Ripple Effect

I put my pillow on the back of the chair and slowly sat down. Last Friday, I went to my first physical therapy appointment for treatment of a herniated disk in my lower back. (See blog post titled “Lifestyle Changes” posted on February 7th to learn how this began.) I glanced around the waiting room and noticed I was by far the youngest person in the room. This seems to be a common theme in my life. It reminded me of the days when I was hooked up to a dialysis machine. On Friday, I was engaged in conversation with an elderly woman when a man entered the room and called my name. “Valen Keefer.” I focused on the mechanics of standing up as I slowly eased myself from the chair and followed the doctor, Dr. Gus, to his therapy room.

Since it was my first appointment, it took a long time to go over my extensive medical history. I advised him of how this situation began and what has happened since I went to the emergency room on February 1st. Dr. Gus showed me diagrams and drew pictures to explain what is happening in my body right now. He gave me a very easy-to-understand yet vivid description of how the nucleus inside my disk has herniated and is pushing on my nerves, causing the pain and a tingling sensation down my legs. He explained how imperative it is to maintain an arch in my lower back and what positions are good and harmful to my healing. He also did different movement testing to help gauge my healing in the future. I left the appointment comforted by the knowledge I had gained but felt weighed down by the severity of what I have to deal with now and forever.

For the past few weeks I was in denial. I thought I would wake up one morning and feel better and this would be a thing of the past. After this appointment, it hit home. I realized that I had been ‘bucking the system’ and not fully listening to my doctors. I was sitting up for too long throughout the day and trying to do too much. Unfortunately, this is a long road of healing and in order to heal properly, I must be lying or walking on a flat surface, and only sitting for short intervals of time. I would much rather have him tell me that I have to do 100 push-ups a day and run 5 miles because then I would feel like I am accomplishing something. Plus, this came totally ‘out of the blue,’ as I was not in a bad accident; I just stood up from my chair. This is something that slowly happened over time due to the scoliosis surgery I had when I was 13.

It is amazing the ripple effect that can happen with things in our life. After fully recovering from my scoliosis surgery, I have not had any back pain. I thought that was one thing that was behind me and I could check off my worry list. However, our vertebraes work as a team in our spine and a big part of the team has been fused for a long time and has put stress on my lower vertebraes. I am now suffering the effects of that.

“Life brings us many challenges that we don’t understand. We need to surrender to the situation and find inner strength to move through it.”
-Karen Leese

Hope Picture

Last Friday, I finally accepted what is going on and got over my denial. I was quite frustrated knowing how serious this is and how it will be a long road to recovery. I accepted that being stubborn in this situation is only going to harm me. Noah was wonderful and listened to me as I let out all of my emotions. That evening Noah taught me that it is ok to be frustrated, to wonder “Why me?” and to say, “This sucks!” It felt so good to let all of that out. At the end of our conversation, I felt as though a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. By letting my aggravation out, I then quickly turned that emotion into positive energy. I committed to him that I would listen to the doctors and do my best to get through this like I have with previous health issues, with positivity and grace.

“Healing doesn’t mean the damage never existed. It means the damage no longer controls our lives.”

Throughout our weekend conversations, we came to the conclusion that having this happen to me at age 30, while not ideal, may be a blessing in disguise. By having this brought to our attention, once I heal I will be proactive every day to take the best care of my back in hopes to prevent any future complications. This will be something that I will have to work at every day, just like I take medicine every day for my transplant.

I am going to apply the lessons I learned through living with PKD to this situation. I will accept this new health issue, I will listen to my doctors, I will follow their instructions, I will remain as positive as I can, I will stay strong not only for myself but for those around me. I am continually amazed by how much I learn about life and myself as I endure each new trial. This has allowed me to step back and look at my life. I feel like this is a turning point and that this will lead to something great, because I am confident that everything happens for a reason.

Ripple Effect Picture

I would love to hear from all of you and would greatly appreciate if you would share with all of us your advice. How do you remain positive and/or cope when dealing with PKD or when handed a new health issue or challenge in life to overcome. We all have our own battles that we face and I believe we can learn so much from each other’s experiences.


  1. Amy Dixon

    I LAUGH, choose to be POSITIVE most of the time (I’m only human), and try my best to ADAPT to change. I remembered that the key to successful aging is to adapt from a gerontology class in college.

