Life is Like a Box of Chocolates – 1st Place Winner, 8th Annual Essay Contest

By Amanda Ratz

Life is Like a Box of Chocolates

As a teenager, you think terrible things happen only in the movies and would never happen to you. In our minds we already have our life and our future planned out. But, what happens when the wind blows something in your direction, something which you have no control over? At the age of 16, I learned Tom Hanks’ quote was so true, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.”

I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.A week after my diagnosis, I experienced my first admission into the hospital, followed by a kidney biopsy. My physicians entered my room and explained the bad news, stating “your disease is extremely active. We need to start an aggressive course of treatment immediately. We will try everything possible, but there could be a chance your kidneys will fail and you will need a transplant in order to survive.”

Suddenly, my future was a huge question mark. My disease was attacking my joints and my blood vessels and causing excruciating pain. Mariah Carey’s lyrics became my inspiration. Every day I listened to her song There Can Be Miracles, When You Believe. I felt as if I was on a roller coaster ride, dangling off the back end, holding on for dear life by only my pinky finger. The disease was in charge and there was nothing we could do to stop it. My faith was shattered, my hope seemed dim, and my courage was tested but my strength kept me alive. Each day that song gave me the little bit of strength I needed to get through the next day. That year, I spent more nights in my hospital room than I did in my own bedroom. St. Louis Children’s Hospital had become my home. But I never stopped believing and my miracle finally arrived December 11, 2000! A perfect matched kidney and a second chance at life! My older brother Matt risked his life to save mine.

After the transplant, I made a promise to myself to better the lives of those affected with kidney disease and to increase the availability of all organs for transplantation. I know that to Pay it Forward would help so many individuals and one day it might even grant me my third chance at life. Becoming involved after transplant was the wisest thing I have ever done. Sometimes helping those in need or cheering someone else up becomes the best medicine.

Currently, I’m no expert on living with a chronic disease, even after 11 years. Life is still like a box of chocolates and each day I do not know what I am going to get. I do struggle at times and life isn’t easy. I search everyday to find that perfect balance where physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally I’ll be at one. My goal is to find that perfect harmony! I try to remain positive every day. Over the years, I’ve learned your attitude makes the difference in whether or not you sink or swim when dealing with an illness. If I wake up and feel like I do not have enough strength to continue- that’s a bad day. I quickly remind myself of this gift of life I was given, keep my head held high, smile and remember the promise I made to myself.

I am a registered nurse, a sister, a friend, a daughter, a volunteer and an advocate for chronic kidney disease (CKD). I am not my disease! This disease is just a part of me. It is the best, yet, the worst thing that has ever happened to me.

I’ve realized the plans for our life can be changed in an hour, a minute, or even a second. You can wake up one day and your life could be changed forever. So what happens when the wind blows something in your direction that you can’t control? Well, there isn’t one thing that helps me survive CKD. Everything does! My family, friends, nurses, physicians, books, movies, and songs have taught me to “bend when the wind blows,” to “pay it forward”, and that “there can be miracles when you believe.” Keep your head held high if the wind knocks you down. You weren’t born to break, so pick yourself up, have faith, find your strength, and search for harmony. You’re not your disease!  Always remember to smile.

About the Author
Mandy Ratz, 27, began her struggle with Kidney Disease at the age of 16. After spending one year on dialysis, she received her brother’s kidney shortly after her 18th birthday. Currently, Mandy resides in St. Louis, Missouri working as a Registered Nurse and is actively involved in various charitable organizations.