Saving A Life, Especially If It Is Your Own

I often wonder why I’m the only one still living?   In 1975, my Father gifted me with his very special kidney.  Dad saved my life. My kidney is now 93 years old, but it makes me feel young.

During my six months in the hospital, I nurtured friendships that withstood the test of time.   I connected with 21 amazing patients of all ethnicities and ages. All of them have died, some because of their transplant, others from accidents or other chronic diseases.  They were lifelong friends and a sounding board for me. I miss them all.  

My Dad once asked me why I thought I did so well with my kidney?  I immediately responded that I never labeled myself a “transplant patient.”   Instead, I was a grateful daughter who was blessed by my Dad’s gift.

The gratitude theme tended to show up in everything I did.   Professionally, I focused on public health, and as a full-time consultant starting in my 40’s; I tended to attract jobs where I can “pay it forward.”  For example, my late sister had diabetes. What could I do for her? I found myself coordinating a statewide diabetes strategic plan and managed other projects that helped people like my sister.  

Through the years, I had some ups and downs related to the transplant but found I had a core of resilience that I kept revisiting.  It served me well—until five years ago.

To keep my kidney, I take drugs that prevent rejection but suppress my immune system.  There was only one drug available when I had my transplant, and I’ve taken it for 44 years.  At age 60, I started to get a slew of squamous cell skin cancers. My kidney drug played a role in causing them, and I had 26 skin cancer surgeries in the past 4.5 years.   

Recently, I became aware of a newer transplant drug that could decrease skin cancer incidence by 30 percent.   I immediately researched this drug and did the due diligence to see if it was worth a shot. At my doctor’s appointment, I was told the drug I’d been on for 44 years was a “poison.”  When I read the drug studies, I was shocked! The drug is mutagenic, causing damage to DNA and increasing cancer risk.  

Because it was the sole drug I could take to keep my kidney and me alive, I deliberately never researched the drug side effects.  Because I tend to want data on everything, this took some willpower. Remember my roots are in public health! I didn’t just promote primary and secondary prevention; I applied it to my life.   Loving myself to take care of myself was another aspect of my resilience. I imagine the doctors would call that “compliance.”

I find I am now in a whole new grateful universe.   As I let go of the old drug, I thanked it for keeping me alive.  Then something amazing began to happen. Colors now seemed brighter.  I’m filled with startling wonder and awe. I’ve become a better listener.  And I tell more people I love them. 

As I was struggling with the decision about the new drug, I decided to call an old friend I hadn’t seen in years.  Ed had his first transplant two years before me, and he’d visit every week when I was in the hospital in 1975. I was eager to ask him if he was on the new drug and chat about his experience.   On July 15, I searched Google to get Ed’s phone number– and then my whole body froze. His obituary came up. Ed died on July 8–I was now the last one left.   

What does it all mean?   Life is unpredictable, and it’s important to look at what I can control.   Being negative or judgmental is wasted time. If I’m grateful, I’m positive.  When I look for the best in people and life, I release drama and get my energy from peace.  As I move through my retirement, I feel more alive than ever.

No, I don’t know why I’m the only one still living.  What I can do is focus on what makes me happy. And continue to wake up every day awash with gratitude.

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