Picture it: Auburn, Alabama 2018, in a veterinary student’s mobile home. Five vet students, laptops open, piles of books and notes on the floor and table. Caffeine flowing like an IV drip. Bags of snacks, fast food, and takeout ready to be consumed in the long hours of study ahead. That was my life… until early August 2019.
My chronic kidney disease (CKD) diagnosis came as I was just beginning my third year of veterinary school. I was home in Illinois and missed the first week of school, as my doctor would not release me to return to school in Alabama until my kidney biopsy results were in and a medical plan was in place. My life as I knew it felt like it stopped on a dime. There were tears, prayers, and life adjustments to be made, including my diet.
A strong woman looks a challenge dead in the eye and gives it a wink.
My mom. Just as she was there when I needed a kiss to my scraped knee when I was in elementary school, she was there to help me with my new kidney diet lifestyle. But this time, I wiped her eyes and told her everything would be okay. It had to be. It has to be. I have wanted to be a vet my entire life. While my world was rocked by my diagnosis, I would not let it alter my course.
Gina Carey said, “A strong woman looks a challenge dead in the eye and gives it a wink.” And as such, two strong women winked and made the 650-mile journey back to Alabama. Mom drove as I listened to recorded classes to catch up. Once in Auburn, my feet hit the ground running. Mom began the search for my kidney diet. She signed up on several kidney websites for recipes. As she became proficient with sodium and potassium quantities and alias names, we tried recipes.
When I think back to my diet transformation, it was as much a mindset change as an actual diet change. Prior to my diagnosis, food was important to me, of course, but more thought went into what sounded good and was easy to get. In today’s world of boxed, processed, drive-thru and delivery, it was easy to put eating on autopilot.
Searching for recipes I liked, getting into the habit of actually shopping for food, and taking time to cook all took an adjustment period. But you know what? It has been a wonderful life-changing experience. I appreciate food more now than I ever did. That sounds silly; we all appreciate food. But now I definitely appreciate the quality and freshness of food.
Food is sustenance. Food is life. Food is synergistic. My spice cabinet is full. It is amazing the combinations I can make with spices to create a flavorful dish. Zucchini fries are the new French fries. Crunchy, aromatic sliced red, green, and yellow peppers take the place of chips. I’ll take a homemade kidney-friendly BBQ turkey cup any day to a take-out sandwich.
Do I have an occasional cheat day? Yes. Are there foods I miss? You bet; RIP boxed mac-n-cheese and Roma’s pizza. But honestly, cheat days are not as exciting as they were in the beginning. The sodium that emanates from typical food is astounding, making it less palatable now, and it actually makes me feel a little wonky when I eat it.
Not to say that I do not enjoy a slice of my favorite pizza from time to time, but I really do not miss it. Truth be told, I FEEL happier and healthier on my kidney-friendly diet. I feel empowered knowing exactly what I am putting into my body.
I am blessed that my family made the diet change with me. My dad is a diabetic who needed a change in diet himself, but my diagnosis was the catalyst. Mom and I are always swapping recipes. When I travel home for a break, there is no my food and their food. Kidney-friendly at the Brunstein house is the norm for anyone and everyone who dines with us.
And remember that wink of strength? I enjoy the challenge of introducing my kidney-friendly foods to my study partners. Picture it: Auburn, Alabama 2020, in a veterinary student’s mobile home. Five vet students, laptops open, piles of books and notes on the floor and table. Fruit smoothies and water flowing like an IV drip. Fresh pepper strips, strawberries, and unsalted pretzels to munch. “Hey Kristin, do you have any more of those turkey meatball gyros you make?” I just smile…and wink.
Kristin Brunstein was diagnosed with Stage 3B Kidney Disease in August 2019. It was an incidental finding when she went in for an unrelated issue. She was diagnosed with FSGS, in additional to lactose intolerance. Kristin is currently in her fourth and final year of veterinary school at Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine and will be graduating in May 2021. Her lifelong dream has been to help animals and be a voice for the voiceless. She enjoys working with cats, dogs, horses, and goats and would like to be a mixed animal practitioner upon graduation. In addition to being a full time veterinary student, Kristin makes bandanas and bow ties for animals and donates a portion of the profits to animal cancer research.
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