Wednesday, November 21, 2012

West, Meet East

I'll never forget the day my brother Rob channeled his inner Mike Rowe.

Now, these two men will never be confused. Rowe is the host of the Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs, a show that profiles laborers and some of the greasy, grimy, and sometimes disgusting jobs that are necessary in our economy. My brother has the personality to host his own TV show, but all of that mess and dirt? Not a chance.

Hint: This is not my brother.

One day, Rob was telling me what he would do if he lost his job. He listed job after job that he would happily take -- all "Dirty Jobs" worthy -- if it meant providing for his family. I vividly remember our conversation because A.) he's not Mike Rowe-ish and B.) he was so earnest. He meant every word.

Mostly, though, I remember the conversation because I couldn't relate. I couldn't comprehend the drive and motivation to provide for a family. To feel a sense of obligation to others. To be willing to try new things and let life take me down a different path.

I used to think that the reason I couldn't relate is because I didn't have kids, and if I did, well that would change everything. Those kids would be the reason I would push and push and not give up. Those kids would make me scratch and claw and fight like crazy.

Turns out I was wrong, again. Having kidney disease has made me realize that I do have someone to fight for: ME. Somewhere along the line I lost sight of that. The disease has motivated me and awakened a resilience that I didn't know I had.

I do have an obligation, and it's to myself. And I owe it to myself to do whatever is necessary to feel better. That's why I am now embracing alternative medicine. I started supplementing my traditional western medicine treatment plan with a more holistic approach and now see a doctor who uses acupressure and focuses on my body's energy channels. It sounds kooky, but it's working. I've had several treatments and have noticed an improvement in my overall health. I don't feel so tired (the brain fog has lifted), and my stomach issues have subsided. I already knew that my body responded well to acupuncture, so it's not that surprising that the acupressure is working.

My favorite thing about this treatment is that it's drug free and doesn't interfere with anything that my U-M doctors are doing for my kidneys.

It feels good to be able to take care of myself this way. I can't control what's going on with my kidneys, but I can step up and do whatever it takes to keep myself as healthy as possible. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012


I was reading an article by columnist Scoop Jackson and was struck by his lede:

"Journeys. If we are honest with ourselves, we know that they never really begin where we think they begin and they hardly ever end when we think it's the end."

Jackson was writing about "Benji," a compelling 30 for 30 documentary on the life of Chicago basketball star Ben Wilson. (I highly recommend both the article and the documentary, by the way.) Jackson's sentiment about journeys had me nodding up and down in complete agreement. We really don't know where our journeys begin, and we rarely know or recognize when/if they're complete.

I often think about my journey with kidney disease. When did it begin? Was it the day my primary care doctor first flagged the blood in my urine? At the time, kidney disease wasn't suspected, since I didn't have any protein loss.

So was it a few months later, when the protein loss appeared?

IgA nephropathy can be familial. Was I born with this?   

Here's another theory: The antibody IgA (Immunoglobulin A) is found in the body's mucous membranes (respiratory passages, gastrointestinal tract, saliva, tears). It is thought that the body may produce too much IgA when fighting off an infection. IgA nephropathy sometimes appears after a major illness. Did my journey start in 1997, when I had a serious infection that left me hospitalized for eight days? Did that trigger my disease?

Or did my journey start the day I finally admitted I had kidney disease, stopped feeling sorry for myself, and started being an advocate? Was that the beginning?

All of this musing has led to an epiphany of sorts: IT DOESN'T MATTER. It doesn't matter what caused my disease. It doesn't matter how it ends. What is most important is the here and now. My journey is my journey. I don't have to figure out what it all means. I just have to trust. And live.