CAP-Hepatitis C Founder's Story:
"My name is Randy Dietrich. I have a beautiful family, wonderful friends, a great job, and perfect health - or so I thought. In January 1999, a routine annual physical examination resulted in a shocking diagnosis - I had hepatitis C. After the initial reactions of panic, denial, and fear, I set out to learn as much as possible about the disease and the various treatment options. Much of the information, however, was either incomplete or contradictory, no doubt due to the fact that the virus causing the disease was only recently identified. It was then that I realized that others with hepatitis C were just like me -- confused, worried, and frustrated. When I couldn't get all of the information I wanted about hepatitis C from the health professionals with whom I spoke, I realized I would have to do my own information search. I also wanted to share what I learned with others living with the disease, and with the healthcare profession at large.
I went to my employer, Jim Possehl, president of Republic Financial Corporation, and together we brainstormed the challenge that lay ahead. In our search for answers, we jointly founded and funded the Caring Ambassadors Hepatitis C Program. I chose to research my options and find answers -- not only for myself, but for the millions of other people world-wide who are also living with the disease. I knew that in the short term I could do things to improve my health while on this search. My regiment to start healing my body has been organic foods, juicing, no alcohol, no coffee, no refined sugar, no red meat, and a positive outlook. I am working with a chiropractor, an acupuncturist, and other bodywork professionals, in addition to keeping up moderate exercise. Besides these common-sense measures for a healthy liver, what else should I be doing to allay the virus?
One of my strong beliefs is that knowledge empowers. Only when you have all the facts can you make an informed decision. I think that every individual has the right to know all they can about his or her disease so they can take charge of their own health. We formed the program to make a real difference for people living with hepatitis C. as we go forward, the ways we can make these "real differences" will become more apparent to us. I believe that by helping others, I will help myself, and that, by helping myself, I will help others. We are all in this together, and together we will climb the mountain that cannot be climbed alone."
My journey with hepatitis C has been one of discovery and learning. There is much we do not yet know about hepatitis C. However, in reflecting on the major lessons I've learned in my journey with hepatitis C, I have come up with a list of "truths." Borrowing from the words of Thomas Jefferson in The Declaration of Independence, I hold these truths about living with hepatitis C to be self-evident.
1. It's the immune system!
The 1992 Clinton-Gore campaign made the saying, "It's the economy, stupid." part of modern American culture. Not to be insulting, but when it comes to chronic hepatitis C, it's the immune system, stupid. The immune system is the body's defense against viruses. We know the immune system is responsible for clearing the hepatitis C virus from the body. We also know that much of the liver damage that occurs with chronic hepatitis C is mediated by the immune system. Therefore, it follows that anything we can do to enhance the function of the immune system is potentially helpful. Conversely, anything that impairs the immune system is potentially harmful. Many of the other "truths" I include in this list ultimately relate back to the immune system.
I'd like to add a note of caution to the statement I just made about doing anything you can to improve your immune function. It is very easy to fall into the pattern of thinking that if a little of something is good, then a lot must be even better! However, this type of thinking can get you into trouble. As discussed earlier, excessive vitamins, nutritional supplements, herbs, and even exercise can potentially do more harm than good. If I had to give one word of advice to others with chronic hepatitis C, it would be "moderation."
2. You are what you eat.
This is a fact of life. With the help of the liver, our bodies transform what we eat and drink into the very substance of our bodies. While we may want to think what we eat doesn't matter, logic and basic biology tell us otherwise.
3. Stress management is important.
Scientists have known for many years that stress depresses immune function. As noted in number 1, anything that interferes with immune function is potentially detrimental to people with chronic hepatitis C. Recognizing and managing your stressors is an important way to influence your course with hepatitis C.
4. Protect your liver!
The liver is a vital organ. It processes nearly every substance that enters the body. The liver is the primary target of the hepatitis C virus. Anything you can do to decrease the demands on the liver while it is under siege from HCV is potentially helpful. You can protect your liver by eliminating alcohol from your diet, avoiding toxins such as smoke, pollutants, and chemicals, limiting your intake of complex chemicals such as medications and supplements, and eating a healthy diet.
5. Time is on your side.
For the vast majority of people, chronic hepatitis C is a very slowly progressive disease. With the exception of those people who are diagnosed with advanced cirrhosis, hepatitis C is not an immediate threat to your life. Moreover, for most people with HCV, it will never be a threat to life. In other words, most people infected with HCV will not die of the virus, but rather with the virus. Please know that I am not minimizing the challenges of living with hepatitis C. I am trying to point out that most people with hepatitis C have time to make choices about how to manage their disease and change their lifestyle, and that hepatitis C is not an automatic death sentence.
