Life Goes On...

Lessons Learned While Living with Kidney Failure

by Vicky Van Zandt

I was fifteen when I first learned my kidneys were failing. I had a fistula put in my left arm and at age 16 started dialysis. Those years were tough ones, because I was trying to finish high school, deal with major identity issues, and hang on to life and my friendships. Needless to say, I survived.

23 years and 3 transplants later I am doing well and leading an active life. I relocated to California 12 years ago from New Jersey and have worked continusly. I maintain a very normal life. Except for wanting my own family and children I have managed to accomplish many of my goals in life. I have learned many things throughout the years of dealing with kidney disease that I would like to share.

  • Learn to love yourself, kidney disease and all.
    Many issues come up when dealing with a chronic illness and doing everything you can to feel good about yourself is important, i.e., therapy, exercise, eating well, friendships, self awareness, whatever it takes to understand yourself.
  • Work with your health care team.
    Make sure you respect and have a good relationship with your doctors and health care team. Don't be afraid to ask questions and to question every aspect of your health care.
  • Happiness.
    I have learned that only I am responsible for my happiness and no one else. I have sought out and found the things in life that make me happy. No one else can do that for me. Learn what things make you happy and how you can acquire them. I have never had children, so I joined the Big Sister program and was a big sister to a young girl in need for 9 years. I got great joy out of that relationship and program. Two and a half years ago I adopted a English springer spaniel, who has brought me more happiness than I can express. These are just I few examples.
  • Friendship.
    Know who your good friends are and work hard on maintaining meaningful friendships. They'll be there for you when the going gets tough! And we all need that.
  • Take care of yourself.
    I've recently gotten back to an exercise program, which has made me feel so much better and increased my energy level. Exercise can involve anything from walking, swimming, and biking to aerobics - whatever turns you on. Sometimes it takes awhile to find out what exercise is best for you.
  • Lastly, cultivate friendships with others who have had similar life experiences as you have had.
    Join your local chapter of AAKP, TRIO, or the National Kidney Foundation. It's wonderful to be connected to others who have gone through similar things.

I would love to hear from others who live with kidney disease. Please feel free to email me.

Be Well.

Vicky Van Zandt