Overcoming the Stumbling Blocks of Kidney Disease

By Jim Dineen

We’ve all read stories and articles where the first sentence starts out something like this: “Webster’s Dictionary defines __________ as _____________.” I almost started this article like that when it struck me that I was the definition of the words I was searching for: Motivation and Exercise.

Now, don’t think I’m all full of myself, because those who know me will tell you that you couldn’t be farther from the truth. What made me realize who I am was realizing what I’ve been through and thinking and analyzing how I dealt with it and what my outcomes have been. I hope that some of what I have to share can help you.

Did you ever think life just wasn’t treating you right? Maybe things were just going along great and then Boom!–something happens to change your entire life’s focus. Maybe you thought you had a handle on a particular problem or issue, and then one little change turns your world upside down.

My life has certainly been like that, and I must admit that sometimes I wondered who was out to get me… and why? I knew that wasn’t really the case, but it just felt like no matter what I did, some stumbling block always jumped up and tripped me.

“My Mental Process”
What I’ve learned over many years and many tribulations is that the stumbling block was usually my mental process. Through trial and error, I’ve learned that the problems and issues I’ve faced in life were just that–a part of life, and I had to handle them to the best of my ability. I’ve found a whole lot of ability within myself, and so can you.

As I write this article, I realize that I’m eight years older than when I was diagnosed with kidney disease in 1998. I was shocked and overwhelmed. I’d never been sick in my life and had always taken care of myself. I was very physically active–a weight lifter and avid walker, played a lot of golf, and really enjoyed working in my yard. I ate right, and my weight hadn’t varied more than five pounds in 20 years.

Motivated to “Win”
Kidney disease! What the heck was that? Here is where motivation kicked in. I didn’t know it at the time, but my instincts told me that in order to deal with this new problem, kidney disease, I must attempt to understand it.

Once I was motivated enough to study my illness and try to understand what was going on with me, I began to feel empowered. The disease was affecting me in not so subtle ways, and I had to get control. The more in control I felt, the stronger I got, and the more I was motivated to “win” my new battle.

“Meet the Challenge”
When I was diagnosed in 1998 I was self-employed. I had owned my own Human Resource Consulting business since 1992, the year I resigned my corporate job to be my own boss. I lost my business, however, and lived on my savings and partial retirement income and my 401K until it was all gone. I then refinanced my house and now live in the “bank’s house” for as long as I can make the payments.

Stumbling blocks come in all sizes. I’m not telling you all of this so that you can feel sorry for “Ole Jim.” I’ve cried as much as anyone, screamed at the world more than most, and reminded God on more than one occasion that I just didn’t deserve all this. The message that always came back was to “Meet the challenge.”

 The 10 Challenges

1. Study and know yourself and your foe.
The first challenge is to know and understand your foe. Kidney disease, like many other barriers in life, needs to be understood so that we can know what we’re up against.

I went to the Internet and read everything I could find on kidney disease. Most of it was foreign to me and in language I didn’t understand. But one thing I was gaining on was knowledge, and when my doctors began talking to me in terms I didn’t understand, I learned more. As scared as I was, I was getting to know my enemy.

2. Participate in your treatment, in your life.

Challenge Number Two was a little more difficult. I had to do something with this knowledge. I began to ask questions of my medical team: What could I eat and drink without doing further damage? What had I done to make myself so sick? How could I be so sick and still feel so good?

You see, my disease was found by accident. I had no symptoms that I was aware of, so questions flowed from my lips like honey from a beehive. But, as I began to both understand my enemy and what I could do to help myself, I faced the next obstacle.

3. Never accept what is. Go for what might be.
My third challenge was maybe the toughest. I had to get control of my mental situation and work at what was happening to me and move forward. I reached a point where I knew my disease and how sick I really was. I began to experience some pretty ugly side affects from both the disease and the medication.

