Forging Ahead, Honorable Mention, 20th Annual Essay Contest

by Katherine Cortes

I was diagnosed with Stage 4 chronic kidney disease, or CKD, in 2014. I immediately changed my diet to delay my descent into Stage 5. I began eating a whole-food, plant-based diet with little to no oil or salt. I started the transplant approval process early so I could become active as soon as my GFR hit 20. I continued to eat in this healthy manner. In September 2020, once I started dialysis, I slowly added meat to my diet to keep my protein levels up.  

That year, I also started PD dialysis. I managed by keeping busy. I had just started a new job. So, I was unable to take much time off. I fit in the catheter surgery and returned to work a few days later. I kept busy by working. I am also attending school online to complete my master’s degree in social work. I thrive on a busy schedule and life. I continue to live as I had before dialysis, by working, studying, and bringing my children to sporting events and activities. The constant activity keeps my mind and body active. It helps bring a semblance of normalcy to my life. I manage my medication and diet according to my labs, as my doctor advises. I set up my dialysis treatment around my schedule, either before or after activities. In short, I don’t let this disease get me down.  

In March and April of 2022, I underwent four catheter revision surgeries. After the first two, I returned to work after a week of recovery. During that time, I continued my studies. After the second two surgeries, I was able to return to work as well. I have not let my kidneys run my life, I have let my determination, ambition, and dreams pave the path of my life. 

I am trying to teach my children to never give up. I do not want to allow CKD to ruin my life or stop me from achieving my dreams. I do not want my children to be negatively affected by my health. Instead, I want them to be inspired. I want them to think that their mother is strong and determined. I want them to learn that even in the face of a life-altering, potentially life-threatening disease, they can stay strong, stay capable, and achieve great things. I never want them to feel victimized by what happens to them in life. I want them to take what comes in stride, accommodate what they need to, and forge ahead with their chosen path. I do this by living this way, by refusing to be a victim, by refusing to let something that I can manage take away my autonomy. 

I am a 42-year-old person who identifies as a woman. My pronouns are “she/her.” I have two beautiful daughters, aged 13 and 9. I have a wonderfully supportive family who helps with household chores, transportation, and lately, trips to the hospital. I am a teacher at a shelter for unaccompanied immigrant minors. My students are so sweet! I am studying for my Master’s in Social Work. When I graduate, I want to open a private therapy practice in my community for teenagers.

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