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Faith, mutual support help family members facing difficult medical journeys

December 23, 2018

CLEARWATER — It’s been quite the year for Deb Trease and her family — one they’d all rather leave behind.

So, on this particular day, they’re putting aside their worries and making Christmas treats together.

The smell of monster cookies fills the kitchen as Trease’s daughter, Olivia Anderson, and a sister, Karen Allemang, arrive on a Monday morning. Warm greetings mingle with old-fashioned Christmas tunes playing in the background.

They start rolling out dough for sugar cookies. It’s one of the assorted sweets they’ve planned to make and share with others: peanut butter balls, caramel corn, pizzelles and eggnog fudge.

This is their first Christmas baking extravaganza in a while. “We love to do it; everyone gets mad if I don’t bring cookies (to events),” Trease said.

In the Clearwater area where Trease lives, she’s renowned for her cooking and baking abilities. What may not be as well-known to acquaintances is her decades-long struggle with kidney disease.

Trease, who turned 60 in October, has been living with a polycystic kidney disease diagnosis for nearly 35 years. The disease causes clusters of cysts to form within a person’s kidneys, making them swell and lose function over time.

“People look at me and say, ‘You don’t look sick,’ ” she said. “If you look at my kidney in the ultrasound, it looks sick.”

The disease is genetic. Trease’s father had polycystic kidney disease, and it was passed on to five of the six siblings in her family, including Allemang, who also lives in Clearwater.

Trease is in stage 5 of renal failure, and her remaining kidney is 9 percent functional. At 7 percent or 8 percent function, she will have to go on dialysis treatment or receive a kidney transplant. Each option comes with its own potential challenges.

Dialysis involves regular treatment to remove extra water and toxins from the body that healthy kidneys normally would take care of themselves. An alternative treatment for kidney failure is getting a transplant, but finding a donor can take years.

“I keep praying someone’s going to say, ‘Hey, I don’t need two kidneys, I’d love to be tested for you,’ ” she said. “I just have to trust that God’s got the bestest, bestest kidney ever (for me).”

As the last of her siblings to experience late-stage renal failure, there aren’t any close family members who can donate; those who were able have already volunteered as donors for Trease’s siblings. She is listed in the Nebraska Organ Recovery network and waiting for a match.

Trease’s daughter, Olivia Anderson, faces her own medical challenge.

The Norfolkan doesn’t have the genetic polycystic kidney disease, but she was diagnosed with multiple zone B-cell lymphoma in September after noticing extreme tiredness and lumps throughout her body.

She started experiencing symptoms in 2013, but Anderson had to visit multiple doctors to get the diagnosis and treatment she needed. The cancer is in stage 4, which is when it isn’t curable.

“It’s not curable, but it’s treatable,” Anderson said. “The goal is to knock this (cancer) into remission and wait until it comes back, go through it again. Put it back into remission.”

The mood gets somber as the women consider each of their prognoses.

“It’s been terrible for all of us,” Trease said.

The struggle also weighs heavily on their spouses and their mother, Vera Dell Stuhr.

What helps them stay positive?

“Each other,” Trease said, fighting tears. “My grandson, my nephews, faith, friends. It’s tough. The tough thing is Olivia’s sick and I’m sick … so we’re hoping for 2019 to be better.”

Anderson chimes in, “We’ve been hoping next year would be better for a long time!”

Humor and perspective help Allemang during difficult moments. “We seem to get through it somehow I guess,” she said. “I always say it could be worse.”

Spending time with the family makes a difference, Trease said. She has three grandsons in Sioux Falls, and she enjoys baking with them whenever possible.

The family also will have a few gatherings to celebrate the holidays together this year — complete with homemade cookies.

Christmas Eve is usually the main event, hosted by Dell Stuhr. With six siblings, spouses, children and grandchildren, nearly 50 people could be there. “It’s a houseful, and Mom still insists on doing it,” Trease said.

The holiday season was the last time that many family members were able to gather, too.

“Otherwise we’re too busy that we just don’t,” she said. “That’s everybody’s favorite holiday.”

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