When you're 19 years old, being diagnosed with a serious condition like chronic kidney disease (CKD) is usually not something you're worried about, yet this is exactly what happened to Lauren Denton, an AKF Ambassador and Montclair State University student living with stage three kidney disease.
She learned she had CKD after her doctor ran some routine blood tests. Receiving her diagnosis was terrifying for Lauren. "I was only 19 at the time, and I wasn't sure what this would mean in terms of my future, especially in regard to my health," she said. "I had not heard much about CKD before my diagnosis, so I didn't know anything about it. I didn't know treatment options or that this was something I was going to have for the rest of my life."
Since Lauren has not had a biopsy, her doctors are not certain as to what caused her kidney disease. However, Lauren's family has dealt with kidney disease before, when her aunt was on dialysis at one point earlier in her life.
When it comes to how CKD affects her daily life, Lauren said the biggest impact is on her mental health. "Sometimes it is hard to process that this is something that I am going to have my whole life and that at any point I could go to the doctor and may need to start looking at dialysis or transplants," she said. "There are times when I don't feel the best physically. I get back pain and fatigue frequently, but I try my best to power through it because I know there are people with CKD who have it much worse."
Lauren also said that having CKD impacts her personal life. "I am a college student who works full time and it's hard to balance everything, especially when I constantly have to choose between work, school and going to the doctor because I have appointments and scans so frequently," she said. "I live on campus and it can be hard to find time to see my doctors and get my testing done as frequently as I am supposed to since it can be difficult to get appointments."
One thing that has helped Lauren greatly is her work as an AKF Ambassador. After receiving her diagnosis, Lauren started looking for organizations that would help her become more knowledgeable about CKD and would be a place to turn to for support and information. She came across AKF in her search and decided to become an AKF Ambassador. "I felt it would be best to try and make a difference as someone who is living with the disease," she said. "Along with this, I also wanted the opportunity to meet others living with this illness so I would feel less alone."
As an Ambassador, Lauren hopes to reach a younger audience with her advocacy work. "I want other students my age to know that they need to take care of themselves now because they don't want their decisions to impact their health in the future," she said. "You don't want to look back and regret the time where you took your health for granted, so it's important to do it now. I also want to keep reaching out to my school to discuss this topic more because kidney disease awareness is very important and can save lives."
As to what advice Lauren would give to people living with CKD, she said staying strong is critical. "It can be a very challenging and scary journey, but my diagnosis reminded me about how precious life is and how strong I am," she said. "My diagnosis made me want to live more of my life because I realized that I had nothing to be scared of. It is important to keep fighting and to remind yourself that even though this is a hurdle that no one expected, it is something you can overcome."
For information and support on dealing with the mental health effects of living with kidney disease, visit our webpage on mental health.
To learn more about AKF's Advocacy Network and becoming an AKF Ambassador, visit our Advocacy Network page.