Thursday, June 7, 2012

Two and a Half Inches

Love these: a Kidney-versary gift from
Mabelesque Handmades here in Calgary
Can you believe it's been a year? Today is the one year anniversary of Leftie checking out of me and into his new home. In some regards it was the end of at least a leg of the journey for me. All the waiting and testing and waiting and stress was over. I had made it through and reached my goal of being a living kidney donor. While at the time I didn't realize it, a whole new chapter was also beginning.

There is a two and a half inch, faded white scar that sits just to the left of my belly button. That, along with another two little "scar-ettes" is all that seems to physically remain as evidence anything ever happened. I'm healthier than I've been for most of my adult life - my blood pressure is great, I've lost about 30+ pounds through exercise and I'm feeling pretty good. At the same time, I'm a very different person than I was a year and a day ago. I'm braver. I'm smarter about a lot of things. I think I am more focused and I am definitely more confident. It's like I am a new and improved version of myself, minus a kidney.

People often ask me if anything has changed in my life. I think to be honest, the biggest hurdle I have had to overcome is coming to terms with the idea of saving a life. Seriously. It is really difficult to explain but it is much harder than you think. It is so much bigger than me. It is huge- heavy, clunky and awkward. At the same time, it is wonderful, unbelievable, humbling and exciting. For a long time, when people talked about my donation, it seemed like they were talking  about someone else, a different version of me. Doing something like this changes who you are, both to others and to yourself. It can become a bit of a label and like all labels, there are ups and downs. On the one hand I am very proud of what I have done and want to share it in the hopes that maybe others might also become donors in some way (living, deceased...even blood donors). There are other times where I worry that I have championed a cause that is too individual to promote. Organ donation IS personal and people don't always want to talk about it. Am I doing the right thing in trying to engage people in the conversation? And will it make any kind of difference?

In the last year I've had the opportunity to guide/mentor three other living donors (yay!) through their own surgeries. Two were also donating to strangers and I have to hope that this a sign that there is a trend of more non-directed donors stepping up. I was very luck to have a mentor going into my surgery and it has been pretty amazing to "pay it forward". I've also connected with dozens of other living donors online and in person and have been able to swap stories and experiences with them. In the long run, I think these connections will not only increase awareness about living donation, but will also probably make the donation process itself better. As these online and "real life" communities continue to share best practices with one another, it is encouraging to see the medical community taking notes on how to make things better from a patient perspective.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't often wonder about Leftie: how he's doing, and more importantly how his new owner is doing. All I can do is hope that they are both well and will continue to be that way for many years to come. That would make me very happy.

I'd like to take the opportunity to thank a few people. I know I won't cover everybody and I apologize for that but I have to start somewhere. To my awesome friends and family, who went from looking at me like I was crazy when I first started talking about this journey to flooding me with cheerleader calls, emails and Facebook posts the day of surgery, to supporting me as I continue to talk and promote organ donation - thank you. I'd also like to thank the people at Foothills who were so wonderful to me throughout the process and afterwards. (Dr. Y, Dr. M and Teresa to name a few). Thanks for making sure I came out the other end okay and for not getting too upset when I didn't want to eat the green Jello post surgery. I'd also like to tip my hat to the Kidney Foundation of Canada - at the national level and in southern Alberta, for their support all along the way. They have repeatedly given me a platform to tell my story and help increase awareness about organ donation and have welcomed me into their community.

Finally thanks to anyone and everyone who has ever read this blog, whether they kept it to themselves, left a comment or shared a post around the web. Thanks for keeping me going and also for helping me fall in love with writing all over again.

It's funny how it took giving away an organ, to find a part of me that has been missing a long time. And how something as small as two and a half inches can forever change your world.