Thursday, April 24, 2014

Day 93, Feeling Better!

Just an update on my condition. My sinuses are almost completely cleared thanks to the antibiotics, my eyes are healing up day by day. I'm feeling a lot better, no more chills, fevers, aches, cramps, shakes, headaches etc... The worst is over, now to get on with life. Thanks to everyone who over the past week has sent up prayers for both me and Alex. Words can't express our gratitude, love and humility for our fellow brothers/sisters/friends. We love each of you so much, and are thankful to have you along this journey with us of healing, restoration and replenishing. Too Blessed to be Stressed!

Here is a great video talking about the new drug I'm on to cure my Hepatitis-C, check this out. Pretty amazing I'm on this drug and on the road to a permanent cure. I love seeing editorials like these despite the enormous cost of the therapy.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Day 92, 12 Week Lab Work Just In!

Click Lab Image to view larger version.
Well, "proof is in the pudding" as they say. I went in for my 12 week HCV viral load check and sure enough, it's undetected just like at week 4! I got the results today from my routine 12 week visit to my doctor, and I must also report that my immunity is at it's highest since I've been keeping lab records. Proof that Sovaldi is working, proof that the virus is gone, my system is rebounding after years of fighting and dragon slaying, and now these bones can thrive! Everything on my labs came back amazing, AST & ALT were all normal. Officially going into week 13 of treatment, almost into week 14, it's amazing to look back at these blog posts at the road I've traveled the past 12 weeks to get here to this point. How amazing the times we're living in where the were HepC and Cure can now be uttered in the same sentence with assurance and confidence. Again, this is not my story, it's God's hand undermining this entire therapy. I'm just a vessel for His testimony and message, and I can't wait to end therapy and share with the world my story of being cured!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Day 91, A Visit to the ER

Saturday night, my wife and I attended our church's Easter events, and upon entering the service, I knew something wasn't right about my body. I felt off... An hour later, my head began to throb again, my eardrums were pulsating, pressure behind my eyes, I was have a recurring non-stop dry cough as well. I must have went through 4 Ricola within 30 minutes to combat my coughing. By the time service had ended, my whole body again to feel like I'd been tossed off a 15 foot roof face first. Thank God for hot coffee from our church, it was the only thing that soothed my hurting throat and mouth.

I arrived back at home around 7PM on Saturday night, and my wife boiled me a steaming hot kettle of water to put my head over and inhale to break up my sinuses and give me relief. It only gave momentarily relief and provided no long term benefit. My wife being very concerned over me, more so over my white blood cell counts from my previous liver treatment in 2006, urged me to go to the ER and get checked out. I know with her being an RN, she always will know what's best, so I always listen to the nurses orders. We then went to the local ER and were checked in. To my amazement, I was in a room, checked in and seeing a doctor in less than 25 minutes. I guess everyone could see my suffering, and hear my deep congestion when I talked. The headache was so bad, I could barely open my eyes to look at the nurses checking me in. Before I left the house, my wife gave me 600MG of Ibuprofen to relieve my headache. I checked in with another low grade fever at 99.8. My cheeks were on fire, and I was burning up, I felt a lot hotter at times than 99.8. I didn't feel the relieving effects of the Ibuprofen until almost an hour and a half later when my headache slowly began to subside.

I told the doctor all my symptoms, and of course being in the ER, you have to tell the doctor everything, all the meds your on, so he/she can make the best decision based on own body needs. After I told the doctor my life story basically, I told him the current issues I'm having. He was very concerned about me, and ordered a full lab panel of blood work, a chest X-ray, head CT Scan, strep throat swab, urine analysis and a lactic acid panel. The doctor went as far to say if these labs show nothing, he may order a spinal tap to check for meningitis, I was like EEEEK! After doing all the tests, the results came back within about 30-40 minutes and to my surprise everything was normal ranges! Even my liver enzymes, my WBC was 9.0, and my hemoglobin was all normal range. The chest X-ray didn't show any signs of pneumonia. The urine cultures were all negative and the lactic acid test was normal as well. The CT Scan, however, showed my right cheek sinus cavity complete filled with mucus, I had a chronic case of sinusitis.

