On a muggy, stormy day in Brookston, Indiana, I stood in anticipation as a bus full of jubilant “Kidney Campers” pulled up to the YMCA’s Camp Tecumseh. No forecast of thunderstorms could keep smiles off these young kidney warriors’ faces as they filed off the bus to find their cabins. The National Kidney Foundation of Indiana’s Kidney Camp had officially commenced. For many of these children, all affected by a kidney disease diagnosis, dialysis, or a transplant, this is the best week of their lives. It’s their chance to be amongst their kidney warrior peers and to feel comfortable with their many scars, catheters and medication regimens. I was a camp counselor this year at Kidney Camp and to be honest, this was the best week of my life, too.
I feel like I’ve always been a kidney patient. From my nephrotic syndrome diagnosis at the age of ten, to my eight-month stint of peritoneal dialysis at the age of sixteen and subsequent kidney transplant at seventeen, to my needing hemodialysis at age twenty-five and receiving a miracle second kidney transplant just last year, I am experienced in fighting kidney disease. I’ve felt a gamut of emotions associated with the fight, leading to thoughts from “I give up,” to “I want to inspire others on how to live well with this affliction,” and everything in between.
We each get one life to live and kidney disease or not, we have to live it to the fullest, taking risks and taking chances.
This year’s Kidney Camp found me at a very new place. I had been transplanted for almost a year and was in a very good space emotionally. I was joyful and ready to get to Kidney Camp and share some of my wisdom with these children about how I’ve survived this long in the fight. I was ready to inspire them with a healthy dose of “optimism through the fight” when they stepped off of the bus. I couldn’t wait to talk and share with these young kidney warriors a little of my story to encourage them. Little did I know, they would be the ones to inspire and encourage me.
From day one at camp, I knew the “inspirational tables” had turned. I could see it at the lunch table when the dialysis kids joyfully swallowed their phosphorous binders in between doing the latest dance craze, “the floss” and enthusiastically jumping on their seats to recite the traditional camp chant: “There ain’t no flies on me!” Pills I once hated to take, these smiling kids simply accepted to stay healthy (without the kicking and screaming, I might add, that I was accustomed to). Then the kids coerced me into zip lining! I was nervous, but these young warriors dashed ahead of me to be first in line to go! Fearless and glad in the pursuit of happiness, despite various illnesses, they reminded me that we each get one life to live and kidney disease or not, we have to live it to the fullest, taking risks and taking chances.
On the last day of camp, after the awards ceremony, I cried as I saw the campers leave. I came wanting to inspire these kids to live their best life and to be resilient in their battles, but I left changed by their attitudes. You see, living well with kidney disease is 90% mental. It’s about having a gracious, joyful disposition that encourages us to live our best lives and take care of ourselves. It’s taking our medication, potentially laden with side effects, and following our treatment plans, because that’s what we’re supposed to do and that’s what will keep us healthy. It’s accepting the hand we’ve been dealt and making the best of it, jumping on the zip line, even though it’s scary.
The kids at Kidney Camp inspired me to not just live well with kidney disease, but to be a better person. I knew that when I got home, I would vow to face adversity with a smile. I would accept all that has been given to me and go on to dance and follow my dreams anyway. I would not settle for an ordinary life, but fly high, not letting my fears get the best of me. These kids showed me that the mental game of kidney disease could not just be won, but be conquered. For that unexpected inspiration, I will always be grateful.
Joy Araujo is a former hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis patient who is now living with a new kidney! She is a Biblical Studies student at Anderson University in Indiana and enjoys volunteering and spending time with her dachshund, Franklin.
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