Clarity In The Garden …

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There are few things that represent clarity better than water. Whether you are admiring a waterfall, a fountain, a koi pond, or the massive ocean, there is something clear … almost pristine … about it. You might even wonder how it can look that way … beautiful, refreshing, sustaining.

God gave nature ecosystems to filtrate its water. If you own a garden pond or fountain, you probably have a filtration system operating to maintain it — freeing the water of muck and algae. He also gave our bodies a good filtration system to eliminate cellular wastes and fluids. That system comes in the form of a pair of organs known as kidneys. But when Chronic Kidney Disease strikes, it can make that filtration very difficult.

CKD, or Chronic Kidney Failure as it is also known, is the gradual loss of kidney functioning. When it reaches an advanced stage, dangerous levels of wastes and fluid build-up in the body. Progression of CKD can lead to End-Stage Kidney Failure which requires regular dialysis or a kidney transplant to sustain life.

Chronic Kidney Disease has a variety of symptoms that may include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep Problems
  • Changes In Urination
  • Decreased Mental Sharpness
  • Muscle Cramps
  • Swelling in the feet & ankles
  • Itchy Skin
  • Chest Pain
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Hypertension

Since many of these symptoms can be associated with other medical conditions, it is important to see your doctor if you are experiencing them. A diagnosis usually involves examining family history; the medications a patient may be taking; blood tests; urine tests; Imaging tests; and possibly a kidney biopsy. If Chronic Kidney Disease is present, treatment is based upon the stage that the CKD is in.

Since CKD is a Chronic illness, it’s not leaving. So a patient’s response becomes very pivotal to how the disease progresses. There was life before CKD and now there must be life with it. Lifestyle modifications have shown significant improvement in many CKD patients. Through diet alone, one study showed that patients with CKD reduced their risk of death by 68%! Cigarette smoking, exercise and body mass also play a role. Those CKD patients who do not smoke show a slower progression of the disease. They also have a reduced risk of heart attacks and death. Regular exercise was also associated with a reduced risk of death.

The DASH diet has been approved by many health organizations including the National Kidney Foundation. If you have been diagnosed with CKD and need to lose some weight, it is an excellent option. Studies have already shown that the DASH diet helps to decrease hypertension; lowers a patient’s risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer; as well as reducing the formation of kidney stones. If you have any questions, discuss it with your doctor or contact the National Kidney Foundation.

The DASH diet is simple. It is rich in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds and nuts. The diet encourages less salt/sodium intake. And it limits sugars/sweets. This isn’t a crash diet, or a fad diet. This is about eating healthier and living better as a result.

Exercise can play a positive role, in the lives of CKD patients. Yet, some choose to avoid it. Hopefully, if you’ve been diagnosed with Chronic Kidney Disease, you will talk to your doctor about exercise options that can keep you on the move. Aerobic exercise has been shown to increase oxygen consumption, in some patients. There is also evidence that aerobics can improve hypertension, lipid profiles and overall mental health. If you just can’t visualize yourself in an aerobics class, then consider another low-impact option. There are many low-impact exercises that provide beneficial results: Golf, Swimming, Water Aerobics, Walking, Elliptical machines, Kayaking, Hiking, Yoga, etc. The important thing is that you find one that you like and get moving.

Life with Chronic Kidney Disease isn’t easy, but it is possible. What matters most is the kind of gardener that you are. Think about that, for a moment. If you ever seen an unkept garden, you know that it is steadily taken over, i.e. weeds, pests, etc. There is no control. A conscientious gardener stays vigilant … takes the actions that need to be taken, maintains a level of control. As a result, they have a beautiful garden. Our lives are gardens, too. How we live … thrive … and enjoy life … depends upon the kind of garden that we choose to keep!

                         “I Can Do All Things Through Christ Which Strengthens Me.”

