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“Every time I was told, ‘No, you can’t do this,’ I’d think, ‘How can I turn that ‘no’ into a ‘yes’ ’?”

I was twenty years old when I was diagnosed with aggressive lupus. My brain was severely inflamed. My kidneys failed. I spent months in the hospital fighting for my life. Fortunately, I survived. But my kidneys did not.

At twenty-one, I’d lost my youth and health. I was on dialysis three to four times a week for four hours. I was bald from chemo. At my lowest point, I felt that I was missing out on my own life.

At my lowest point, I felt that I was missing out on my own life

But I knew I needed to keep my spirit up to stay alive. I decided to stay positive and treat every moment like a party, no matter how challenging that was. I put a sign on my hospital room door saying “Please don’t come in if you’re crying.” I don’t recall ever crying myself. I do recall a lot of laughter.

My positivity comes from my mom. She raised me to believe that happiness is a choice. I deeply channeled that sentiment when I got sick. Every time I was told, “No, you can't do this,” I’d think, “How can I turn that ‘no’ into a ‘yes’”?

Since lupus attacked my immune system, I couldn’t go out socially. But I was determined to stay in school and graduate on time from Stanford. My friends helped tremendously. They came to the hospital to fill me in on lectures. It took me months to write one paper, because my brain was inflamed and I was having trouble with speech. But I did it!

My health made it impossible to have a full-time job, as taking care of myself was basically a profession unto itself. But with a flipped perspective, it gave me a new career. I started to blog about my low-sodium diet. My doctors had given me a long list of “no’s”: no eating out, no soup, no bread. I wrote about turning each “no” into an “oh hell yes” by inventing creative recipes and workarounds.

I still face huge challenges

Within a year, I had my first book deal. Two books later, I’m the go-to low-sodium expert. That doesn’t fix everything. There are still days when I don’t feel well. But I share my story in hopes that I can help just one other person.

And after my first year on the diet, my kidneys miraculously started working again. I still have stage four kidney disease, but I’ve gone twelve years without a transplant and eleven without dialysis.

I still face huge challenges. I live with lupus. I’ve dealt with infertility. One day, I’ll need a transplant. But I approach each problem with hope that I can forge my own path. For example, my husband and I had our daughter via surrogate. We’re currently trying to expand our family through adoption.

While the hurdles of chronic illness can feel endless, I find happiness through dancing, cooking, and just being with my four-year-old. Sometimes I’m exhausted, but my husband and I still have weekly date nights. I’ve also competed in five triathlons. 

Every time, it reminds me of my inner strength. And that helps me find purpose.


After Lupus caused her kidneys to fail in 2004, Jessica Goldman Foung refocused her life and work to study food, health, and the many ways they interact. She began in 2009 to capture her adventures in a low-sodium life. Today, Jessica is the go-to, low-sodium and special diet expert, contributing regularly to,,, and Huffington Post Living. Jessica works closely with the National Kidney Foundation and American Heart Association on patient education and recipe development. She released her first book, Sodium Girl’s Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook, in 2013. And recently released her second, Low-So Good: A Guide to Real Food, Big Flavor, and Less Sodium, in June 2016. 

Image Credit: Norman Jean Roy

By Jessica Goldman Foung

Health, Illness & Injury