On The Cutting Edge

The ending of a relationship, moving, financial struggles, and the death of a loved one.  All of these are known as some of the most difficult and stressful events that a person can go through.  Over the last five months I’ve had all of them happen to me.  Needless to say, blogging wasn’t at the top of my priority list. 

Stress takes a more pronounced toll on my body, because of the ongoing challenges of being a dialysis patient.  Sleep eluded me for months.  Torturous stabbing stomach pains woke me nightly.  My broken heart ached and wept.  I lost my appetite, and with it weight that I shouldn’t .  A strained knee, and sore muscles from moving furniture and locations twice in less than thirty days, had me limping.

It’s taken me some time to recover, and stabilize.

There were some rays of light and hope as well.  In early June I was invited to meet with the CEO of a stem cell research company in California.  I also was privileged to tour the company’s research lab, meet their very nice staff, and get a look at some amazing equipment.  I was deeply moved to learn that I am influencing stem cell research by being so open about the details of my experience with kidney failure, receiving an adult peripheral blood stem cell treatment, and my subsequent improvements.  The CEO’s expertise in stem cell research motivated me to pursue another treatment, and his kind donation added to the funds I’ve been setting aside for it.

The highlight of my summer was being able to reduce my dialysis to two and a half hours twice per week.  My doctors and the dialysis staff were anticipating that the reduction would be short-lived.  They were wrong.  The stem cell treatment has certainly delivered the results it had promised:  Less dialysis time and improved kidney function.  This is a BIG DEAL! I’ve eliminated a day, and reclaimed my weekends!  I now am down to half the amount of dialysis time compared with before my stem cell treatment.

Regularly I get asked for numbers and facts, so here are a few.  Prior to the stem cell treatment I had dialysis three hours, three times per week.  My BUN was usually in the 80’s; I was on three medications to control my blood pressure; my PTH was 600 or higher; and my Vitamin D level was low.  Now my BUN is in the 50’s to 60’s; I am on only one blood pressure medication; my PTH is around 300; and my Vitamin D level is normal.  Other improvements include great immunity, normal iron levels, and zero hospitals visits or stays.  These are enough reasons for others to consider stem cell treatments for their kidney problems.

Stem cell medicine is advancing at lightning speed.  Earlier this year the book, The Healing Cell, was published.  It contains impressive and incredible information about stem cell medicine for a range of medical dilemmas, including MS, lupus, arthritis, and severe burns.  New results and discoveries occur on a weekly basis, and over 2,500 clinical studies are happening in the area of adult stem cell treatments.  Stem cell medicine is a bit like a sleeper film.  Most people aren’t expecting it to become much of anything.  It will shift medical paradigms.  It is a game changer.

In less than a year’s time, the same business partner involved with the Trinidad clinic (and other Caribbean locations) has partnered with BioHeart Inc. in the United States.  The combined knowledge of the two entities is making adipose adult stem cell treaments more available in America.  Patients now also have the option of having extra stem cells harvested, cloned (expanded) in the lab, and frozen for future use.  This is remarkable!  These new USA locations have vastly more experience than an isolated plastic surgeon guessing at the right approach.  The data collected from them will impact your future, and the future of your children.

Phase Two begins for me a week from today.  I will be heading out for a second adult stem cell treatment.  Again I will board a plane.  Only this time I’ll be going to Florida.  I’ll be able to receive the treatment here at home in the United States.  The stem cells will be collected from my adipose (fat) tissue.  I hope to tour the lab while I’m out there to learn more about this growing field of medicine and possibilities.

Once again I find myself on the cutting edge of medicine.  I find myself venturing into areas that sound like a science fiction story.  My intuition tells me this is the right choice and the right time.  My grandmother, who passed away recently, will be watching over me and helping me from the Other Side.  If I am half as resilient as she was in her life, then it will all turn out extremely well.  I don’t have it in me to expect anything else.

Time To Go

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEighteen hundred years old, and towering above me, the Grizzly Giant was a living reminder of resilience, strength, and vitality. Walking among the amazing sequoias, and seeing their ability to survive and regenerate after the damage of ravaging fires, inspired me. I savored the aromas of the forest, the fading chill of Winter, and the calls of the winged creatures flying above.

We arrived in the dark the night before. And it was freezing outside the comforts of my heated car. Thirty-one degrees to be exact. Someone had left a window open in the room, significantly diminishing the effectiveness of the old-fashioned radiator. Clothed in multiple layers, we huddled together for warmth in the small double bed. I didn’t sleep well that first night, but I was still excited to start the day’s adventures.

Last year I couldn’t have gone. I was still battling ongoing episodes of inflammation of my kidneys, which would land me in the hospital every few months. But this year, this year is different. All the infectious bacteria that caused my kidney failure have been found and eliminated. Throughout the winter I saw gradual changes in my lab tests, celebrated another birthday with friends, and began to return to my work helping others. I am healing. I am so much stronger and healthier. My blood pressure has been normalizing, along with more test results, and the stem cells are continuing to do their work.

It was time to go. Time to be near the giant trees, the melting snow, the massive walls of granite. For more than a decade I had wanted to see it, and now I would not be delayed. It meant missing a dialysis treatment, but I wasn’t worried. All life involves risk, and I knew my body could do it. I only wished that I was already in better hiking shape, and that I could stay longer to explore more.

As a chunk of ice floated down the river, I watched Spring unfolding. The deafening cascade of Yosemite Falls, the highest waterfall in North America, thrilled me as I drew closer. Looking up from its base, I yearned to hike to the upper section. But my body wasn’t quite ready yet to make the long trek. Mirror Lake, the meadows of the Valley, and the views of El Capitan and Half Dome all held endless wonders. It’s no surprise that John Muir and Ansel Adams were captivated. I’ve come a long way since being in the Intensive Care Unit a year and a half ago, and I’ll be hiking again in the Sierras in the near future.

