Take care of your body because it’s the only one you get

With a long family history of diabetes, I’m sad to say that I wasn’t entirely surprised by my personal diagnosis in 2003. When thinking back to that year and everything that followed, the phrase “hindsight is 20/20” comes to mind. Why didn’t I take better care of my body knowing my family has a history of diabetes? How did I let my diabetes get so out of control? It’s easy to look back and think, “what if” or “if I would’ve just done this instead,” but the only thing I can do is move forward and educate others about my personal journey so they don’t have to ask themselves those same questions.

My story has many layers and does not end with my diagnosis of diabetes in 2003. In 2010, my health took a turn for the worse when I was rushed to the hospital because I was septic and hyperglycemic. Both conditions can be life-threatening effects of mismanaged diabetes and occur when there are problems with your blood. I immediately had to begin taking a medicine for my diabetes, which had progressed to the point that I was, and still am, insulin-dependent.

It’s easy to make excuses for why this happened, but in the simplest form, life got in the way and I wasn’t properly managing my health. After my experience in 2010, I started seeing an endocrinologist, who told me that I should be following a healthy eating plan because my diabetes put me at higher risk for developing kidney disease. Questions immediately started racing through my head. How did I not know diabetes could cause kidney disease when I’ve had this condition for close to a decade? Why did none of my previous doctors tell me?
I trusted my endocrinologist from the beginning and felt extremely comfortable asking questions about my health, which may not seem out of the ordinary but is something I am very thankful for. I cannot reiterate enough that having a close relationship with your doctor is extremely important. You need to feel comfortable asking tough questions while also anticipating even tougher responses. Without frequent visits to the doctor and educating myself about my health, I honestly don’t know where I would be today.

In December of 2017, my world got turned upside-down again when my primary care physician suggested I see a nephrologist to examine my kidneys. People often say, “bad news never comes alone,” and that statement became true for me after my appointment with the nephrologist. A sinking feeling ripped through my core as I found out I had stage 4 kidney disease, meaning dialysis or a kidney transplant was in my near future, and that I also had kidney cancer on top of it. I felt defeated and lost battling two chronic conditions and a cancer diagnosis all at once.

While preparing for surgery to remove the tumor on my kidney, I had to go through multiple preventative exams during which doctors realized there was a blockage in my heart. Yet again, I had a sinking feeling as I realized that this was another health issue I would have to endure. Stents were put in my heart to help with the blockage, and then a month later I was back in the hospital for my surgery to remove the tumor.

My cancer eventually went into remission and my heart was strengthened by the stents. I was finally feeling a sense of relief and control over some of my health problems, until I was rushed to the hospital with a heart attack. My health has drastically declined over the past three years, and it sometimes feels as if everything that could possibly go wrong has. Not too long after my heart attack, the world began fighting COVID-19—a pandemic that disproportionately affects people like me, a Black American living with chronic illnesses. I was terrified knowing that if I caught this virus, I might spend the rest of my life on a ventilator because my heart is weaker than most people’s, I am living with kidney disease and I have diabetes—all risk factors for severe cases of COVID-19.

In May 2020, my worst fear became a reality when I started feeling symptoms of COVID-19 and later tested positive for the coronavirus. This time, the bad news helped save my life. While getting blood work tested for COVID-19, doctors noticed my hemoglobin and creatinine were at very low levels. They discovered that my kidney disease had progressed into kidney failure and I needed to begin dialysis immediately. I have been on dialysis for three days a week ever since.

Though I can’t go back in time to change any of the layers of my story or retroactively do anything differently, I can change the future—not only for myself, but for you too. Please take care of your body because it’s the only one you have. If you know you have diabetes, make sure you manage it well to prevent kidney disease or to slow down the progression of kidney disease if you already have it. It’s also important to advocate for your health, ask your doctors the tough questions, become educated about your health and keep learning how to manage a healthy lifestyle, despite living with a chronic illness.

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About the Author(s)

Octavia Sallie

Octavia Sallie is an American Kidney Fund Ambassador from Morristown, New Jersey. She is a proud mother to her son and grandmother to her grandson. Although her illness has slowed her down physically, she is encouraged to share her personal story about kidney disease and diabetes in hopes of encouraging others to pay closer attention to their body and to follow their doctors’ instructions.

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