A New Adventure

So, it has been established that I am an animal lover. And at times I agree with the statement that the more people I meet, the more I prefer dogs (and cats), but I swore no more animals in my house! No more 4-legged creatures to feed, take to the vet, take on walks, figure out what to do with when I travel, share my bed and sofa with, and on and on. So what do I do? Sign up to become a foster home for rescued Labs…. I actually gave this a bunch of thought and besides nearly crying every time the ASPCA commercials come on; it just kills me to see stories about abandoned animals, or those stuck in shelters, or chained in a yard, the list of animal cruelties goes on and on. So, I was browsing a website for a local rescue group – luv’n labs and came across a story about a lab. This young black lab had been left with friends of a soldier being deployed; and somehow ended up in a shelter. Or a dog that becomes an unwanted family member due to divorce. Anyway, I have a big yard, a nice size house, the means to pay for basic care, and the heart to try to save a dog from being euthanized while waiting for a forever family.

And today, Austn the big goofy black lab (mix) joined my household. While Brin and Gabby went with me to meet him and seemed perfectly fine with him on a leash with a different person. Brin isn’t being so hospitable at home. I’m hoping that resolves soon – but in the meantime – they aren’t trying to kill each other. And Austin – looks totally like a lab – but has a white chest and white feet. Super waggy tail and is incredibly sweet. He’s showing no interest in Kirby, Josey hasn’t made an appearance. He’s marked everything on the 1st floor of my house, but is currently sleeping soundly in his crate.

The most common question I’ve received as I’ve told people I’m embarking on this adventure is why? And my answer – because I can. I don’t see this as much different from donating a kidney. I’m doing something that is changing my life (and hopefully) someone else’s for the better. And I’m not just talking about Austin and any future rescue dogs – I’m talking about whomever is so lucky to adopt this beautiful pup. They are going to get a loyal, energetic, goofy companion…..and who could want more than that in a dog?

For those of you who might be reading this wondering what it has to do with kidney donation. Probably not much. However, I’m good at spin – and can totally rationalize that having yet another dog is going to take my amount of cardio up another notch, and thus keep me on my path to good health forever! I’d also say it’s another example of how being a living donor has given me greater confidence to try new things and pave my own course in life. One can either stand on the sidelines and hope someone else helps – or do it him/herself.

Regarding the ol’ kidney… me. I’m fine. Nothing to complain about healthwise. I had a nice section of skin taken off my back a couple months ago, it was cancerous, but won’t kill me. (so says the dermatologist). They got clear margins and no treatment was necessary. I haven’t had additional labwork to check kidney function. While I have some orders to get drawn, they aren’t due until October (2-year transplantversary!), and I’m just not worried. My blood pressure remains perfectly normal.

I’m hoping that Lisa will find some time to post her own update in this millennium. I just returned from Denver a few days ago and spent nearly a week with Lisa (and Brutus), the twins, members of her family (Liz, Bill and Adrienne) and friends. We had a great time. Daniel and Sophie are growing like weeds and are getting to be very good talkers.

As I finish this – Kirby (the cat) is laying under my legs next to the sofa, Gabby is on the 1st level of stairs dead to the world, Brin is on the tile in front of the door sleeping, and Austin is in his crate – snoring. Not a bad Sunday afternoon. I’ll post pics of Austin as soon as he acclimates a bit more!

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Happy Birthday Daniel and Sophie!! and A DAMN GOOD KIDNEY

 

Daniel and Sophie in Minnesota in November

So i was feeling pretty bad about this blogging thing – or I should say my lack thereof.  I would like to do it more, but by the end of the day after working full time-ish and taking care of two toddlers, it is all I can do to grab a little exercise, some dinner, and crash in front of the TV. 

But – I did wanted to make a HUGE call out to my little ones who are TWO today.  Which means that two years ago today at about this time I was in the hospital and getting ready to crash and burn.  A little freaky to contemplate actually.  When I think of it I do get a little choked up – not because I was sick and yada yada yada, but because of all the love and support that I recieved and how many people went out of their way to help me.  It is something I will treasure for the rest of my life. 

