This week’s book excerpt features more from the Introduction of Hepatitis C Treatment One Step at a Time – Inspiration and Practical Tips for Successful Treatment. Note: When I wrote this, I didn’t know the outcome of my hepatitis C treatment or that new drugs would be approved to treat hepatitis C. Now I am cured and I have affordable health insurance.
I have been through HCV treatment twice, and am now going through it again. The first treatment was in 1997, when the only option was interferon alfa (interferon alfa), a protein given by self-injection to stimulate the immune system. Interferon occurs in the body naturally, produced when needed to fight a cold, virus, or other microorganism. The achy feeling you get when you are coming down with something is actually from interferon rather than from the invading virus.
Because I have a hard-to-treat variation of the virus (genotype 1a), my chances of responding were low. I stopped after three months since interferon alone was not enough to give HCV the boot. In late 2002, I underwent a 48-week course of treatment using two drugs—peginterferon and ribavirin. Peginterferon (Pegasys or PegIntron) is a more durable form of interferon. Ribavirin (Rebetol, Copegus, and Ribasphere) is a pill that weakens HCV. This treatment combination gave me a 50 percent chance of permanently eliminating HCV.
Unfortunately, although I cleared HCV, once I completed the medications, the virus came back. Even though I wasn’t cured, I benefited from treatment. Like most who do treatment, my liver had the opportunity to do some quality repair work as it got a break from HCV’s constant assault. My liver biopsy showed significant improvement as a result…
…Now I am back at my third treatment. HCV has compromised my ability to get health insurance, so I have elected to participate in a clinical trial. With current treatment rates at 80 percent and above, I realize that I am risking the better odds that come with triple-therapy, but it is the option I can afford. If the test drugs don’t work, then when I get insurance under the Affordable Care Act, I can try something else.
It may sound like I am a strong person, but I am not. If tortured, I’d spill national security secrets if my captors threatened to cut my fingernails short, let alone pull them out. After reading about HCV medication side effects, I seriously doubted my ability to make it through, particularly since I am practically phobic about vomiting. However, I was surprised—HCV treatment was not as bad as I had imagined it would be, and I got through it.
Perhaps I am not a poster child for HCV treatment, since I have not been cured yet. However, I am a poster child for believing that we can be cured. You, me, we can beat HCV. One of the myths about HCV is that it is not treatable or curable. The majority of HCV patients can be treated, and the medications keep getting better. HCV treatment rates are at their highest. Medical providers are tailoring patients’ treatment plans by using response-guided therapy. Patients who meet certain requirements, including an early and rapid response to the HCV medications, may qualify for shorter lengths of treatment, and less treatment means fewer side effects. If HCV is successfully eliminated for more than 6 months after completing antiviral therapy, the odds that it will return are about a half of one percent.
The odds are in our favor. If you join me in this journey, it will help to have the tools that I have. This book provides tips and motivation to stay on course. If you are ready to start, here is your first tip: add a healthy dose of hope to your toolbox. Christopher Reeve said, “Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.” Yes, anything is possible, including curing hepatitis C.