What do we commit to, when we make a big decision? We commit to both the known and the unknown. We pre-accept many outcomes – or, we should. Often people only commit to the perfect outcome, and are dismayed by what then goes wrong. I say the commitment is to the whole thing, come what may. Committing to all possible outcomes is taking responsibility for your path and your choices, even when you can’t control everything.
Fortunately this kidney donation has worked out really well for everyone. I am fine now, two months later, and the kidney (Idunn) is working well for Dustin. Isn’t that amazing? It seems like such an easy choice, looking back. If I knew I would land here, how in the world could I not choose to do it? I would like to impart that to others who think they may be in a position to donate. It’s a wonderful thing and you certainly should proceed towards it if you want to. But it has to be an accurate picture of an entire commitment to many possible outcomes, some of them potentially bad. It’s a complicated picture and complicated process. I can say that it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and one of the best things I’ve ever done. But the unknowns were so big, at times. Earlier today I had the thought, looking back, that I was brave. It’s actually the first time I thought that. I still can’t feel anything like “heroic” as it really doesn’t resonate with me. But I’ll own “brave.” I knew the risks and other than ideal outcomes, and I accepted them and faced taking the hard steps. When we get through hard things, we become stronger. I feel stronger now.
To summarize my current condition, I’m feeling totally anti-fragile and very much back to normal now, two months since surgery. It’s amazing how time passes and things you couldn’t imagine coming along just keep coming. I’ve healed up and my body works fine! The scar feels fine, the swelling is 95% gone, and other than a bit of numbness just under it, it feels good. Kidney-wise, I can’t tell than anything is different except that my blood pressure runs a bit lower than it was (I’ll take it), and I rarely want more than one drink of anything alcoholic, whereas before I would often have a second. I haven’t really figured that one out – seems it would be more related to liver than kidneys! Other than that, I don’t do anything different habit-wise other than being a bit more diligent about staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
My physical training in recovery has been quite interesting, and not at all frustrating. It’s amazing to see the body transform, heal, regain, re-learn, and get strong again. I’m back to both bike riding and strength training. I go to the gym Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning for barbell or kettlebell training, I do a 30-ish mile bike ride on Sunday, I try to get a few walks in during the week, and I’ve started going back to yoga class on Thursdays. Bike rides were slow and shorter for the first few, but really back to normal now. On last Sunday’s ride I noted that if I didn’t know I had surgery 8 weeks ago, I wouldn’t be able to tell!
The gym training sessions are most interesting. I’ve tracked my sessions on Instagram (@annacannington) for current and future reference. Week 3, 4, and 5 I just did movement practice and used light kettlebells (VERY light, like 4-8 kg) for get-ups, presses, and a few other movements, because I was still on weight restrictions. Week 6 I went back to barbell training, and have continued for week 7 and 8. I plan to keep going with that, as it is super effective at rebuilding strength; doing a simple linear progression (same reps/sets, just adding weight to the bar) per the Starting Strength book/web site/app. For working weight and sets of 5, I’m up to 190 lbs on deadlift. That’s a lot of weight for someone to lift 8 weeks after having a 6+ incision, but I consulted with the team and also with a very knowledgeable lifter-doctor and all agree I’m OK with what I’m doing. Other lifts for sets of 5: squats 120 lb, bench press 95 lb, overhead press 80 lb. I’m getting in a bit of kettlebell practice here and there also; get-ups up to 20kg, swings and snatches up to 16kg. Everything is so familiar and I’m keeping the sessions very predictable with little variance other than progressing the weight so that I can really tell what’s going on with me during the movements, and also in recovery between sessions.
I’ve learned a lot about intra-abdominal pressure through my extra careful attention to it and caution to avoid incisional hernia. Using the breath for tension and maintaining torso stiffness is a tricky business, but very important! I use the Valsalva during a lift for the intended torso stiffness, but NOT outward pressure. Also I use a lifting belt that is 3 inches wide and it coincidentally covers the incision perfectly. It felt like a great assurance in week 5, but is feeling less critical as the weeks progress. I’ll still wear it for my heavy working sets.
I am coaching myself currently, because I feel like I know exactly what to do, and there’s so much internal information that I would have a hard time imparting to someone else. Also, I want to take responsibility for what I’m doing. Still my previous coaches/friends give me valued input, and I appreciate it immensely. Strength training is such a learning process, and this is certainly a time of rich learning. I’m not up to my current lifting potential, yet. I’m progressing conservatively because I know that doing the exercises at 50-80% will still build strength. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to shore up technique. On the squat especially, bad habits tend to creep in when a lifter squats heavy. By going way back in weight (I have squatted as much as 235 lbs for sets, and I’m currently using 120 lb) I can really rebuild the movement on a strong foundation, and I feel sure that this setback will help me go forward even farther than I was pre-surgery. My deadlift feels amazingly strong and safe already. So good in fact, that I went ahead and registered for the Tactical Strength Challenge on October 26th. No pressure on myself, but I will aim my training in the direction of a good showing! The TSC is max deadlift, a 5-minute snatch for max reps, and max pull-ups. I haven’t done one since 2016, but I think the time is right.
Yoga was the biggest surprise for me. I hadn’t been to yoga class in two years, but I’ve been going for 4 weeks now and really enjoying it. Incredibly, I have not lost any flexibility or balance. I can do all the poses just as I could when I was going to yoga regularly. Balance is particularly impressive – I attribute that directly to barbell lifting. When you can squat 100 or 200 lbs all the way down and all the way up and maintain, you can certainly hold a tree pose. Yoga has a lot of special components to it – I get most of them through my strength training, but it’s nice to dedicate time to holding isometric contractions, moving with breath, tuning in to the body and honoring what it can do that day, and seeking relaxation into the postures. As far as surgery recovery, the abdominal muscles took a bit of time to get back to normal but I think they’re almost all the way there now.
So, that’s all I have to share currently… I don’t know if anyone’s still out there following, but the two month milestone is a good time to check in, and I don’t know later what I will wish I had recorded so I wanted to write about where I am at this point. As always, thanks for reading, and if I can help anyone with their own journey, I am always happy to do so. The theme of helping each other through this life is the legacy of this, for me. I intend to keep carrying that forward.
Anna Cannington has offered to be part of this program. As a kidney donor with a nephrologist brother (not to mention next level human) she will be able to provide unique insight into "other side" of the transplant process. It is particularly apt for her to join up as she is Dustin's Donor. To schedule a conversation with either of Anna or Dustin just connect with either of us!
Dustin was diagnosed with IgA nephropathy (Berger's Disease) in early 2007. He and his family know well the struggles that come with suffering kidney failure, dialysis and the transplant processes. Born from these fustrations and Dustin's love of strengths-based coaching (centered on what is best in people) comes the Kidney Koach program. This NO FEE program is for Renal patients, their families and nursing staff that want support, understanding and a little help on the path.