I was discharged roughly around 2AM from the ER early Easter morning, and given two prescriptions for a Z-pack and codeine cough syrup to help me sleep at nights. Fast forward to yesterday, Easter Sunday, and I woke up with this weird eye irritation. My eyelids were almost completely crusted over when I awoke in the morning, and all day yesterday, this white mucus was slowly secreting from the inner corners of my eyes near the tear ducts. I didn't think much of it as I had a bad sinus infection and was taking antibiotics. When I awoke this morning, the left eye had gotten a lot worse, and my eyelashes were crusty with this nastiness. I called my doctors an hour ago and asked to speak to the nurse on call today and I am currently waiting on a call back from her to tell her about this new issue with my eyes. My gut instinct tells me I have a case of Conjunctivitis, but I'm not doctor. Hopefully I can either be seen, or get some eye ointment medication ASAP today to stop this itchy, burning eye pain. Feels like my eyes have been ran through some sort of cleaner or chemical. Not sure if I picked this up at church, in the ER or just luck of the draw. Needless to say, the week that will never end continues on.

I'd like to send a special thanks to the amazing staff at South Lake Hospital Emergency Room for their stellar promptness and swiftness in helping me. I'd also like to thank my amazing wife for encouraging me, and being a voice in many storms that I stop and listen to. Also to my friends John Durham and Mike Pitt from my church and men's group for coming to the ER at 11PM at night to check on me and pray with me. Truly, I don't worry about any of this nonsense I'm going through with sinuses, eyes etc... I love a good challenge and prefer to be in the battle than living a life of no challenges and always stuck in rhetoric moments of dullness, numbness and desensitization of one's own emotions. I am literally thrust into the front lines of an ongoing battle of good and evil, life and death, and in the end, this body will not win! I will always triumph over my own body, because in the end, Christ gave me the power to overcome. Whether it's in this life or the next, frankly, God's got this! I just need enough sunshine peering through the clouds above this storm to reach out and prevail, and I will. and in a few weeks, I will be back to normal and rally in God's amazing healing power and awesomeness. My Boss is good and on time like that. Just imagine what kind of stories I get to share down the road while I've been on this liver therapy. It's going to help A LOT OF PEOPLE!!!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Day 87 - Update from Last Night (Not Better)

Not doing good this morning. Woke up with a low grade 100.4 fever, still achy, chilling and hurting all over. I called my docs and reported everything, just waiting on a callback to see what can be done. Took some Ibuprofen for fever and drinking lots of water. I also go in for lab work today to see how my white blood cell count is doing and other CBC functions. I need prayer from all my Christian friends, the past 48 hours have been excruciating. -Joe

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Day 86, Aches, Chills & Cramps

So this past week, I was up in Atlanta, GA visiting with a friend and enjoying the sites in and around town. Upon many of my travels over the past 6 days, my wife and visited Six Flags over Georgia and rode all the roller coasters, saw on Broadway The Lion King, and visited some film locations from the television series The Walking Dead on AMC. All was going well until Tuesday night, on the way home from our Broadway show, and shortly after taking my nightly dose of Ribavirin, I became extremely chilled, shaky and my lower back began an all familiar deep ache.

By the time I drove to my friend's house outside of Atlanta, all I could do was get in bed with multiple layers of sheets and quilts on me. I was so bad with the shakes, that my wife could hear my teeth chattering. Being an RN, she advised me to take a hot shower. The thick-headed side of me held out as long as I could, and finally 25 minutes later with my hands, toes, head and limbs all cold to the touch, I caved and my wife started the shower for me. By the time I unclothed and stepped in, the chills had reached it's peak, as my hands literally shook and where pale to the naked eye. I wasn't sure what exactly was happening to me. At first my mind raced that I was coming down with a virus, then continued to run with ideas that my immune system is low, and that I'm having an early onset of the flu. It wasn't until I took the hot shower, warmed my body up, and jumped back into bed that my mind began to think logically as my body temperature became stable. Upon putting the puzzles pieces together, I traced the symptoms back to the previous hour when I had taken Ribavirin that I realized I was the ill-fated flu-like symptoms of "Riba-Rage."