The kids are doing great.  They are growing by leaps and bounds.  They take music and swimming and we are going to start tumbling soon.  They are a little late in talking which leads to some frustration.  Sophie has some words and has entire conversations with herself; we just can’t understand what she is saying.  Daniel doesn’t talk but he loves music and dancing.  We have taken a few plane trips and are taking a big vacation in December to Cancun.  Four hours alone on a plane with them.  Gulp.  We are going to need Valium and not for them. 

As hard as it is to believe, Brutus has now lived with me for over a year.  I had my one-year check up visit last month and the doctor could not have been more pleased.  Based on my creatinine (1.28) and the fact that I either had one teeny weenie episode of rejection that responded within 24 hours to steroids or it wasn’t an episode of rejection at all, he placed me in the top 20% of transplant recipients (have I mentioned I am a bit competitive?) That means there is a reasonable likelihood that this kidney will last me at least 15 years.  That doesn’t seem very long at present but I will keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best.  Rejection is always a concern and I asked the doctor how likely it was that rejection could be triggered if I missed a dose of meds.  He suggested that I had probably already missed doses – actually, no.  I may have missed one early on, but thanks to my trusty iPhone I can count on one had the times where I was more than 30 minutes late with a dose of meds.  He thought that was probably one reason why I was doing so well.

Other than that, life is pretty much, well, life.  I hope everyone had a wonderful thanksgiving and wishing you a wonderful holiday season.