6. You are as you think.
As with all life experiences, your outlook, perceptions, and attitudes influence your experience with hepatitis C. No one wants to get hepatitis C. But once you have the virus, you are free to choose how you will react to having it. Many emotions can come into play when a person is first diagnosed including anger, fear, helplessness, shame, and others. But after the initial period of adjustment, it is up to you how you choose to live with your diagnosis. Persistent anger and feelings of helplessness may make living with HCV quite difficult. A positive outlook and hope can make daily life much easier and more enjoyable. Keep in mind that no feeling in and of itself is "bad" or "good." What gives your feelings their importance is how they affect your daily life, and how they contribute or detract from your sense of well-being.
7. Body and mind work hand-in-hand.
One of the most amazing features of human beings is the intricate and inseparable interactions between the body and the mind. Physical symptoms such as headaches, sleep disturbances, and changes in appetite that accompany depression and stress clearly demonstrate the fundamental relationship between the body and the mind. These interactions are ever-present in all people. Therefore, practices that help us achieve and maintain a healthy balance between the body and mind have the potential to improve both our physical and mental sense of wellness. A variety of practices can enhance the health of our mind-body relationship including exercise, healthy body weight, meditation, prayer, visualization, and many others.
8. Information can be healing.
Hepatitis C is a serious illness. The overwhelming reaction for most people when they are first diagnosed is fear. We all fear the unknown. Fear is very stressful, and we know stress is unhealthy for the immune system. In my experience, the best antidote to fear is information. The more I learned about hepatitis C and my options, the less fear I had. In this way, information can be healing. However, be aware that there are many unsubstantiated claims about so-called "cures" for hepatitis C. The unregulated nature of the Internet sometimes makes it difficult to separate fact from fiction. I urge you to be cautious, and do everything you can to make sure the information you gather is credible.
On a related note, I offer another word of well-intended advice based on my personal experiences. While information can help us overcome our fears and regain a sense of control, too much of a "good" thing can erode these benefits. In other words, get the information you need to feel comfortable, but be careful not to let your quest for information about hepatitis C take over your life. As with all things, moderation is usually the best and healthiest course of action.
9. Support helps.
All of us struggle at different times with our inborn need for independence and our social, interdependent nature. But in times of stress, one of our greatest sources of relief is recognizing our need for others, and taking advantage of the supportive resources available to us. An illness can be an isolating experience, but you are most certainly not alone. There are many sources of support available such as family, friends, individual counseling, and Internet-based and in-person support groups. It is a personal strength, not a weakness, to recognize what you need and to seek help. Keep in mind, too, the positive effects of support run both ways. By that I mean, you may find great satisfaction in both receiving support and later, by offering your support to others. Giving and receiving are two sides of the same valuable coin.
10. There is no magic bullet.
It was largely wishful thinking, but when I was first diagnosed with hepatitis C, I thought I would be able to find a "magic bullet" - a medicine or treatment that would quickly and painlessly clear my body of the virus without interrupting my life or requiring me to make any changes. But the truth of the matter is that at least for now, there is no magic bullet, no quick and easy fix for hepatitis C. Furthermore, no single medical discipline has "the answer" when it comes to hepatitis C. Like most of the chronic illnesses that currently affect millions of people worldwide, living with hepatitis C may require us to make some difficult choices and changes. But the good news is that when you accept your responsibilities with this condition, you are rewarded by regaining a sense of control and self-determination with respect to your circumstance.
"It was the day before my birthday, and I was out having a snowball fight, girls versus boys (we were beating them good). My dad pulled up in his car and honked, right as I turned to see him, a huge snowball hit me right in the face. Ouch! When I got into the car, my dad was on his cell phone. I waved good-bye to my friends and we left.
For about ten minutes, we drove in total silence, then my dad turned to me and said, "I have something I need to tell you.
"Right off it was bad. He went on, "About a month ago, I took a new kind of blood test and found out that I have hepatitis C, it is a disease that harms the liver. And I believe that if I go on this special diet, I will get better" I was totally shocked, I mean, my dad, my perfect dad had hepatitis C. Then I thought of something else that he had said, "I will get better"! My dad is very strong and when he gets better, it will be the happiest day of my life."