I'll be honest, I've never had an episode strike me this hard, and as severe to date while on therapy. And to be frank, I honestly have no "words of wisdom" to offer other than a hot bath or shower. Preferably a nice soaking bath if you have a tub available. I couldn't take Alieve, Ibuprofen or Benedryl as I wasn't having fever symptoms, nor had signs of pain or headache. It was one of those instances where you toughed it out, and got through the night as best one could. Needless to say, I got less than 5 hours sleep last night, and had to get up and drive 6 hours home this morning. And Atlanta was in a major cold zone when we left at a chilling 34 degrees, which didn't help with my lingering chills loading the car up this morning.

I've had mild symptoms like these before, but nothing this severe. Also, deep in my Femur bones on both legs, and deep in my pelvis and coccyx the dull ache and throbbing from last night still persists even now as I'm typing. I go in for my 12 week lab work this Friday, with a follow up doctor's visit on April 28th, 1:30PM. I also have a routine hematology appointment in which labs were also drawn just before I left Atlanta at my Hemophilia Treatment Center this coming Tuesday April 22nd. These labs were drawn at week 11, and hopefully will offer a lot of insight in what's going within my body since my last labs and doctor's visit over 7 weeks ago. I for sure will keep everyone updated.

On a lighter note, I finished bottle #3 while on vacation, and am now 2 pills into my fourth month/bottle. The feeling is somewhat overwhelming in knowing that I'm almost done with treatment. Hang in there dragon slayers, victory and your new life is just beginning. We have to be refined by pain, suffering and ailments in order to appreciate the new lives and second chances that God has given us with this treatment of Sovaldi.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Day 80, Riba-Rage Meme

I made this Meme just for our HepC Dragon Slaying Nation. Only they will get the meaning behind it. I had some photo fun the other day, and yes, the rage man is yours truly, just RAGING!! Hope ya get a chuckle, please share and like! I must state, I was not truly having riba-rage at the time of this photography, just dramatically showcasing how I feel when the Ribavirin kicks in, and I just want to break stuff. Truly a Meme for the HCV community. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Day 79, Rolling the Dice on Side Effects

Being on treatment comes with a plethora of randomness, including side effects. It's like waking up each morning, grabbing a set of unlucky dice from your nightstand and rolling them to see which side effect(s) you'll face that day. From headaches, acid reflux, nausea all the way down to lethargy. It's no secret from my blogs that I've been battling waves of lethargy at random times throughout the day. It typically will strike randomly, but usually in late afternoon early evening before dinner time. I'll be straight up honest with you, when these moments occur, there are really only a handful of things I've found that work, and coffee seems to be the jolt I need to help me. Now, I know some are all for coffee consumption, while others hate it, and others preach against consuming coffee while having HEPC, while others embrace it. I can only speak for myself, and in this case an espresso does wonders. I've also taken a liking to the Low-Carb Monster energy drink. You don't get all the sugar, but all the things to make you snap out of your brain funk. I must state for the record, I do NOT endorse Monster energy drinks, Starbucks or Duncan Doughnuts; I'm just stating these types of boosters work for me. I'm sure I could take supplements or vitamins for alertness, but honestly, nothing beats a coffee in my honest opinion.

Another side effect I've noticed is weight. When I was previously on Ribavirin and PEG-Interferon back in 2006, two prominent side effects were weight loss and Neutropenia. In a bizarre fashion, I've noticed my weight increase close to 5lbs while on therapy. I've went from 171lbs to now 176lbs. I'm not sure the culprit, but I will be following up with my doctors to soon and have complete lab work. I'm curious to hear what my doctor has to say about the weight gain, as we know lethargy is a big one, but this one has me puzzled. I presume my diet could be a factor, but I'm not much of a late night muncher or junk food addict. Albeit, I start my morning with a glass of juice and a granola bar, and follow up with hearty lunches and dinners. Perhaps I need to cut back on my diet some. We shall see. I'm going to try going on a diet over the next couple weeks to see if my weight fluctuates any, without minimizing my core nutritional intake.

