BY: QUENTIN STUCKEY
We’re getting older. We’re aging ever second of the day and with so many distractions at our disposal, it’s easy to forget that our parents are aging as fast as we are. When we’re young, we imagine these caregivers of ours to be indestructible and immortal. But of course we must realize that these people we call mother and father also have their own share of struggles and obstacles to overcome.
During the first minutes of my father’s life, the doctors discovered that one of his kidneys was infected. If it was not removed right away, he would’ve died as a young infant. For the remainder of his life he has lived each and every day with one kidney. As a result of this, he has developed chronic kidney disease for the last twenty years.
Of course he is not the only person to suffer from this illness. According to the Kidney Foundation of Canada, one in ten Canadians suffers from kidney disease, with 58% of people on dialysis and 42% receiving a functioning transplant. Symptoms of kidney disease (defined again by the Kidney Foundation of Canada) include chest pain, weight loss, decreased appetite, fatigue, swelling of the arms and legs and changes in urination.
Since my dad has suffered from this disease, I have very clear memories of the things he has had to go through. I remember going down with him to his visits at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. I would watch as they took his blood, checked his breathing and offered their guidance and comments on his condition. As a child I never fully understood the weight of his disease. I was aware that he was not well, but unaware of how serious it was.
The disease worsened after a near fatal car accident in March 2015 in which he suffered internal bleeding, putting greater distress on his already fragile kidney. He spent three weeks in the hospital after his accident, never once complaining; in fact, he thought he was well enough to leave the next day. I always felt sympathetic for my father’s illness and I always assumed that his quality and outlook on life was diminished to a certain extent. This could not be further from the truth.
To this day, my dad has dealt with the hand he has been given and believes firmly that without his kidney disease he would not have as positive an outlook on life as he does now. For this article, I spent some time having a short conversation with him. I decided to focus on my dad’s attitude and outlook on his illness rather than the various medical details.
Quentin Stuckey: You were born with an infected kidney and you’ve lived with chronic kidney disease for the last twenty years. What would you say is the biggest challenge that you had to overcome?
Tom Stuckey: I would have to say refusing to admit that you’re not well. You don’t want the illness to become the governing factor in your life. You don’t want to feel any limitations but obviously you have to accept them at some point or another. And once you accept them, you can learn to adapt to them.
QS: For many people, the struggles of an illness such as this would leave them to feel negatively towards their daily life, and of course things are never the same once you’ve been diagnosed with a medical condition. Have there ever been moments where you feel particularly negative towards your kidney disease?
TS: Not really. You can’t be ruled by any set of limitations no matter how damaging the illness can be. Of course the future is partially mapped by my specialists and it will be difficult as per their experience with others in my situation. But I refuse to just accept what they imply may be inevitable. I’m always looking on the positive side.
QS: What is it that keeps your positivity going?
TS: No matter who you are or what you face, each person has to develop an outlook that will define them as who they really want to be. I won’t be feeling sorry for myself or bemoaning any perceived misfortunes. Life is what you make of it. Family is key. I wouldn’t be the person I am without them. I’m very grateful for them.
QS: What would you say is the most important thing you learned throughout the rollercoaster ride of your illness?
TS: I would say that I learned that things are never as bad as you think they are, there’s always someone who has it is worse than you. I also learned to never accept what people in the medical field say as gospel. Though they mean well and I have been lucky to have their dedicated service, they can never gauge the determination of an individual. But also in saying that, without the team of kidney specialists at St. Michael’s Hospital, I wouldn’t be where I am today and I wouldn’t have the same level of understanding that I have about my disease. I thank them for that.
QS: Are you feeling happy with your current situation?
TS: All in all yes, I am. Things could always be better, but they could always be worse as well. I try not to let the disease define me, but without it I don’t believe I would have the same outlook on life. I enjoy living each and every day.
QS: Is there anything else that you’d like to mention in regards to chronic kidney disease?
TS: To me it doesn’t matter what ailment you have, it’s all about how you deal with it. I think you just have to live life to the fullest regardless of any limitations.
Perhaps we could all adopt this kind of philosophy: live life to the fullest without any limitations. For the millions of people who continue to suffer from chronic kidney disease and other life threatening illnesses, perhaps the most powerful medicine is perseverance. It may not cure the medical cause of these afflictions, but it will certainly cure the psychological side effects of living with an illness. Never give up.