 — Philippians 4:13 (KJV)

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chronic-kidney-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20354521

https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/tc/stages-of-chronic-kidney-disease-topic-overview

https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/Dash_Diet

https://www.kidney.org/news/lifestyle-modifications-improve-ckd-patient-outcomes

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15974634

* Photo by Jeffrey Workman on Unsplash

 

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Moving On: Life With RA & JRA

Twenty years ago, I rode a bicycle or stationary-bike daily. I used to pedal almost effortlessly, for 5-10 miles. And I loved it — lived for it. At home or on vacation, if I could score the use of one, I was pedaling hard. Cycling was something that I couldn’t seem to outgrow. What a difference two decades, age and a diagnosis can make …

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Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder that causes chronic inflammation of the joints. Without proper treatment, it can wield unimaginable damage, i.e. joint deformities and even disability (in some patients). It occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissues. And RA can also impact the skin, eyes, lungs, heart and blood vessels.

Despite the social myth of grannies in rocking chairs, Rheumatoid Arthritis isn’t a disease exclusive to the elderly. It’s very much the opposite. Onset for adults, is usually between the ages of 30-60. In other words, highly productive years. Like other rheumatic illnesses, women are three times more likely than men to be diagnosed. Juvenile RA (also known as Juvenile idiopathic arthritis) is what the disease is referred to when it presents itself in children. There are approximately 300K children, in the U.S., living with JRA. Toddlers, under the age of two, have even been diagnosed with it.

The onset of RA can develop over a matter of a few weeks, or a few months. Many symptoms actually mimic those of influenza. This was my personal experience. It wasn’t until my joints swelled, about 12-14 days later, that I realized I wasn’t fighting the flu.

By now, you may be wondering about heredity. One study showed that genetics played a role in slightly more than half of all diagnosed cases. My great-grandmother, who I barely remember, had Rheumatoid Arthritis. The disease skipped two generations and then found me. It happens. But there are thousands who are diagnosed with no hereditary link. In other words, there is no certainty that having a family member with RA will equate to a diagnosis in you. Even in a study done on identical twins, who share the same genes, only 15% were likely to be diagnosed with RA.

Simple tests like labwork, x-rays, MRI and ultrasound, are used to achieve a diagnosis. Your family physician may order them, or refer you to a Rheumatologist who will do so. Your RF Factor (get used to that term) measures the amount of RF antibody present in the blood. About 70-80% of all adults, who are diagnosed with RA, will have a high RF Factor. Approximately 50% of children will also have it. Those who do are more likely to have RA in adulthood. Some JRA patients can outgrow the disease.

Since RA is considered chronic (lasting longer than 3 mos.), there is no cure. The disease will progress with time. Each patient will experience periods of remission (when symptoms are barely present) and “flares” (when the disease increases its activity within the body).

Treatment for RA and JRA is very similar. Exactly how any patient, adult or child, is treated depends upon the severity of the disease in their bodies. Doctors often prescribe NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) to help reduce inflammation. DMARDs  (Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs) are also prescribed to slow the progression of the RA. Possibly the most common of these is Methotrexate — a chemotherapy drug. Let that sink in, for a moment. It may be administered orally, by injection, even IV. And it can bring many of the side-effects that are seen in Cancer patients (who are taking much higher doses). Biologic DMARDs, i.e. Orencia, Enbrel, Humira, etc., are also possible treatment options. Your doctor will discuss, at length, which treatment approach is best for you and why. Teens with JRA are typically referred to an “adult” Rheumatologist, around the age of 17-18 years. For many patients, occupational therapy and surgery is sometimes needed as the disease progresses.

I cannot lie to you, or sugarcoat it. RA and JRA changes lives. And this is something that goes beyond the patient — affecting spouses, parents, children, siblings. It can change relationships, at home … at work … at school. It changes the patient’s abilities, mood, even productivity. RA and JRA patients live with pain, lack of mobility, fatigue, the side-effects of medications, trouble sleeping, etc. Some JRA patients have even struggled with Anorexia and growth failure. And children with any chronic illness are often the targets of bullying. This is what becomes the new normal. It is a lot to take in … accept … and manage. Still, it can be done. It’s important to remember that.