1st Transplantversary Eve

How does time seem to fly by so quickly? I had such big plans for 2011 and I’m feeling a bit pressed for time now… It was last October 21st (2010) that my old left kidney moved to Denver. For those of you wondering – Lisa is still alive, she just doesn’t seem to find time to blog. The ol’ left kidney, affectionately known as Brutus, is doing well in its new body even though the Buckeye football team isn’t having a stellar season. The twins, Daniel and Sophie, are entering their terrible two’s so I probably won’t go visit until they are about 5. I last saw them over Labor Day and I needed naps more often than they did. They are total fruit and veggie aficionados and tend to pick directly from the vine – regardless of ripeness. I got to be with them on their first Ikea outing – who could ask for more?
Now then, I’ve decided to reflect a bit on this year – both successes and challenges and these are in totally random order:
1. Frustration – this may not be appropriate – but I really get frustrated when I hear how many people are in kidney failure, on dialysis and unwilling to consider a living donation. Unwilling may be unfair – maybe they haven’t been told it’s an option. But if you are reading this and know someone in this position – make sure they know they have options. Do they know that living organs tend to last longer than cadavers? Don’t they think it’s kind of perverse to be sitting around waiting for someone to die to get their organ? Maybe it’s more perverse to give away your perfectly good organs when you’re alive – but if you can stay alive without it – didn’t we always learn sharing is a good thing? I know, both giving and receiving is a personal choice, but there are positive aspects to both donating and receiving and I wish more people were knowledgeable about the living donation process and were more open to receiving…. And this is an open invitation – if you know someone who won’t consider a living donor – I’d be more than happy to talk to them. I’ll even show my scars! Choose life…
2. Sadness – this year marked the passing of my cat buddy Sebastian. And to add insult to injury, the shrub I planted over his grave didn’t make it through our horrific, hot, dry summer. It’s since been replaced and the lovely ornamental grass is thriving, thank goodness. I hate to cry over dead shrubs. I think Kirby still misses ‘Bas too. He looks for him in my closet. Not to mention the kitten from hell – OJW – Outlaw Josey Wales is just a menace.
3. Survival – not only me – but Gabby. I still cringe when we walk through the area she was attacked this past spring. Her personality has changed forever – she’s no longer all happy go lucky and glad to see any dog or person. She doesn’t like dogs anymore. Just people. She does well at doggy day care – but otherwise – has turned fearful and borderline aggressive.
4. Thriving – after not liking my 6 month post-donation lab results – they have rebounded nicely at a year. My creatinine level is all happy – not normal – but not bad for a solo kidney; my blood pressure is in the good range, and all is looking good. Go kidney go! I still hate getting blood drawn and my veins don’t cooperate any better than before.
5. Courage – although I’ve been speaking publicly in professional settings for years, I haven’t had as many opportunities in the last three years. Last month, I participated in a briefing on Capitol Hill talking about one of my main projects at WellPoint. I know this stuff inside and out, in my sleep, etc….I shared the stage with a U.S. Congressman. And I was nervous…. But then I thought to myself –dangit (well – use the language you THINK I used), you gave a kidney away last year you big sissy – this is an 8 minute talk…. My time sailed by and I think it went well. But it really made me stop and think – how many things do I not do due to fear? And why do I keep letting fear get in my way? I’m not invincible – but I am stronger than I tend to believe. And I would bet you are too!
6. Perseverance – I really wanted to lose 20 pounds this year. And I lost 9, and gained some of that back – but I continue to try. But I also am giving myself some slack. I know I feel better when I weigh less, but I need to celebrate – I’m perfectly healthy right now. I want to keep trying to lose to ensure good health into the future, so will continue that battle. I also continue periodically going on dates. I’m just really bored with the dating scene…. So have focused more on building my circle of friends.
7. Awe. I had the absolute privilege of crewing for a friend, who is a hot air balloon pilot, at the 40th Anniversary of the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. The first mass ascension had something like 345 balloons in the air at once. It was a world record and absolutely magnificent. I had way too many nights/mornings of not enough sleep – but I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world. I continue to help crew on some weekends and in 2012 will look forward to some traveling balloon rallies where my friend flies in Utah, Colorado and Arizona.
And with that – who knows what the rest of 2011 and 2012 will bring. I’m open to new opportunities. Will probably keep the rest of my body parts for now, but ya never know… I heard one can regenerate a liver! Wahoo! (for those of you who like to take me seriously and I just can’t figure out why – no, I’m not currently considering donating my liver or a piece of it…my friend ibuprofen has been taken from me, I need my Tylenol! ) I hope my pet population stays as it is for now and that Brutus will continue to thrive. There are over 99 special shapes balloons – maybe I’ll have a kidney balloon created and learn to fly!

I hope this blog finds everyone doing well and believing in and supporting organ donation (and if you want to wait until you are done with your parts – I’m good with that – I promise. :-p).

Almost a year?

How did this happen? I received my notice (a bit early) that it’s time for my 1-year post-donation check-up. Next week will actually be 10 months, but it caused me to reflect a bit…. At this time last year, I had passed all my health tests that indicated I was in perfect health to donate. But….the transplant team was still hoping for a closer match to up odds of success. Yep – 12 months ago today, I was still in limbo. Lisa, as you might recall, really liked the idea of a back-up and asked me to not give my old left kidney to anyone else. Hmmm….didn’t have any takers. It pretty much amazes me that the transplant committee didn’t approve the transplant until the end of September. I’ll write more about those feelings next month, but on October 21, 2010, Lisa became the proud owner of my old left kidney – and since it was football season –Brutus (as in Buckeye) seemed to be an appropriate name. No Ohio State jokes or slams please, some of us are bit sensitive and other than getting to celebrate a year with only my old right kidney – can’t say I’m looking forward to this year’s football season.

