the ride of a lifetime

The first half of 2011 has been quite a personal roller coaster ride. January brought the good news that I was cleared by Cornell to donate my kidney, and with February came the confirmation that a donor – and the rest of my cluster – had been successfully matched. Up, up, up. When March rolled around, however, down the first big drop I went when I was fired from my job just one week before donation surgery. It was a devastating blow, a low of epic proportions, but was tempered by the exhilaration of my successful kidney donation surgery on the morning of March 8th, 2011. The ultimate high.

April and May were relative lulls in comparison – the unexpected, but deeply appreciated ups of my story in the Huffington Post and my surprise nomination for a Classy Award, and the more expected, though sobering, lows of unemployment in an utterly dismal job market. There were times, admittedly, that I felt completely hopeless as I read story after story of individuals ten times more qualified than I am, sitting for months, even years, on employment. It’s a harsh reality of an even harsher economy. Additionally, I was (and still am) going through a bit of a low point in my recovery – while I feel 100% myself in nearly every single way, the one place where my surgery still shows is in my ability to run. I have made some progress – when I first got back into it I could barely go a mile without stopping (coming from someone who has run both a half- and full marathon, mind you!) – and at least now I’ve about tripled my capabilities. I know my body is still working overtime inside, however healthy I outwardly appear, but I began to see my goal of running a half marathon this September slip away. For someone who has forever prided herself on her athleticism, that’s a tough pill to swallow. Lastly, I still hadn’t (and haven’t) heard from my recipient. I never expected anything (nor do I regret my decision), but I can’t say that I’m not the littlest bit disappointed. Hearing she’s doing well is the most wonderful news a donor could hope for, but hearing it from my coordinator and hearing it straight from her mouth are just not the same.

June 1st, however, sent me on the most lovely and exhilarating loop of a young woman’s life. It was the 4-year anniversary of the start of my relationship with my boyfriend, Bobby. We had dinner plans and tickets to see Avenue Q and I was looking forward to it for weeks. I bought champagne to celebrate the most amazing relationship – and man – I’d ever known. And as he walked in the door from work that evening, as I scurried about to get ready for the fun night ahead, he gave us another reason to pop that cork every June 1st: he bent down on one knee, proposed, and placed the most gorgeous ring I’d ever seen on my finger. Hugs, tears, and excited kisses and YES!’s later, and he made me the happiest woman on Earth. My boyfriend is no longer my boyfriend; he is my fiance and I will announce that title proudly until the day I can finally call him my husband.

Life, like love, like sickness and health, is nothing but a series of ups and downs. Sometimes we’re riding so high that we think nothing can touch us, until one day out of the blue it all comes crumbling down and it seems like nothing will ever be the same. But on the other hand, there are other times when we feel like nothing can pull us out of the funk we are in, that things will never get better and the sooner we accept that, the sooner we can go on existing. And then, along comes the sun. Because life isn’t about existing, it’s about living. It’s about recognizing that the sun sets, but it always rises; that storms hit but always pass, and with them often come the most glorious rainbows. Sometimes the lows aren’t so low, and the highs aren’t so high, and I like to think of those times as resting and rebuilding periods for the next super high or super low hiding just around the corner. So take advantage of those times – take the time to recoup, reflect, and appreciate your life as it is at that moment, because the next big thing – whether it be good or bad – will always be there. It cannot be predicted, only weathered. And how we weather it makes all the difference in the world.


There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.  [Sir Rannulph Fiennes]


4 responses to “the ride of a lifetime

  • Nicolé Walton Sharpe

    CONGRATULATIONS Melissa! SO happy for you. And, praying that you will continue to be strong and encouraged through the highs AND lows. You’re a blessing. I was wondering recently whether you’ve ever heard from your recipient. It must be hard not to hear from that person… I pray that, though it’s not the same, you’ll have the inner peace of knowing that the gift you gave was a treasured, wonderful gift with reward that goes far beyond what you could ever see & touch. Bless you!

  • Angela Stimpson

    Well said. If it makes you feel any better, my 1/2 marathon training goals have been disappointing as well. My fatigue is getting the best of me. My creatine levels are perfect, and so are the rest of my numbers, but I think my donation has left me with some long-term fatigue. While I continue to be disciplined about the time I put in, my performance has been declining. I’m not going to stop, as I know that I CAN do it. However, just like you said, I think I have to accept this time in my life as a preparation period for something yet to come. Don’t stop running, Melissa. You can do it!! Take it easy, listen to your body and enjoy the baby steps. I know that’s what I’m trying to do. Hugs.

  • Megan M

    Congrats Melissa! Good things happen to good people!

    After reading your blog, I think this is something I could do for my Dad who is about to start dialysis if we do not find a donor soon. He has B negative blood and it is very rare. My dad would do anything for me in the world, and I can’t imagine not doing this for him in return, if I am a match. I was wondering if doctors had warned you against doing this due to it creating too much stress on your 1 kidney should you decide to have kids? They told my Dad that they would not even test me for this reason, and I’m trying to get to the bottom of the reason why! I’ve read about plenty of young healthy girls that have donated… have you heard of this? Any advice would be great!

    • melissaarlio

      Hi Megan!
      I think it’s absolutely amazing that you’re even considering doing this for you dad! So many people don’t even give it a thought, so kudos to you! That being said, having children was definitely one of my biggest concerns. I talked to many doctors, my surgeons, and my OB-GYN, and they all had basically the same response: pregnancy and childbirth is typically not affected by having only one kidney. The ONLY thing I was warned about is that a lot of times women have high blood pressure during pregnancy, and high blood pressure with one kidney can be an issue (you have to have perfect blood pressure to donate). Luckily, I have low blood pressure to begin with, and I’m healthy and active (which keeps your BP low), so I don’t think I’ll have a problem. I believe that once you donate a kidney and become pregnant, you’re considered ‘high risk’ but only because they need to more closely monitor your BP. Other than that, I haven’t heard of any other issues and I’ve heard from many donors who have successfully had many, healthy children!! However, I don’t want to push you in either direction. I STRONGLY suggest getting multiple opinions – from doctors, surgeons, nephrologists (kidney specialists) and gynecologists. Should you decide to move forward, please feel free to let me know ( – I can give you all the information and inside advice you’ll ever need! Best of luck to you and your father, no matter what you decide!!!

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