Living with RA and JRA is a blend of positives and negatives. For example, healthier eating habits are a positive that everyone can benefit from. Gentle, low-impact exercises are another positive. Patients can feel weather, i.e. rain, even before it arrives. As the barometric pressure drops, their joints swell. They become more sensitive to cold, air conditioning, etc. A study done at Tufts University, back in 2007, revealed that just a drop of 10 degrees increased the pain in rheumatic patients. Negative effects of the disease.

Concessions must be made for a patient to live happier and comfortably, i.e. with the thermostat, activities, etc. That too can be a positive thing. Personally, my cycling was traded-in for walking. There are handy tools, cooking utensils, even video gaming systems that are better suited for RA and JRA patients. All fun, helpful and positive. All can be used (and will be) by other family members. No, you don’t have to give up everything. But, often times, you do have to change how you do them, i.e. 9 holes of golf on a Par 3 instead of 18 on a Par 5. Once upon a time, I used to shop in a mall like I was the Energizer Bunny … going … and going … and going. Now, I limit my excursions to 2 hours. It helps me to manage the fatigue that will follow. If you have RA or JRA, it will help you too. Learn to use the internet, wisely — find locations that sell the products you are looking for, before you leave home. Enjoy activities, even though you must limit them. If you push your body, the RA will push back even harder. It isn’t worth a setback.

Unfortunately, Depression can be a problem for some patients. When the frustration of a flare, pain, limitations, etc. complicate life … it can be difficult to have patience and remain optimistic. Yet, that’s exactly what it takes. Much about living with Rheumatoid Arthritis is a mental game. RA or JRA has entered your life. But you can control your lifestyle. You can control the disease through medications, changes to your diet, activities, etc. It doesn’t have to control you. When you embrace optimism, you become a better player … smarter … happier … and definitely moving on with your life!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/rheumatoid-arthritis/symptoms-causes/syc-20353648

https://www.healthline.com/health/rheumatoid-arthritis-hereditary#family-ties

https://www.webmd.com/rheumatoid-arthritis/understanding-juvenile-rheumatoid-arthritis-treatment#1

https://www.webmd.com/arthritis/chemotherapy-drugs#1

http://www.health.com/rheumatoid-arthritis/living-with-rheumatoid-arthritis-0

https://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/tools-resources/weather/

https://www.hindawi.com/journals/isrn/2013/737356/

* Photo by Bogdan Dada on Unsplash

 

Choose Joy …

It’s funny how little things can emotionally move you. When I was very young, my mother took me on a trip to the local garden center. She said that a Dutch girl (such as myself) needed to start appreciating Dutch flowers. We picked out various bulbs — Tulip, Crocus and Hyacinth. Then, we went home to plant them. It was my first real hands-on experience, with gardening — filled with ancestry, excitement, dirt, anticipation, and beautiful results. In the decades long since, I’ve always had and admired Dutch flowers. Whenever I see them in bloom, no matter where it is, I have to pause to just look at them. And I always smile. It gives me joy.

Recently, I was doing some updates around the house. I wasn’t really looking for a wall plaque, but it found me. It was simple, in design — a bit rustic — painted with wildflowers and butterflies. Yet, its message leaped out at me: “Let it go … Choose joy”. Like those Dutch flowers, it made me smile. It literally uplifted me, if only for a few moments. Need I say, I bought the plaque? And I hung it where it can be seen, first thing, every day. I did this as a reminder to myself to choose joy — to live as happily as I can. And to let go of the negative.

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Faith teaches us that joy is an emotion and a “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23). That it is a matter of habit and virtue. And that it can be commanded. I’ve never professed to being a Divinity major. My walk in faith is purely based on my experiences in life. But in my humble opinion, God didn’t place us on Earth to be miserable. Scripture teaches us that “A joyful heart is good medicine …” (Proverbs 17:22). Remarkably, there are actually scientific studies to support this.

When we are happy, or joyful, our hearts are healthier. Our stress is lessened. Aches and pains diminish. Our immune systems grow stronger. And our lives are lengthened. Think about that, for a moment.

Psychology teaches us that happiness and joy aren’t exactly the same. Happiness is a vague emotion. It means different things to different people. And that it’s temporary, in duration. Yet, all agree that it is positive. Joy is also positive — possibly more powerful. But Joy, they contend, is like a belief. It is with us, for the long haul. Even when life becomes difficult, joy can find a way to comfort and uplift us.