I’m actually looking forward to getting my labs drawn in a couple months. I’m quite fascinated at this point at how the body heals itself. I don’t have any discomfort around my incisions and seem to have all normal sensation in the area. The only adverse health issue this year has been the whole vision issue. I have 3 pairs of glasses now – I rarely wear any of them. I guess I should, I’m thinking there’s a purpose for them, they just don’t come natural to me.
Otherwise, I’ve really been enjoying these last 10 months. Well – other than the wind, heat and drought of living in the southwest. I have replaced so many plants and keep hoping others will spontaneously burst to life contrary to what every nursery center in the area tells me – dead is dead. Ugh! I’ve made some great new friends and have had the opportunity to talk to a couple of women who were also scheduled to donate. One, Michele’s to her father was successful and they both sound back to normal and enjoying life. And the other, Margot – is in limbo. The transplant team for her cousin is seeking a better match. I’ve been hot air ballooning and subsequently joined a balloon crew. No, that’s not like a gang – well not exactly… basically, when needed, I’ll help the pilot and other crew members get a balloon in the air, chase it around from the ground until it lands and get it all packed up again to do another time. In return, I periodically get to ride. Oh yeah! This past weekend, there was a little ballooning contest and about 30 or so balloons went up. It was wonderful! This morning, chicken dog (Brin) had quite a scare – a balloon was totally stalking him and trying for an open desert dog abduction. Luckily, the pilot couldn’t swoop down with protector dog Gabby in little sister protection mode. Brin typically runs about off-leash – when a balloon (or 3 like this morning) is near – he practically puts his leash back on and pulls me home. Anyway, we made it home safely but he didn’t leave my side most of the day. Let’s see – my other highlight so far was finally seeing a concert at Red Rocks. I also feel very blessed that Lisa took a wrong turn and we missed seeing YES. They need to retire. 90-year old men jamming on stage is not pretty. STYX was reasonably good – the weather (since we missed the thunderstorm during our wrong turn) was terrific. Next up – Sugarland (birthday gift from my sister) this week in Albuquerque and the Zac Brown Band at Red Rocks (Thanks Christine!) over Labor Day. This reflection makes me think that the “Life is Good” folks should design a line of t-shirts featuring kidneys doing fun stuff!

To end – one of the blood tests that is monitored for both donor and recipient is a blood creatinine lvel. This is what WebMD has to say about the test: The blood creatinine level shows how well your kidneys are working. A high creatinine level may mean your kidneys are not working properly. The amount of creatinine in the blood depends partly on the amount of muscle tissue you have; men generally have higher creatinine levels than women. The moral of this story….all the work I’ve doing with my personal trainer could be impacting one of the most important kidney function tests! Oh well…I won’t know for a few more weeks.

And now, for those of you who also think in song….a few lyrics from Rent:
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes,
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Moments so dear.
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights
In cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.

In five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
How do you measure
A year in the life?

Something to think about…. A friend posted on Facebook that today WOULD HAVE BEEN his wife’s 46th birthday. This friend is younger than me and is a widower. I’ve been thinking about his post all day. And I know I’m blessed to be alive, to have friends and family, to have too many animals, my health, a great job and so many other things to be thankful for – but are they really measures of a year in life?

It’s Been a While__9 months to be a day late and a kidney short

I’ve been thinking of blogging, but as we all know, thinking is not the same as doing. So, yesterday was the 9 month anniversary of becoming an organ donor. I have to admit it really seems like so long ago. I have been extremely tired lately, to the point of total fatigue on some days and I like to blame it on having one kidney, but reality is – I’m just getting older and it’s darn hot outside! Oh, and that lunatic kitten that started living with us in April thinks 4 am is a great time to pounce on sleeping people. Josey Wales is really a good name for her – I have a few others that are used at 4 am, but they aren’t exactly appropriate for a blog.

I can’t remember if I wrote anything about this after my Utah hiking vacation – but one of the guides at Green Valley Spa has this childlike philosophy on life and it reminded me that sometimes it’s the best way to go. This hiking guide was pretty much like a cat or monkey in his hiking progression – he almost danced up the trails and it was incredible to watch. When I asked him why he hiked the way he did (spinning, hopping, back and side-stepping) he had 2 answers – one is it had a lower impact on the environment and two, it made him happy. And carefree. Hmmm…I need that. So I tried it a bit and felt silly, but then decided, so what? What is wrong with just being silly? Thus, I’ve been seeking silly opportunities.

