When life gives you lemons, make lemonade


  • Pattsy Jackson

  • The author lives in Gastonia, North Carolina.

When life sent lemons my way, I decided not to make lemonade. I made an entire lemonade stand. I built this stand not just for myself, but for anyone who might need something sweet to chase the bitterness away. My lemonade stand was not built overnight. It took some very hard decisions and a lot of sweat and tears.

I was diagnosed with end-stage renal failure when I was 10 years old. As a child, it was really hard for me to grasp the fact that I was sick and that my childhood would have to be altered due to my disease. Most of my childhood was spent in denial of my kidney disease. I hated taking the medication and most of all, I hated that I was no longer able to eat and drink the same foods as my friends. So, most of the time, I pretended nothing was wrong with me. However, with my frequent hospital stays, my friends quickly learned my secret.

During my teenage years, I learned to accept my disease as something with which I could live. I became proactive in my treatments, i.e., taking the medication, reading the labels for salt and sodium content, eating healthy foods, limiting the amount of fluid intake, and keeping doctors' appointments.

My attention to my kidney disease helped me manage my health until after graduate school. Shortly after returning home from school, my kidneys started to shut down. I was devastated to learn that dialysis was what my future held, even though I had taken the proactive approach to managing my health. I was faced with another lemon. This time the setback seemed as if it might be an end to my life.

I went through all seven steps of the grieving process during the first year on dialysis. With the help of some extremely caring doctors, nurses, and family, I began to accept that I needed dialysis to stay alive, and that I really did want to live. I hated the words dialysis treatment, so I would tell everyone that I had a “date” that I had to keep three days a week, rain or shine. Now that most of my friends and family knew that I was on dialysis, they would also refer to my time away as “Pattsy is on her date.”

I was determined that dialysis would not alter my life, and this disease would not conquer me—I would conquer it. I worked a full-time job, which allowed me to miss hours away from work for my date, played softball and volleyball, worked a part-time retail job, and traveled wherever I wanted to go (as long as I could book a date with another dialysis center in that location).

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The author participating in the 2010 NKF U.S. Transplant Games.

After three and a half years on dialysis, I got the long-awaited phone call telling me that a donor kidney was available. Finally, the answer to my prayers had come and soon I would be able to drink as much lemonade as I wanted. The initial kidney transplant went well, but during the first year I had several obstacles, or “lemons,” I had to deal with—from kidney rejection to numerous infections. I spent a lot of the first year with my new kidney in the hospital. The transplant team at Washington Hospital Center not only worked extremely hard to find the right medications that would work for me, they also helped me manage my mental health.

Some of the medications caused many different side effects, from weight gain to rashes to infections. The combination of steroids and immunosuppressant drugs has kept my kidney in good health. I have managed many of the side effects from the medications with a good diet and lots of exercise. I teach a cycling class twice a week, and I work out at least five days per week. I have participated in a number of National Kidney Foundation U.S. Transplant Games in events such as high jump, long jump, and track and field. The Transplant Games have allowed me to challenge myself physically, while opening up new friendships in my life.

I built my lemonade stand with a proactive participation in my own healthcare, a positive attitude, exercise, community involvement, and, most of all, faith that I can overcome any challenges. Kidney patients must be involved in their treatment. They must educate themselves about kidney failure and they must find ways to become involved in community and other activities. Most importantly, kidney patients must surround themselves with positive, supportive people. No matter what treatment direction you take, whether it's the “date” or transplantation, always remind them to stay positive and active.