Hep Like Me: Now what?

January 30th, 2014

Hep Like Me: Now what? Written by Debra Walters.

You have hepatitis C (HCV) and have only heard scary things.  Your best friend is knowledge, not just facts. It is no good to just bring your liver to treatment. You must bring your mind as well.

Have you quit drinking or taking drugs? If not, come back when you do.

 

What to learn:

Doctors: Your insurance will pay the same amount for a hepatologist or a gastroenterologist. Go for a hepatologist. All he thinks about is the liver.

Treatment Lingo: Learn it. This language is the only way you have to talk with your treatment team.

  • VR: Viral load - number of viruses per ml of blood is written in logs
  • Log: simply a way to not write all the zeros in a number. 1,000,000 is 1 million viruses per ml of blood, is 6 logs
  • RVR:  Rapid Virologic Response - hep C undetectable at week 4 of treatment
  • NR: Null Response – no decrease in virus at week 12 of treatment
  • PR: Partial Response – small decline in virus at week 12 but still detectable at week 24
  • SVR: Sustained Virologic Response – undetectable virus 6 months after treatment completed. The goal!
  • Genotype:  Most people in the US are Genotype I. Learn yours. Treatment choices are based on genotype

Depression: If you are like me and inclined toward depression, ask your doctor if you can start anti-depressants before treatment. It’s easier to get ahead of depression than try to catch up to it. This can make the difference between completing treatment and not.

Available Treatments: Currently the standard of care (SOC) includes Interferon, which is harsh. Soon treatments will be available without Interferon. Can you wait? Talk to your doctor. All treatments include at least 2 drugs to attack the virus at two different sites in the life cycle (think of killing fleas on your pet).

Another approach: I am a scientist as well as a treatment success. Here is what I did and why: I looked up clinical trials in my city at clinicaltrials.gov. I found a research site and participated in trials there.

The advantage: Newest treatments and a team focused on my health with close monitoring of my whole body, not just my liver. All treatment is free and you can opt out if you don’t feel comfortable.

The disadvantage: You must commit to follow the protocol. My first treatment drugs were SOC and didn’t work so I went through treatment again. But, this was successful and I am cured!

One note of warning: They are researchers and so they don’t know all the answers to treatment outcomes. Phase III means that many patients have experienced this drug and more is known about safety. Phase II means the drug has only been in a few humans, so less is known about safety. I suggest only participating in a Phase III trial if you aren’t comfortable with the unknown.

To help me understand my own experience, I started a blog www.heplikeme.com. I wish you the best and suggest taking it one day at a time.

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