I am a 57-year-old white American male infected with Hepatitis C. I am involved in a controlled medical research study by Roche Pharmaceuticals of an experimental Polymerase Inhibitor (RO5024048 also known as RG7128) drug therapy for the virus. This document is the story of my illness and the experience of treatment. My lovely and pretty damn wonderful wife will be contributing her take on the experience as well.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
It Is Chemotherapy; It Is Not “Treatment.”
I do not begrudge the money granted to research on AIDS. I do not begrudge the money granted to research cancer or heart disease or tuberculosis or any other life-threatening disease. All these diseases merit serious study. I am interested in why Hep C is so underrepresented in the research funding arena. A few thoughts have been knocking around my head concerning that area.
The closest disease example I can think of to Hep C is HIV. Both groups of people infected by the particular disease are stigmatized to one extent or another. The AIDS community was painted from the very beginning as promiscuous, drug using homosexuals – hard to beat that for a stigma in American society. Hep C has been characterized as a disease of drug users and needle sharers, another big no-no in the USA. Yet after about 3 or 4 years the AIDS community was well organized, aggressive, public and effective in lobbying the drug companies and the FDA. It took a long time and a lot of hard work, but they got a lot of attention, a lot of money and some effective treatments leading to a high rate of long-term survivors. One of the reasons that they were effective was that they were a unified, identifiable community, stigmatized or no, that was able to leverage their movement for gay rights onto the movement for HIV research and treatment. The out of the closet gay community led the way in publicizing the disease and the need for research.
Individuals infected with Hep C are spread across wider segments of society. They are present in larger numbers across various sexual, gender and racial segments of society and a lot of them are still in the closet, as it were, regarding their disease. While there are advocacy groups, support groups, web sites, etc. There is not a tight, vocal, aggressive group lobbying loud and hard for additional funding. We need to have an out of the closet group of Hep C infected being in your face about the situation regarding research and treatment.
Another problem we have is that Hepatitis C patients undergo “treatment” or enter “standard of care” or are in a “study” or are utilizing “alternative therapies.” We need to call a spade a spade here. Hepatitis C is fought using chemotherapy, not “treatment.” Calling it what it truly is magnifies the significance of what people with Hep C are going through. Everyone knows someone who has undergone chemotherapy for breast cancer or colon cancer or leukemia or prostate cancer and they all understand how serious and invasive it is. By referring to Hep C treatment as treatment or Standard of Care or therapy diminishes the seriousness of the disease itself and the regimen used for attacking the virus. We need to stop minimizing it. What we go through is not treatment; it is hard-core chemotherapy with all the attendant problems and side effects.
To use myself as an example once again, I am 9 months into chemotherapy for Hepatitis C. I inject 3 drugs on a weekly basis: Pegasys, Procrit and Neupogen. I take four additional drugs on a daily basis: Ribavirin, Celexa, Levothyroxine and Folic Acid. I take three additional drugs on an as needed basis: Trazadone, Tramadol and Ativan. I am using 10 different drugs to attack the Hep C virus and to manage the side effects of the drugs that are attacking it. If that does not qualify as chemotherapy, what the hell does?
I have side effects ranging from nausea, fatigue, hair loss, muscle pain, joint pain, fevers, rashes, night sweats, low white blood counts, anemia and brain fog (because of the brain fog, I’m sure I have forgotten some of the side effects). If that array of side effects does not indicate I am undergoing chemotherapy, again, what the hell does?
It is time to call what we endure to fight the Hepatitis C virus what it is: Chemotherapy. It is invasive, disruptive and long lasting. In fact Hep C chemo generally lasts for 48 weeks. That is considerably longer than the chemo and radiation regimens for a number of cancers and other diseases. This is a serious process.
Our disease is serious and ultimately fatal, our method of attacking it is a long course of difficult chemotherapy. It does neither our disease, our treatment or ourselves as patients any favors to be less than open about the seriousness of our disease and the long, difficult and exhausting regimen of chemotherapy we undergo to fight it. Let’s do ourselves the justice of calling it what it is.
Thanks for listening to the rant. I am on vacation for the next week and will have more bile when I return...