    • Valen Keefer

      Hi Amy,
      Thank you for sharing this wonderful advice. I think sometimes we underestimate how capable we are at adapting to change. I learned a lot about myself when my husband and I moved from Pennsylvania to California, including how well we adapted to change. Laughter is good for the soul.

  2. Fern Lehmann

    I have chronic pain that started after a work injury in 1993. I was 28 years old and I was so frustrated by the limitations on my life. In time, I learned to accept that I had to slow down and take better care of myself. I realized that we have no guarantees in life and when something changes the direction of our life, instead of getting angry and becoming bitter, we must adapt. It’s okay to get angry for a time and go through the steps of grieving the life you thought you would have, but if you are open to God’s plan, there are good things in store. I have used my pain to help others. I continue to learn about pain, both physical and emotional. I had to give up a much loved career, but it gave me time to spend with my children as they grew up and I am still home with our youngest son, who is 6. I lost 4 babies and that to led to blessings in the end. My father just died on the 20th of Feb. and I am still learning about pain and grief. I have a long road to walk with this newest challenge, but trust God to give me peace and comfort.

    • Valen Keefer

      Hi Fern,
      Wow, such a beautiful and eloquently written words of advice for us all to learn from. I am so very sorry your father just passed away. You are so strong and I hope you can keep that strength up through this new challenge. This recent issue has forced me to slow down, which allows you to reevaluate things and in turn I am confident good things will come from it all. By remaining positive, good things have come from all of my previous health hurdles, so I trust the same will happen with this one. Thank you for sharing your strength and thoughts with all of us.

  3. Sara

    I am sorry to learn of your pain and happy you have found a therapist who has earned your trust and has given you better understanding. I have found it is challenging to go into a health challenge for the first time or without understanding–because you don’t yet know what you don’t know…it takes awhile to adapt because for me the mind has to get a handle on things and when you don’t understand everything it is hard to find peace or know where your perimeters of concern should be. I have found it has been helpful to draw–not for others viewing, but for my own expression when I am processing and working things out. When I was diagnosed this fall with PKD I had a long time of being bedridden. I found an inexpensive program for my laptop called ArtRage that allows me to have many different media simulations at my fingertips. I found I did require Physical Therapy as well and have been blessed by it in hindsight because I had been suffering with SI joint pain for 12 years and while I still have it at times, I now have times that I am free of pain because of what exercises I have learned. I thank you for your sharing and your leadership. You have been part of the canvas as I have been learning about PKD.

    • Valen Keefer

      Hi Sara,
      Thank you for sharing your feelings. I can really relate and appreciate you sharing your words of wisdom and your advice on how you deal with challenges. Sure nice to know that I am not alone. I have read your last sentence several times. Very descriptive, powerful and kind. Thank you very much!

  4. Kim Muller

    Hi Valen,
    I’ve enjoyed reading your “PKD will not beat me” posts. I was diagnosed with PKD in 1999 at the age of 44. My father received a transplant in 1991, having been diagnosed with PKD after a routine doctor visit. I did my best to manage my health — watching my diet as best I could, and controlling my BP. In 2010 I found out that my kidney function was in serious decline and was on the list by March 2011. I knew my only option was a transplant. I was so fortunate that a complete stranger offered to donate a kidney, and had my transplant Nov. 8, 2012.

    I never really did have any despair over the situation. While I was not happy about it, I was confident that I would get a new kidney. I was not happy about the prospect of dialysis, but when the time came I again tried to stay positive with the knowledge that CAPD would be my bridge to a transplant. Luckily I was on dialysis for only 2 1/2 months.

    You cannot fight heredity – that’s basically how I approached my disease. Knowing that I had done nothing wrong, have always tried to live a healthy life, gave me the strength to take this on. I especially like the Karen Leese quote — for me, arming myself with information gave me the strength to take on the fight of my life.

    I’m sure your newest challenge made you wonder “why” again. After a certain point you figure that you’ve already had your share of curveballs in life, and when another comes your way it doesn’t seem fair. I admire your strength to take on yet another challenge. I’m sure that you will come out of this even stronger. Hopefully this will be an easier journey for you.

    Thank you for sharing your life so publicly.

    • Valen Keefer

      Hi Kim,
      Thank you for reading my blog and for sharing your family story. I am so glad that your father and you have both received transplants. I commend you for remaining positive through all of this and thankful to hear that you did not have to endure dialysis for long. Thank you for your kind words and taking the time to share your thoughts, which we can all be inspired and learn from. I hope you are feeling great after receiving the gift of life and that you continue to enjoy my blog.


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