A Beautiful Life

July 11, 2022

A Beautiful Life

Shelby Hansen is a mom to four kids, an airforce wife and a kidney transplant recipient, and when I sat down to talk to Shelby, I noticed two things right away: her infectious energy and how much she advocates for wellbeing within the kidney community. 

A year after the birth of her third child, while living in Florida, Shelby was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney disease. A seemingly healthy young mom, with no family history of kidney disease, Shelby received a diagnosis for Alport’s Syndrome, a genetic condition which inhibits the kidneys from properly filtering blood, allowing blood and proteins to pass into the urine. 

In January of 2016, she was listed for transplant and Shelby’s time on the waitlist was anything but straightforward. On Father’s Day of  2016, only a few months after having been listed, a little surprise came in the form of a positive pregnancy test. With a GFR of 19, Shelby was terrified the pregnancy would have a negative impact on her kidney function, and on the health of her growing child. Juggling 3 other kids, air force life and failing kidneys made for an exhausting pregnancy, and despite it all, at 36 weeks gestation, Shelby delivered a healthy baby boy.

“He goes by his middle name,” Shelby told me, “Ezekiel-which means God will strengthen. I believe that through a very challenging time in my life, I was strengthened.”

In the summer of 2017 a move to Michigan meant changing transplant centers. And on the 4th of July the following year, the call Shelby had been waiting for came.

“I received the call for a deceased donor transplant. I had been matched with someone in California and they were flying the kidney to Michigan because I was 99% sensitized. Due to being highly sensitized, finding a match for me was nearly impossible. Doctors told me that if I didn’t get this particular kidney from California that day, it would likely be another 10 years before they’d find another match. “

The surgery went well, aside from low blood pressure, but acceptance of the new kidney wasn’t immediate. In the days after surgery, Shelby endured multiple scans and biopsies. They revealed that while blood was flowing to her kidney, the kidney wasn’t filtering as it was supposed to, and for reasons still unclear,  it wasn’t until August that the new kidney began to filter.

This entire experience, with all its ups and downs, gave Shelby a passion for mental health and advocacy, which she put to use working as a mindset coach within the kidney community. Getting a transplant is an isolating and lonely experience, and one that isn’t well understood by the outside world. Everyday life is filled with an extraordinary amount of stress. Add in the misconceptions surrounding kidney disease and transplantation, and it’s enough to knock anyone off kilter. 

Fears of the future, regrets of the past, an ableist society, and seemingly insurmountable challenges exist as a breeding ground for self doubt and discreditation of self. Having a witness to your pain, Shelby says, holding space for you and reframing the conversation, can be a pivotal moment in the journey from surviving to thriving. I asked Shelby for some simple ways to begin focusing more on taking care of your mental health as a transplant patient, and she told me that a great place to start was paying attention to what you’re already doing. Give yourself credit for things like feeding the kids, taking your medication, resting when your body needs to rest. A simple mindset shift can be the catalyst for healing. Of course it’s easier said than done, which is why coaches like Shelby are here to help! 

As we ended our time together, I asked Shelby what she wanted to say to our transplant community, and what she wanted people to know. Her answer was two-fold, and sums it up just about as good as anything I’ve ever heard.

The first is feeling your feelings. The grief, the pain, the disappointment, the struggle, being present with whatever emotion is arising allows you to let go. Feelings buried alive never die, they just keep showing up in new ways. And the second part of that thought is knowing none of these things change your worthiness. You are loved, valuable, and your worth is infinite. 

You have far more power than you give yourself credit for. And there’s a big world out there waiting just for you.

You can connect with Shelby on transplantlyfe @shelbycreates, on her instagram @shelbycreates.a.beautiful.life or on her website https://shelbykhansen.com/

SHe is also the host of Creating Your Beautiful Life podcast, available on spotify and apple podcast. 

Self Coaching Practice with Shelby

Shelby shared with me a technique she calls self coaching, that I think could be beneficial to all of you. Feel free to apply her technique to your own life, and let us know how it went in the forum!

“I start by journaling out how I’m feeling about any situation. I divide the facts from the opinions and then pick out the thoughts (opinions) that I’m having that are causing me a lot of emotional pain. Then I look at one specific thought that I want to examine.

If I believe the thought that “life would be better without me having kidney disease”, I ask myself, “How does that thought make me feel”? For me, I feel disappointed when I think that thought.

The next thing I do is to allow and process the pain. So I let myself feel the feeling of disappointment–because that’s what my body wants to do. I relax into disappointment, I breathe into it, and I let it go where it wants to in my body. I name where I feel it, what it looks like, the shape, the color, the consistency. I stay present with the emotion until it begins to loosen in my body.

Once I have allowed the emotion and let my body process the emotion (because that’s what bodies are made to do), then I can decide if I want to keep the thought “life would be better without me having kidney disease” or if I want to shift into a new perspective. And often, a new perspective will present itself. For the situation of my diagnosis of kidney disease, I’ve often realized that it’s just as true that “My life is amazing because of what kidney disease has helped me discover about myself”. This thought feels more empowering to me and is something I actually want to believe. So I can decide that I want to focus on believing this new thought on purpose.

My worthiness did not change from believing one thought over another, but my experience did. I witnessed myself through the disappointment, and I’m allowing the empowered thoughts to come through because that’s the next experience I want to deliberately choose.

This process of witnessing and experiencing myself has been key to my healing. I’ve also done this process with a coach when I’m too caught up to have the clarity to see what my brain is doing in the moment. Self-coaching is a tool that I use daily to help in my emotional healing process.”

Written by Alisha Hiebert