, I am as strong as I want to be. All I ever had to do was ask for the strength. So, to my friend in Michigan, there’s your answer.

If you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right on both counts. Believe me, it’s far better to think you can.

About the Author
Jim Dineen is a speaker, writer, soon to be author, and husband to Joyce, his wife of 42 years. He has two grown daughters, Shari and Leslie, two wonderful sons-in-law, five fantastic grandchildren, and one amazing dog, Maggie, who has been at his side from the onset of his illness. He served in the “corporate world” as a Human Resource Manager for 23 years before striking out on his own in 1992. He had a very successful Human Resources consulting practice, specializing in Change Management until he became ill with kidney disease. In addition to his speaking career (log onto: for more details), he sells both residential and commercial real estate. He attributes his good health to dedicated exercise habits. In addition to his kidney disease, Jim continues to successfully deal with liver disease and skin cancer issues.

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