“I refuse to tip toe through life only to arrive safely at death.”
“A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”
A strict denial of limitation can help overcome even the worst circumstances.
“Blood in your urine is almost always a sure sign of bladder cancer.” This was my doctor’s response when I asked him why my pee was sometimes pink after working out. For 6 months I had been experiencing a symptom called hematuria, a condition described simply as having red blood cells in your urine.
To be honest, after I heard the doctor utter the words “bladder cancer”, everything became a little fuzzy. My mind froze and I entered a state where I couldn’t really think about anything at all. It was like being distracted and narrowly focused at the same time. All of my internal influences turned negative and my stomach sunk downward.
“We are going to run a battery of tests to rule out bladder and kidney cancer, or any infections in these areas. First, we’ll need to do a cystoscopy.” Cystoscopy is a test that allows doctors to look at the interior lining of the bladder by inserting a magic maker sized camera up the urethra. Trust me, there was nothing magical about this experience. Fortunately, my bladder was healthy.
Next, I had to undergo a computed tomography intravenous pyelogram, or CT-IVP. This procedure uses an injected dye (contrast material) to look for kidney stones, blockage, growths, or infections of the urinary tract. The contrast material is an ionic substance and, ironically, can cause kidney failure if you have an allergic reaction. The only way to find out if you are in fact allergic is to undergo the exam. I wasn’t allergic and my kidneys and urinary tract appeared fine.
The doctor prescribed me a series of antibiotics to take for the next two months, just in case. Yet, my symptoms persisted. In fact, they got worse, and the stress of not knowing what was going on with my body had started taking a psychological toll. I couldn’t figure out how to increase happiness or generate confidence. I stopped working out regularly and started eating less and less because I thought dietary fat and physical stress would make my symptoms worse. I also became very aware of other diseases like skin cancer and started avoiding the sun altogether.
Finally, a year later, I went back to the hospital and repeated both of the procedures. Everything was negative again, but this time the doctor recommended I follow-up with a nephrologist, or kidney specialist. The specialist was a Romanian doctor who reviewed my charts and recommended that I have a kidney biopsy performed. During the biopsy, an ultrasound technician located my kidney and a room full of doctors watched as a radiologist used an instrument that can only be described as a gun to punch 3 holes through my lower back and into my kidney. A little mechanism that extended from the gun was shot into my back and then recoiled with a small piece of my kidney.
The results of the biopsy showed that I had a condition called IgA nephropathy. IgA nephropathy is a type of chronic kidney disease characterized by the presence of IgA molecules (antibodies) in a person’s kidneys. A build up of IgA molecules causes inflammation and scarring that can eventually lead to kidney failure. The disease progresses differently in everyone and there is no definitive treatment plan.
It Is Better To Live One Day As A Lion Than A Hundred Years As A Sheep
Medical statistics show that only about half of the people diagnosed with IgA nephropathy will ever progress to kidney failure in their lifetime. The progression usually takes about 20 years, but there are a few rare cases where progression occurs in as little as 6 months. My kidney specialist chose to focus on this 6-month possibility and went as far as to say I could die in a year. He recommended that I start taking heavy doses of prednisone right away, for the next two years.
Prednisone is a corticosteroid that is used like a sledgehammer to reduce inflammation by severely depressing the activity of a person’s immune system. The problem is that prednisone causes massive side effects, especially when taken long-term. These side effects include rapid weight gain, especially of the trunk and face, constant abdominal and joint pain, long-term migraines, insomnia, weakness, impotence, confusion, depression, mania, and psychosis. In other words, I would become fat, emotionally unstable, and limp – my worst nightmare.
I took my time with the decision, weighing the pros and cons carefully. All of the research I read showed the patients who had been treated with prednisone, if they progressed to kidney failure, prolonged the progression by 5 years. So it came down to a question of living weak and miserable for the last 2 years of my 20’s in exchange for possibly living 5 more years in my 50’s (if the disease progressed).
One day, as I was considering the two options, I happened to read an old Italian proverb that completely changed my perspective: “It is better to live one day as a lion than a hundred years as a sheep”. Boom. I felt like God had hurled a lightning bolt from the sky and crashed it directly onto my head. Three days later, I told the specialist I did not want to be put on prednisone. After my appointment, I went to the gym and had a great workout, barbequed a 24 ounce ribeye steak and ate every last bit of it, and then laid out in the sun all day. It was like I figured out how to enjoy life and improve self-confidence again overnight.
In retrospect, the decision was a no-brainer. Why would you ever give up even one day of living strong and confidently for the possibility of adding on a couple of decrepit years to the end of your life. Of course, most people are not decrepit in their 50’s and many people live strong and confidently in their 60’s, 70’s, and even 80’s. The point is that no one is guaranteed anything beyond this moment. Your life could end in the next 10 minutes, so why bank everything on some moment 20 years down the road?