My weight gain does concern me mildly, but I will be honest, not all days are bad on Sovaldi and Ribavirin. I would say 70% of the time, I'm perfectly fine, while the remainder are pesky side effects. Might I add, all the issues I've had so far while on treatment are easily manageable with common remedies. Over the past 79 days, I've blogged about many random side effects, and given good pointers on how I've combated them using my own knowledge, and a little help from my wife who is a hospital RN locally. Most of the remedies I've shared have either came from personal experience, doctor's advice or my wife's own personal evaluations. Below is a summarized list of my side effects and they are linked to the specific blog in which I talk and offer help for each. Please use this cheat sheet to easily navigate my blog on Sovaldi and Ribavirin treatment related side effects.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Day 73, Go Away Headaches

One side effect of this therapy persists, not every day, but shows up randomly to thrust it's ugly face into my life. Headaches have been my most prominent side effect while on Sovaldi and Ribavirin (800mg). My only real strategy to combat their persistence is 2 Alieve and an hour or so of rest. I can definitely conclude that it's the liver medication causing these headaches, as before I rarely got one, and when I did, it was from staring at a computer monitor too long coding web sites or in Photoshop hours upon hours. These headaches are different from normal tension headaches, so much, that I can feel the pulsating behind my eyes. Almost perhaps like a sinus related issue? But my allergies, at best, have been decent the past few weeks, and no real severe moments of scratchy eyes, congestion, coughing or what I refer to as, "river nose." River nose is when you can bend over a sink while shaving, brushing teeth, putting on shoes etc.. and your nose just drips like a leaky faucet. That is "river nose." #RiverNose

I know different people based on health situations, complications and their own personal preference will choose different approaches to their headache woes, but when one is on high-powered toxic liver therapy, sometimes those fallback methods tend to become skewed and greater measures must come into play. That's where I am now, the Alieve works for a while... but then the residual sensations lingers into the evening and night. I have actually had episodes so bad, that I could barely open my eyes even in a dark-lit room from the pulsating throbbing going on inside my head. As the little cartoon above demonstrates, it feels like the top of my head is going to explode.

So here's Joe's 3 step golden rules for Hepatitis C liver treatment related headaches.

  1. Drink plenty of fluids, 64oz a day at least - One may not realize it, but drinking fluids hydrates your cells, body and membranes, and causes your kidneys to flush out toxins and even your medications. Once the medication is absorbed into your system and cells, the residual has to have somewhere else to go, your digestive tract. Drinking plenty of water not only flushes your system daily of all the medications and toxins, but for me personally, I generally tend to feel better if I've drank plenty of water during the day. Days where I lack or procrastinate, is typically when the headaches and other side effects rear their ugly heads. 
  2. Rest & Power Naps Daily - Your body, especially your liver and immune systems are going through rapid changes while on liver treatment. Your body sometimes has a hard time adjusting and waves of lethargy will strike at any given moment. Taking a 20-30 minute power nap, if it's doable, can reset your body, charge it up and help you finish out the rest of your day. For me the best time to power nap is 1 hour after lunch, that's when you get the after lunch grudge match of alertness and sheer lethargy. 
  3. Take Pills to Control effects of Other Pills - It sounds ironic, and cliche, but let's face it, we have to manage our side effects somehow. Whether your resort of herbal remedies, holistic approaches or you're like me, take two Alieve and call me in the morning type, we all can agree something has got to be done about managing our side effects. Whatever your approach, talk to your liver treatment care specialist and consult on the best approach for you to control your headaches, side effects and make your quality of life better while on liver therapy. And remember, the pain is worth the end result of being potentially rid of your dragons once and for all.