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Dr. Isaac J. Walker JR.
Billie, Karen & Benita
James Edward Alexander, Esq.
Waters Tax Service
rhonda d. malone
Morghan & Austin
She' She' R. Yancy
lafayette aandyr malone-smith
At the age of 18 years old, I was like any other teenager, I could not conceive of the idea that anything bad would or could happen to me. Like many other parents, mine gave me plenty of advice, and pearls of wisdom about what I should and should not do…work hard, be honest, don’t give in to peer pressure, steer clear of certain people…and don’t get any tattoos. Of course, like most kids, I didn’t always listen. I figured, I’m smart, I know what I’m doing, who to trust, I’m a good college student, work hard, go to church, and I just got my own apartment.
With that said, one night, some friends suggested we all go out have some fun and get tattoos – so we did. Mind you, no one in the medical community knew that Hepatitis C existed. Therefore, there were no warnings about blood borne pathogens such as Hep C that would have made us concerned. I lived life to its fullest! I traveled all over the world, enjoyed golf – even playing in some amateur tournaments, played tennis, and ran marathons.
Time passed, and I graduated from college while raising my son, and started a career in Human Resources for a large financial institution. It was in my position as an HR Rep to hold our annual Open Enrollment for medical benefits. I was encouraging the women in attendance to have a well woman’s exam, stressing its importance. I succeeded in getting many of the women in the organization to make this appointment and to have this exam, and then realized that I needed to put my money where my mouth was and have my exam as well.
I had my exam and didn’t have another thought about it, I knew I was perfectly healthy. A few weeks later, I received a phone call from a concerned attending physician at my doctor’s office saying that I needed to come into the office and see my doctor. A week later I went to see my doctor. He walked into the exam room. He stood in front of the sink countertop and read from my chart, never looking at me, and said ‘Ms. Yancy, you have Hepatitis C.’ My response was, ‘ Okay…what is that? What do I need to do?’ He said ‘nothing, there’s no cure.’ I said, ‘so basically you’re telling me that I’m dying?’ And he said ‘Yes, you need to go see a liver specialist immediately.’ Then he walked out of the room. I left his office in shock, got to a phone in the basement area, called my mother, and broke down. I was devastated. I was 30 years old and dying.
My family and friends met me at my home to give me love and support. I immediately started a holistic detox regime, thinking I could cure this myself.
I went to see the liver specialist. He took a biopsy of my liver and informed me of the cirrhosis. He advised me not to drink alcohol, and to eat as healthy a diet as I could. This was easy because I seldom drank, I didn’t eat red meat, and I was very health conscious. I asked the liver specialist how I got this disease, as I said I was a very health conscious person. The doctor told me that based on the biopsy they had taken of my liver, they could tell approximately how long I’d had the disease, the damage they could see indicated that I had it for 10 or more years. Being asymptomatic, I had no idea I had cirrhosis of the liver. Since I had not ever used drugs or had a blood transfusion, we concluded that I got the disease the day I got the tattoo with my friends. One little innocuous day had turned deadly for me.
For years I continued to have routine visits with my liver specialist. This doctor put me on a twelve month regimen of injections of interferon. I lost a lot of my hair, suffered from depression, weakness, pain, and nausea. All while working full time and going to school at night. Unfortunately the medicine did nothing to stem the disease. He told me he would monitor the disease, but there was really nothing anyone could do at this time. Once the treatments stopped, I began to feel better physically and emotionally. Since I didn’t feel sick, I managed to convince myself that all I had to do was take herbal supplements like Silymarin, eat healthy foods, and juice. I slipped into denial and eventually stopped going to my appointments.
As fate would have it, due to having a hip replacement in the 1960s, and receiving blood, my mother was now diagnosed with Hep C! I had to face my disease again because I had to watch my mother suffer through it. I took my mother to many of her doctor’s appointments. Her doctor told me that there was nothing they could do for her, and that basically they were going to ‘escort her through’. I got very angry and asked why not treatment and he told me that she had other factors including her age and other illnesses that prevented them from aggressively attacking the disease. My questions indicated to him that I had some knowledge of Hep C and he asked me where I got my information. I told him that I had it and had tried Interferon. He told me about the advances that had been made in the fight against Hep C and that there were new treatments that could possibly help me. He strongly encouraged me to go back to my liver specialist.