There are ways to feel more joy and happiness, in your daily life:

  •  Choose to smile. You can make a conscious decision, each day, to have a good day.
  • Try Prayer or Meditation. It soothes the mind and soul. Relieves stress. Comforts.
  • Practice Positive Thinking. Acknowledge the simple things that bring you joy.
  • Be Grateful. Often times, joy/happiness is increased by recognizing the people & things that we already have.
  • Be More Active. Random acts of kindness don’t require Olympic training. Yet, they are fulfilling and inspiring. Try volunteering for a cause you believe in. You will feel joy, as a result of your involvement.

Society often times bombards us with negative things. But each of us has the power to choose. We don’t have to accept every negative that surrounds us. We can learn to let go and choose joy!

 

Reference links:

https://faith.yale.edu/joy/virtues

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/six_ways_happiness_is_good_for_your_health

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/magazine/happiness-stress-heart-disease/

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/nov/03/why-does-happiness-matter

https://healthpsychology.org/is-there-a-relationship-between-happiness-and-joy/

https://ideapod.com/psychologist-explains-best-way-change-thinking-negative-positive/

* Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.

The Garden of Optimism: What is this place?

Did you ever find yourself in an awkward moment? Wondering how life managed to lead, or drag, you down a certain path? Well, such is my case. When we find ourselves in a predicament, we usually know how we got there. But sometimes we aren’t too eager to admit it. Still, there are times when life leads us into the middle of what appears to be uncharted territory. Our reaction depends upon the circumstances, our perception of them and our willingness to take on the challenge. For me, personally, I am humbled and flabbergasted.

Throughout my entire life, I have always felt a strong sense of service — volunteering with various organizations, my church and within the community. But no one would have predicted that I’d become a blogger — including me. I’m not the most tech savvy person on Earth. I freely admit that. Still, God did provide me with a gift for words. One that I’m abundantly grateful for, even though I haven’t used it in a few years. And He molded me with a very tenacious spirit. So, why now? Why bother?

In all honesty, I have felt a calling. Divine, as from the Lord, but not in the pastoral sense. Persistent. Urging me. Whispering to my conscience. Telling me, of all people, that I need to reach out and do this (Matthew 5:16 NIV). I need to serve (1 Peter 4:10 NIV) others. I need to help them — to become their voice. So, here I am — a Patient Advocate.

I’m not a medical professional, though I’ve seen more than my share of them. I hold no degree in Divinity. My credentials are from personal experience. And, unfortunately, this is subject-matter that I know all too well. I have lived it, for decades.

By now, if you’re still with me, you may be wondering where all of this is going. Patience, Sweet pea. I’m a Southern gal. We sometimes ramble like ivy on an arbor, but we eventually get to the point …

Mine is that our lives are like gardens. For a moment, consider that metaphor. There are beautiful, bountiful years. And there are meager harvests. There are all the usual things that make growing difficult. The rocks & lousy soil, of the daily grind. Too much heat, or stress, is harsh on a garden. Too much rain, falling in the form of drops or tears, washes away our plants … our plans … our dreams … even our deepest desires. Then, there are the things that come when we least suspect. The ones that we never wanted. The ones that, we so often told ourselves, only happened to other people. And our gardens are never the same …

This blog is a place of refuge and support. It is devoted to those who are living with chronic illnesses and their loved ones. I understand what you are feeling. Your garden and mine are one in the same. This is about accepting that no garden is perfect, but all have beauty and purpose. It’s about realizing the potential of your garden — finding it. This is about living, each and every day to the fullest in His light (1 John 1:5 NIV). It’s about enjoying the sun on our face and the blooms that we find. It’s about allowing our bodies and souls to dance. Yes, dance — even in the rain. Come … sit a spell (as we say down South) … browse the pages of this site (there’s more than one). Let’s talk. You aren’t alone.

 

Blessings,

Julia

 

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* Photo by Kaeyla McGee on Unsplash