You Do Not Need A Doctor’s Permission To Live
You are the only person who can change or save your life. No one can do it for you, not even a doctor. Far too many people hang on the words of so-called professionals, or even family members and friends, waiting for their blessing to take action. This is true for all aspects of life, not just medical instances. Most people wait for permission because they want approval. They need someone in authority to say, “yes, you can”, “yes, I agree”, “yes, that’s a good idea” or “yes, it’s your turn”. This relieves them of the responsibility and accountability associated with making their own decisions.
In the New York Times Bestseller, The Survivor’s Club, Ben Sherwood interviewed hundreds of people that had survived a wide variety of catastrophic events and found that those individuals classified as “fighters” had a greater chance of surviving. A fighter was defined as an information seeker who took massive action to overcome hardships. Alternatively, Sherwood explained that individuals who stoically accepted their fate had the lowest survival rates.
Life is full of unfair situations and limitations we cannot control. However, there are two things you can always control, your attention and your attitude.
When my kidney specialist diagnosed me with IgA nephropathy, I read everything I could about recommended treatments and alternative treatments. I scoured the Internet and read hundreds of scientific articles on chronic kidney diseases. I researched ways to eat healthy and found tips on healthy living that were specific for patients with kidney problems. I contacted support groups and participated in kidney health forums. I wrote emails and made calls to the top nephrologists in the country. I also talked to friends of friends who were currently being treated for kidney disease.
When I opted out of the prednisone treatment, my doctor asked me what I was going to do instead. I told him that I was going to try changing my diet and lifestyle first. “That will do nothing”, he said. I responded by telling him that I wanted a second and third opinion and that I had been contacting other nephrologists around the country to get their opinions. He said the hospital does not allow patients to receive second opinions internally since I would merely receive the same opinion from another doctor in the same department. On top of that, my student insurance would not cover a second opinion. He also told me that any nephrologist I contacted over the phone or via email would either not have the time to respond or would not be legally premitted to respond.
Everything he said went in one ear and out the other. Before my appointment, I firmly decided that I would no longer accept any limitations, not from him or anyone. Life is too short. It terms of my health, and in terms of all of my productive goals, “no” was not an answer I would ever accept again. I would rather go down swinging. Following the appointment, I talked with five different hospital administrators until one of them finally changed my doctor. I started working two extra jobs during the nights and weekends with the goal of making money to pay for the second opinion. And I continued to contact the top nephrologists in the U.S., most of which responded to my emails and gave me their medical opinions.
Limits Exist Only In The Mind
If you find yourself face to face with a bad medical report, or with anything challenging your purpose in life, refuse to accept it. Seek out all of the information necessary to understand the nature of the problem, then turn 100% of your attention towards possible solutions. There came a point, after weeks of reading everything I could about IgA nephropathy, that I forced myself to stop. Once I understood the nature of the disease, I put all of my efforts towards finding ways to treat and resolve it. I also put effort towards finding ways to enjoy life more and increase happiness. The sooner you make the switch from understanding the problem to creating a solution, the better.
Life is merely a series of problems. Without problems, life would be empty. Without obstacles, achieving your goal would be meaningless. Start seeing all of your problems as gifts. After all, everything is a matter of perspective. A friend of mine who is deathly afraid of flying once joked, “If God wanted me to fly, he would have given me wings”. I responded, “If God didn’t want you to fly, he would have given you roots.” Likewise, your obstacle is not a sign that God wants you to rest or stop, He is prompting you to grow and strive.
Adaptation is critical to denying limitations. Refusing a certain type of treatment may be the key to removing the limits from your life, while undergoing the same treatment may be the key removing the limits from someone else’s life. The first thing my new kidney specialist did was recommend that I start taking a small dose of Losartan every day to keep my blood pressure as low as possible. This would reduce the daily burden placed on my kidneys and keep them healthy longer. In this case, I was able to deny limitations to my health by agreeing to undergo the treatment.
It’s been two and a half years since my diagnosis and my new kidney specialist recently confirmed that my symptoms had completely resolved and there is currently no sign of the disease. My progress, and the quality of my life, continues to be enhanced by three things: refusing to wait for permission, never taking “no” for an answer (at least not the first time), and always maintaining a positive, can-do attitude. A can-do attitude means you generate confidence and increase happiness in the face of challenges by being resourceful and taking action. In other words, it means you deny limits while working to overcome them. No matter what you’re up against, refusing to be limited is the first step to seeing your way through and achieving your goal.