I was in Ohio last week and my deepest apologies to those friends I didn’t get to see. My personal time was really limited to 1.5 days, I otherwise focused on work or family. Anyway – the highlights – a couple family members and I escaped a cookout (I will not divulge names) and headed to Cake in a Cup. This is an incredible little cupcake shop close to my old stomping grounds on Central Ave, near McCord. The owners won an episode of Cupcake Wars – so I had to try them…right? Oh my. If you live in Toledo or are in the area – go. Don’t think – just go. I may have spoiled my dinner and certainly desert, but eating that chocolate peanut cupcake was fun. And delicious. Next up – a week in Mason, Ohio. It was hotter than hot and super muggy. One night a couple work girlfriends and I went to Kings Island. They told their kids and husbands it was girls’ night (but only of a certain age) and off we went. Dinner…french fries, pop (yes – I was in Ohio, grew up an Ohioan and I call it pop), and ice cream. Graeters ice cream to be exact. Graeters buckeye bash ice-cream – chocolate and peanut butter! We went on a bunch of roller coasters and I screamed my head off and laughed and giggled. Have I mentioned I really enjoyed the french fries and ice cream? I also met my friend Kirsten for lunch. Kirsten and I have known each other since kindergarten and reconnect on Facebook. We met at Cap City Diner in Columbus. And I hate to admit it, but I’m fairly sure I’d been there before, but not sober. It was one of those places where there are memories, but they wouldn’t let themselves out. I won’t say any more about the time I lived in Columbus and why I might have some memory issues from that time. But, it was Bastille Day, so Kirsten and I split some crème brulle. It was all her fault! I think I ate my way through Ohio…..

My nephew Eric returned to New Mexico with me. I was beyond embarrassed when I had a bit of an issue making it through security at the Cleveland airport. I had shopped at Crate and Barrel and totally, I mean totally forgot I bought a cheese knife and it was in my carry on. TSA didn’t like that. My nephew now considers me a criminal. And after dealing with TSA and then being turned over to the Cleveland Metro Police – I kind of feel like one. I was told to NEVER do that again. What never forget? That’s fun – right? While Eric was visiting, we ran a 5k – the Chunky Monkey – free Ben and Jerry’s at the end! And saw the last installment of Harry Potter. I’m super sad the series is over….

In summary – at 9 months, I’m searching for my inner child and found some of it in Ohio until it was cruelly snatched away by TSA (nice rhyme –huh?) , I ate a bunch of ice cream and enjoyed it immensely and am just trying to remind myself to take more time to have fun. Can someone tell my boss that? Now back to trying to get to a normal BMI before the 1 year kidney assessment.

Gifts

It’s Christmas evening, and after a very enjoyable day – I found myself pondering what my favorite gift had been this year. My day started with an early (and rather chilly) walk with Brin and Gabby. And I’m certainly blessed and thankful for the gifts that come with having pets (Bas and Kirby too!). After that walk, my friend Tim and I went over to Placitas to check out a hiking trail there. Another gift – the ability to move my legs, observe and enjoy the great outdoors with good conversation. Back home, and I rounded up Brin and Gabs and we headed north to my sister Kris’s. She was working today, so I took my dogs, her dogs, and her neighbor’s dog for a walk. I’m not sure why, but at my house Gabby needs to be on a leash – up there – she runs wild, but always circles back. Anyway, the dogs (all 5 of them) were acting like puppies today – the gift of joy and amusement from watching the dogs cavort! Kris and I then met up at our friend Deborah’s house for dinner and we exchanged gifts both at Deborah’s and back at Kris’s. I received many wonderful things from my friends and family and won’t bore you with the details – but is it wrong to be super excited about 3 pairs of smartwool socks? And of course the pictures of my nephews are super special! But in really pushing myself, while I LOVE everything I received today – it struck me that the gift with most meaning this year is life. And I think I’m finally getting (and yes, for being brilliant it sometimes takes me a while to catch on to the simple things….) what this kidney donation means to Lisa, her friends and family. Last year at this time, Lisa was grasping for life, something most of us take for granted. Many of us have other friends or family members who are sick or who have battled cancer or some other chronic illness; and most of us have suffered loss of a loved one. And I’m sure you wondered if there is anything you could do/could have done for that loved one – but most times we can’t do anything but be supportive, considerate and kind. I may have gone a bit beyond that this year – but am happy to say that Lisa is alive and I’m alive. And, if you are reading this – you my friend – are also alive. And that, I believe is the greatest gift we have each and every day. And on this Christmas night 2010 – it is that for which I am most thankful.

