I feel like I don’t talk much about my personal life, and that’s probably because I am at heart an introvert and a private person, so baring my soul online doesn’t really come naturally to me. I know I shared with you all some of my health issues that popped up in 2020. I ended up having gall bladder surgery in November.

However, that wasn’t all. In the process of that whole thing, I switched to a new doctor. Because I was a brand new patient to them, they did a full once-over of my medical history. I’m not going to go into the long story here, but here’s the TL;DR version:

When I was really little, I got kidney infections all of the time. I would just randomly get sick and throw up. They did some testing, figured out I had a bad valve between my kidneys and my bladder, and I had surgery to fix it. I was in kindergarten at the time. Life moved on, all seemed well.

That is, until the new doctor examined my numbers, asked me about that surgery, and told me that I am in Stage 4 kidney failure. That’s pretty much as bad as it sounds. Now, a previous doctor has told me that, due to a period of high blood pressure, one of my kidneys had “partially atrophied”. But she didn’t seem all that concerned. THIS doctor was hella concerned, and set me up with a kidney specialist.

My specialist is fantastic. He is calm, incredibly thorough, completely transparent, and he loves a long, extensive paper trail of tests. I get bloodwork every six weeks. He has been very frank with me about everything. That time when I was young left me with kidneys that are basically a mass of scar tissue. He said it’s not that unusual for people to discover this later in life from such things, because forty years ago when a child had a kidney valve issue, they just didn’t usually think to check for damage to the kidneys when fixing that issue. And parents of course didn’t even know to ask. So, it is what it is, and this is where I am now.

The good news is, my one, partially functioning kidney appears to be holding stable, and has from what he can see for the last four years or so. He has no information prior to that because as stated, my last doctor wasn’t that great at tracking this issue. And also didn’t seem to think it was important at all. Not that I’m bitter. (I am.)

The first goal is to keep what function is left. That is priority number one. I have some restrictions I have to live by now. Some dietary changes, and also, I have to be very, very careful what medications I take. The vitamin industry is especially dangerous because it is largely unregulated. The pharmaceutical industry isn’t a lot better. They can put whatever the hell they want in that stuff, and will, especially if they can tout it as a health benefit. I found out the stuff I take for occasional heartburn, for example, is a no-go for me. It has added calcium and magnesium, two things I have to watch carefully because I am already at the high end of “normal” for them. (My awesome kidney doc recommended a replacement that IS safe for me to take.) Cold medicines in general are right out. I can only take Tylenol for headaches and pain relief.

All of this is to say, don’t come at me about whatever diet you’re doing that is oh-so-effective when I go into this next part, because I am working with my specialist on what I eat, and that’s the end of that. Period.

He won’t talk with me in detail about things like dialysis and transplants yet, because my focus needs to be on keeping my kidney as healthy as I can for as long as I can. We’re monitoring it. It could last until I die of old age. It could quit in the next year. We have no real idea. The important things are to keep my blood pressure under control, my diet correct, and avoid taking anything that might hurt me.

The good news is, kidney failure is a silent illness for most of its length. I don’t feel sick. And I won’t, until kidney function drops to the point where I need dialysis or a transplant. It’s still been a huge mental adjustment to come to terms with, for both my husband and I. Sure, my function could last until I die of old age. But chances are also good that it won’t, and that was something we had to come to terms with. When you get this kind of health news, there are a lot of emotions you go through. We’ve done that, and now we’re on the “don’t borrow worry until you need to” plan. But also the “be prepared for anything” plan.

To that end, one of the things my wonderful kidney doc did tell me about transplants — the only thing he would discuss, really — is that at my current BMI, no one would even consider a kidney transplant for me. Apparently, being overweight adds complications and risk to the surgery.

Well, let me tell you. I have struggled with my weight for most of my life. Basically, since I hit puberty in middle school. And, historically I have hated pretty much all forms of exercise. But there is a real motivation that happens when your kidney specialist tells you “Hey, this potentially life saving thing that you might have to have down the road? That can’t happen unless you lose weight.”

Message received, sir.

For the past five months, I’ve been working out and controlling my diet. Not dieting, but controlling portions, making healthier choices in a sustainable way, but also allowing myself the occasional treat (in controlled amounts) or cheat day, because I need this to be sustainable, and forever. I can’t ping pong back up. I can’t “fail”. This has to be a life change that is forever.

I have this friend I met playing Xbox, and he does personal training as a hobby, but working out is like his religion. His partner did a similar body transformation to what I am attempting, and she and I have really connected and she is keeping me accountable in a way that is both inspiring and incredibly supportive. At first, I just sent my weekly weight/measuring updates. But about a month into that, she sent me a link to a video from this fitness trainer and said something like “I did this arm workout today and it was awesome! Trust me, you should try it.” And I did. And to my surprise, the 45 minutes went by fast and I actually enjoyed working out.

Now, my workouts up to this point had been on the Total Gym we bought years ago, and focused on finishing as fast as humanly possible, so I could be done with the torture. Workouts for me have always been boring, grueling slogs to be endured for my own good.

This felt like a much more intense workout, while somehow, impossibly, managing to be almost fun. So I looked up this fitness trainer’s other videos, and tried a different one the next day. I did random videos for two weeks, I bought adjustable dumbbells, a yoga mat, and resistance bands. I started wearing actual workout clothes instead of whatever old pajama pants and a t-shirt I could find. Now, Felicity and I exchange workout recs every day from this woman’s repertoire, and I am working my way through one of her programs. They are all strength training with dumbbells, and I love it. I can feel myself getting stronger. My body is reshaping itself. I feel better than I have in years, and I’m excited about my workout each day and where I am headed. My kidney doctor was impressed at my last appointment. He looked at me and said, with some surprise, “You’ve lost weight, that’s great! Keep going.” (I think normally when he tells patients they need to lose weight, he doesn’t get such an immediate response.)

So, like anyone who discovers something new they are passionate about, I of course have to share with the world how wonderful this woman and her videos are. She actually has a huge following already. Her name is Caroline Girvan. Her videos are considered some of the “hardest” out there, apparently, but don’t let that sway you. If I can do them, anyone can. I skip or modify what I can’t do for now, and keep building up my strength. I can hold a plank position for twenty seconds now, when I couldn’t do it at all a few months ago. She has a “Beginner” series for newbies to start with. I’ve “only” lost 18 pounds so far, but I’ve lost a lot of inches, and I’m gaining muscle, and making the muscle I have stronger. I also no longer have the back, shoulder, and wrist pain I used to, which is awesome for sitting down and writing.

I can’t recommend Caroline’s videos enough. I’m in a FB group all about them, and there are ladies in there in their 60’s who are cut and look and move like someone twenty years younger. These ladies are #lifegoals for me. That is what I want to be in my 60’s. I’m in my late 40’s right now, and I plan on being in the best shape of my life in a year or so.

Here’s a link to her first Beginner workout, for anyone curious. Unlike many fitness influencers, Caroline is an actual, licensed personal trainer in real life with the education and experience to back up what she is doing.

P.S. Yes, those are her real abs. I thought they were painted on the first time I saw her, but no. They are 100% real. It is inspiring when she sometimes can’t finish a set, even in the fantastic shape she is in. She used 20 and 30 pound weights. I use 5 pound weights. The great thing is, you can adjust and add weight as you get fitter, and keep getting the same value from the workouts. They are completely customizable.