Due to a change in medical insurance, I went to see a new specialist, he told me I had 3 years to live and he strongly encouraged me to try another 12 month treatment involving self-injections of Interferon but this time taking several pills including Ribavirin. I started this treatment with great hopes. Again, I had to take this treatment while working full time. The side effects were terrible; constant nausea, weakness, pain, loss of appetite, low blood cell counts, dizziness, depression. I could not afford to take any time off of work, so I had to find a way to get through each day. The great news was that the treatment was working, my viral load dropped every time my blood work came back. It hadn’t quite made it to 0 by the time I hit 12 months, but my doctor was so encouraged, he extended the treatment to 18 months. My viral load continued to drop. I was ecstatic, I had been given my life back – I was going to live! Before the treatment was finished, I had a major setback. On my way home from work, I started to feel very nauseous, this was normal, so I wasn’t alarmed. By the time I got home, I was running to the bathroom and threw up what looked to me like buckets of blood. I was rushed to the hospital where I started throwing up more blood. I was taken to ICU and given a blood transfusion and last rites. Through God’s grace, I survived. After my release, I continued with my Interferon and Ribavirin regimen until the 18 months were finished. My viral load had hit 0 and now all we had to do was wait and watch and hope that the virus didn’t come back. It did. On my first blood test after treatment my viral load had already begun to increase. Because I have the strongest strain of Hep C, and the fact that the drugs for some reason don’t always work as well for African Americans, the treatment did not stick.
I continued to see my liver specialist, and continued to do all he recommended that I do. All the while, I got sicker and weaker. I had to make an approximately 75 mile round trip each day to and from work, while suffering from the side effects of worsening Hep C illnesses that put me in the hospital more than once, inability to focus – taking two or three times longer to do tasks than it had before - I was in constant pain, suffering from nausea, weakness, blood blisters, bruising, bleeding easily, extreme fatigue requiring platelet transfusions, problems with short term memory, a buildup in my abdomen and extremities (ascites), and the list goes on. I was afraid that if I didn’t work, then I would have no health care and then surely I would die. I had to stop driving myself to and from work because I could no longer stay awake or focus enough to safely get to and from work on my own, fortunately I had someone who was willing and able to take me to work each day and pick me up.
I continued to get sicker and weaker, and even lost approximately 60% of my eye sight, having to have both eyes operated on. Nonetheless, I kept pushing harder and harder. In 2012, I got so sick that I spent 6 months in and out of the hospital. I wouldn’t give up. I felt that I had to work, I needed my insurance, and my coworkers needed me. I enjoyed and cared about my work. I was raised not to give up, and I felt like I would be a failure if I stopped working. Finally, a good friend said to me, ‘how much will you care about your job when you’re dead.’ This shocked me and had a profound effect on me. My doctor had also been strongly encouraging me to stop working for at least a year. In August of 2012, my doctor put me on disability.
Since August of 2012, I have been added to the UNOS Liver Transplant list! I work each day to try and stay as healthy as I can, follow all of my doctor’s advice, and to live the best life I can. I am grateful to all of my friends and family who have supported me through all of the ups and downs of my illness. Unfortunately during this whole process, I’ve lost my mother, sister, and older brother. I thank God especially for my father who has provided a tremendous amount of help and support to me not just in the last year, but throughout my life.
I am also grateful for those brave enough to share their story, organizations like American Liver Foundations (ALF), their tireless support has helped to save many lives, and gives us all - those of us with liver disease, and those that love us – hope that there will be a world one day with no liver disease.
Today I live to LIVE and not live to die!
As a participant in the Liver Life Walk, I'm helping to move forward the fight against liver disease and I need your help!
Every step I take and every dollar I raise will make a difference in the lives of the 30 million Americans living with liver disease. By making a donation on my behalf, you will be helping the American Liver Foundation provide community-based education and prevention programs, protect the rights of people with liver disease, and fund critical research.
By making a donation you'll take me one step closer to my goal and take all of us another stride closer to a world free of liver disease!
Donating is easy! Just click the "Sponsor Me" button to get started!
Thank you for supporting the Liver Life Walk Los Angeles on September 22, 2013!
The Liver Life Walk is a celebration of my commitment to a world free of liver disease. Please help me make that goal a reality! I support the American Liver Foundation® because it:
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American Liver Foundation® |5777 W. Century Boulevard | Suite 865 | Los Angeles, CA90045
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