The pictures don’t do it justice. They don’t convey the beauty and vastness of Yosemite National Park. Some people might believe that you can experience something or someplace by watching it on television, in the movies, or on the internet. You can’t. How will you know what it feels like to have the mist of Bridalveil Falls dampening your hair and skin? How will you feel the roaring thunder of the water in the depth of your Being as you draw closer, or smell the richness of the forest as you wander past mule deer?

Sometimes places call to me. Beckon me. And, often, daily demands have led me to ignore the callings of my Spirit. Work, family, relationships, bills, and responsibilities. Seeing death approach so closely has changed me forever. Now I listen to my Inner Voice. Now I heed the places that call to me. Now I embrace my independence, my fierceness, my uniqueness. Every day my kidneys heal more. Every day I get closer to coming off dialysis. Every day is one more step forward.

With the onset of Spring, I feel a restlessness in my bones. Spring is a time of life, renewal and rebirth. I can sense it within myself as well. This year, this Spring, I can go to the places that are calling to me. The places within and beyond. And, I am deeply grateful.

Fluctuations

As I drive to dialysis, I greet the dawn of the New Year. It’s been a year and a half since my kidneys stopped working, and my journey to kidney recovery began. Stronger, healthier, and happier, I’ve grown in my depths and abilities as a human being beyond what I thought possible. As a perpetual giver, I’ve had to learn to receive. I’ve learned to stop sacrificing myself and my health. If I’m not healthy, then I can’t possibly offer help to others. Raised to be fiercely independent, and taught to rely only on myself (and the Divine) by an endless stream of takers, I didn’t know how to open up to the people offering hands and hearts of support. Now I am willing to ask for help, a hug, or a place at someone’s holiday table.

The holidays were a mix of emotion, as I continued to face the difficulties of my family and various past friends refusing to take my situation seriously. Perceptions are unique, and everyone has struggles in life. Just as I recognize that the nurse in Trinidad, who immigrated there after surviving horrific atrocities in Rwanda, has been through tragedies that make my kidney failure look like a walk in the park; so should people see that a minor cold, sinus infection, or battling a few pounds doesn’t compare with the immediate and ongoing life-threatening reality of losing an essential organ’s function. The tragedy of kidney failure has certainly clarified the relationships in my life.

I’ve been reluctant to confess my disappointment in my family’s support, and how the lack of compassion from previously close friends has hurt me. I’m not generally one to complain in life, but any major health crisis often means a loss of more than just one’s bodily well-being. The impacts are also felt emotionally, and psychologically. In mentioning this, perhaps more people will reach out to others, as even the strong and capable need assistance when they are hit hard in life. Thank you to those, who have reached out to me, checked up on me, and made sure I could pay my bills.

The prospect of sitting home, alone, on Thanksgiving drove me to post on my private Facebook page: I offered homemade pie in exchange for a seat at a table. Old friends, and new ones, opened their homes and hearts to me over Thanksgiving and Christmas. Memories of easier holiday times surfaced, and I ached for the days when I used to gather with my family. Now each of my family members is caught up in his or her own life, and spending time with their friends and in-laws, or playing video games is more important. I yearned for my grandmother, Patricia, the matriarch of the family, the glue that held the family together. She led by example and word. Her grace, hospitality, and generosity still shape me today. And her pie-making lessons allow me to make flaky piecrust.

At the same time I was grateful to be alive during another holiday season. I relished being able to travel north a few hours, and skip dialysis on Christmas Day. Riding in the car’s passenger seat, while watching the change in scenery, brought me happiness. Seeing my name on a stocking, and the lovely little gifts in it on Christmas morning went a long way in making me feel welcome. The previous year I spent Christmas alone.

Vinyasa yoga in a new place was as life affirming as always, and I marveled at the ability of my body to move into the asanas. Ice skating encouraged me to stretch my body in new ways, as I savored the cold and pushed myself around the rink. The blinking lights in the darkness of the laser tag room enticed me to let go and play. I’d found another thing to enjoy, and a way to release the energy and emotions within. Conversations, delicious cookies, bouncing black squirrels, and winter rainfall closed out two thousand and twelve.

Over the last few months, the stem cell treatment has been working its magic. The day the length of my dialysis treatment was reduced to two and half hours per treatment was an exciting day. I regained three hours of freedom per month! My blood pressure has dropped down to normal with lower and lower levels of medication. Many of my blood tests are now within normal range, and my weight has stabilized. There have been fluctuations in test results, ups and downs in my creatinine and BUN levels. The biggest change is how amazing I feel, and I am brimming with energy. My immune system has become resilient, and I can feel the difference in my body.

Now it is a waiting game. I believe that the worst of it is over. Undetected infections have been found and treated, so that I no longer have ongoing inflammation in my kidneys. I’ve gone nine months without any visits to the hospital. Each day I wonder how much longer I must tolerate the temporary residence of the catheter in my chest. I no longer feel sick. I no longer feel like a dialysis patient.

Time passes by, and each second draws me closer to the end of this particular part of my life’s journey. I’m excited to see what lies ahead, as I carry the Light along a path that reveals itself with each passing breath. It may be a path that only I see, and I hope sharing it with you brings some Light into your life.

A lifetime is an opportunity to experience God in a different way. Every moment propels you closer to recognizing this essence, your Spirit, within yourself and everything around you.