During those years prior to going on dialysis, I had seven major surgeries and two biopsies. My weight varied weekly by as much as 15 pounds! I also experienced a draining of my abdominal cavity 41 times, and fractured both elbows and three ribs and had a concussion from falling in my bathtub! On top of that, I had fistula surgery just before I went on dialysis in 2000. I understand being sick, and, as blessed as I’ve been in my life, I’ve learned that all these situations were just stumbling blocks in a great life.

4. Embrace your sense of humor. Laughing feels so good.
The fourth of my challenges was the easiest for me to deal with. I will be forever grateful to my friends and family for helping me keep my sense of humor.

I’ve had some rather harrowing experiences in my life. Through them all, I was encouraged by my parents and family to try and find the humorous side. That doesn’t mean things weren’t rough or that I didn’t experience some pain, but I knew that most pain is short-lived (if you want it to be). Even having your abdominal cavity drained 41 times has a humorous aspect to it, if you look for it!

5. Exercise your body as well as your mind.
Challenge number five was one of the most difficult for me. Paradoxically, it was also one of the easiest. I have exercised most of my life and know my body quite well. I know what I can and can’t handle and have read all I could on which exercises could benefit me in my condition.

I returned to lifting weights as I had done before requiring dialysis treatments, during my dialysis stage, and following my transplant. Actually, I had never quit. At one point in my illness, however, I regressed from bench-pressing 250 pounds to pressing less than 50 pounds. I could curl only a five-pound weight with one arm as compared to 60 pounds before I became ill. I went from running 3-5 miles a day to barely walking to the end of my driveway. The drive to move forward in my exercise made the other challenges much easier, and I felt so much stronger as a result.

6. Fight for what you want.
My most difficult challenge was getting my transplant approved. During the course of my illness, it was discovered that I also had contracted cirrhosis of the liver. I didn’t really need another challenge, but it was mine, and I was going to overcome this one, too.

It took me a year and the support of my wife, my kidney donor, my daughters, brothers, father, and numerous friends to convince the transplant team that I could handle a new kidney without a liver transplant. My fear of not being accepted as a transplant candidate drove me to even more challenges, and each one became just another stumbling block to overcome. “One more block to step over!” became my personal motto.

7. Give something back.
Challenge Number Seven was my most interesting endeavor. I received my transplant in 2003 from my wife of 40 years, Joyce. The temptation to just drift off into the sunset and enjoy my rebirth was pretty strong, but, during the course of my illness, I had met so many wonderful people. I knew I had to give back to fellow patients, doctors, nurses, technicians, dietitians, social workers, friends, and family.

I found an organization that gave me this opportunity and am enjoying returning as many blessings as I can to others. My work with the Renal Support Network involves some of the most satisfying things I’ve ever experienced.

8. Nurture your spirituality. We all have it!
My eighth challenge was–and is for me–most important. I continued to develop my personal relationship with God, and that carried me through so much of my turmoil. When I had no one else to turn to, He was there. Whatever your spiritual persuasion, nurture it! I didn’t win this battle by myself!

You are right now participating in Challenge Number Eight. The fact that you are reading this story says that you’re somewhere in your series of challenges and is a testament to the fact that you can win. I still have kidney disease and will for the rest of my life. What I do with it is a new challenge every day. I’ve overcome so much that I feel stronger than I’ve ever felt in my life! I’ve found I can embrace physical, mental, and emotional issues in my life with a lightness, vigor, and determination that I never knew before.

9. Decide to move forward and then run.
Life really is a journey and not a destination. Therefore, as the commercial used to say: “Go for the gusto!” Remember that meeting the challenge takes work, but the reward is without description.

10. Live life one day at a time.
I live Challenge Number 10 beginning every morning when I awake. You can, too. I live life one day at a time.

Remember that your presence is a present to the world!

Overcoming the Stumbling Blocks of Kidney Disease

About the Author
Jim Dineen is a Vietnam veteran who has experienced a lot of ups and downs in his life, but nothing compared to kidney disease. He received a kidney from his wife, Joyce, and has worked with the Renal Support Network, the American Kidney Fund, and the Cincinnati Kidney Foundation. His story was featured in the June 2004 issue of Reader’s Digest.


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