I subscribe to a daily email from gratefulness.org – one of the quotes received this past week: Take care of yourself, you never know when the world will need you. (Rabbi Hillel). As we all reflect on yet another holiday season, I think it’s important to realize that we are all needed in different ways….

I hope that everyone is having wonderful holidays in 2010. And I’m looking forward to a spectacular 2011!

Identity

We all have a way that we think of ourselves.  Growing up I was the smart one; as an adult I was the doctor who worked for a health care company and was pretty darn good at her job (at least I think I was).  All of a sudden this “event” happens and I am out of work for four months on STD (short-term disability for those of you who think that STD stands for something else) and I am the sick one, the one on dialysis, the one who needs help taking care of herself and her kids.  It really messes with your head.  Having a chronic disease, or illness, or frankly anything that brings you into frequent contact with the health care system has a way of completely taking over who you are and, if you are not careful, defining much of how you think about yourself and how others think about you. 

I realize part of this is my doing since I have been very open and transparent about my condition and my ups and downs.  I am hopeful that others can learn from my experience since I inherently like to teach.  In these days of HIPAA (the law that requires your doctor to have you sign a paper confirming that you have read their privacy policies,) it is much easier to keep medical issues private.  My friends were very careful to do this on my behalf in the early days until I was able to make the choice to be open and public.  So while I am glad that folks have benefited from my experience (I hope), I don’t want this experience to define who I am or what I am about.  I hate being a patient since, to me at least, “being a patient” implies a lack of control and a sense of powerless-ness.  I didn’t even realize I thought that until just this moment as I am writing this. 

There are ways to communicate to and about people with an acute illness, chronic diseases or other major health care need.  For example, my father is not a diabetic; he is a person with diabetes.  Cancer survivors have many things that define them of which their history with cancer is only one aspect.  It is very important that we remember this, both as friends and families, health care providers, payers, and fellow patients.  Patients are people, and while in the acute stage your disease or illness may consume your life, once things are back to normal, even a new normal, I at least do get a little weary of people asking me  “how ARE you,” like it is more than a perfunctory question.  Not that the inquiry and sentiment is not appreciated, it is, and people have been SO wonderful, but it does make it hard to forget and feel normal. 

Needing a transplant puts you in a different category since you need to publicize your story in hopes of finding a living donor.  I spread my story far and wide looking for a donor.  It was a numbers game –and I was a bit embarrassed at first since it seemed weak to me to be in this situation.  I had so many friends (and family, although because of my condition they were not allowed to donate in case it was genetic) who volunteered but since the closer the match the better we wanted a large pool of potential donors.   I will let Sarah talk about how it changes your identity to be willing to donate a kidney.  To allow a surgeon to remove a part of you to give to someone else has to change how you think about yourself.  It certainly changes how others think about you (although again I am biased).  It really amazes me that not only my friends but acquaintances and perfect strangers were willing to donate to me.  I think as a society for the most part we are incredibly generous to people in need.  But that is a story for a different day.  Happy Holidays everyone.  To quote Margaret and Helen, I mean it.  Really.