Taking Life in Their Stride

Two strangers who met at a dialysis centre develop a friendship spanning over a decade. Yong Ah Lan and Kasthuri Veeraiah share their inspirational stories.

Yong Ah Lan.

“When I was first diagnosed with kidney failure, I felt so alone at the doctor’s office,” says Yong Ah Lan, a 40-year-old baker. “I have systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), which contributed to kidney failure. When the doctor was giving me my diagnosis, I could not register what he was saying – I could see him mouthing the words, but my brain could not process the information.”

Yong was only 20 when she was told that her kidneys had failed. “My whole world crumbled within those few minutes. All I could think of was that I would be a burden to my boyfriend and my family – I thought of kidney failure as a rich man’s disease because of the high cost of treatment. I could only feel hopelessness and despair.”

Yong spiralled into depression – she kept her condition secret from her parents. Her boyfriend knew, though, and chose to stick by her side. They both got married despite her illness. “I was depressed for a long time. I chose not to listen to a lot of people whom I met. I could not see anything positive from this experience – all I felt was that I would be a burden to those who loved me because I had to depend on dialysis three times a week, four hours a day.”

Dr Kok Lai Sun, a nephrologist from Gleneagles Penang, says that most patients will experience depression – and in some serious cases, entertain suicidal thoughts – when first diagnosed with chronic kidney failure. “Chronic kidney patients need to have the will to live the best lives they can with their illness. Most patients feel that they are paralysed, and have intense feelings of guilt for burdening their loved ones,” says Kok. “Close friends and family have a very important role to play to help pull the patient out of despair.

I realised that the feelings of hopelessness and despair I felt before was a choice – I chose to feel like I could not do anything about my illness. From then on, I changed my way of feeling. I decided to choose life, and I have not looked back since.

Yong (left), is such a big part of Kasthuri's life that she did not attend as guest at Kasthuri's sister's wedding – she came as family.

“During the first few weeks of dialysis, patients will feel discomfort. Some may experience nausea and vomiting. However, this is the preliminary stage – if they continue with the treatment and take care of their food and water intake, patients will feel relieved after each dialysis session. Yong’s case is quite unfortunate – if she were to be treated for SLE today, her kidneys would not have failed because of medical advancements in the field. Her courage and will to take things in her stride amaze me,” says Kok.

Yong’s outlook on life changed when she met a nun who altered her perception on her illness: “I realised that the feelings of hopelessness and despair I felt before was a choice – I chose to feel like I could not do anything about my illness. From then on, I changed my way of feeling. I decided to choose life, and I have not looked back since.”

Yong met Kasthuri at the dialysis centre she goes to for treatment, and they became instant friends. Kasthuri is a 39-year-old tailor who has been on dialysis for 14 years. The reason for her kidney failure is undetermined as she does not have any family history of the disease nor does she indulge in any unhealthy habits.

“I realised early on that I could become a victim of circumstance, or a survivor of obstacles. I chose the latter. Acceptance of my illness was the first step towards returning to normalcy. When I was first diagnosed, like Yong, I could not accept my illness – it took me six months to change my mindset,” says Kasthuri, who speaks fluent Hokkien. “I took a break to sort out my treatment schedule, and then I continued my tailoring career. I feel we need to contribute to society. No matter how small a part we play, when we contribute, we feel valuable,” says Kasthuri.

Kasthuri.

She enjoys the company of children, and along with her sisters spends a lot of time with Yong and her family. Yong’s 18-month old son has even picked up Tamil from this interaction. When asked if she would consider a kidney transplant from a family member, Kasthuri says, “I will never ask this of them. Should they decide to give me a part of themselves, it will not be because I asked.”

I realised early on that I could become a victim of circumstance, or a survivor of obstacles. I chose the latter.

Both Yong and Kasthuri feel that one should not lose hope for a better life when diagnosed with chronic kidney failure. “Dialysis is available for everyone, even the poor. There are various NGOs and government organisations that assist people like us,” says Kasthuri. “A lot of patients live very normal lives – it’s all about the will to live, and not giving up. I intend to help others who are experiencing the same illness as me by sharing my experiences.”

Kasthuri's sisters are nannies to Yong's 18-month-old son, Jason.



Related Articles

FEATURE
Aug 2013

Langkawi where eagles fly

Sumitra Selvaraj explores the island in the sun from a different vantage point.

FEATURE
Dec 2014

Walking – and rocking – for animals

The World Animal Groove Festival, organised by the Sarawak Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, has Kuchingites walking and rocking for a good cause.

FEATURE
Jul 2011

The Past Is The Present

Novelist Gabija Grusaite takes us on a tour of Armenian Street, peeling away its layers and uncovering its gems.

FEATURE
Oct 2012

Real democracy requires democracy in planning

Our development planning process right now is too elitist, says Steven Sim, and doesn't involve the people on the ground nearly enough.