Well, it's still a window into our household, but some of the goings-on are likely to surprise you this time. They've certainly surprised us.
So...this post is an update on a new beginning in our lives. Not one we anticipated or would have chosen, but apparently one that God sees can bring blessings to our lives. Trusting that God is a God of love, we believe this new journey will teach us many precious lessons about the character of our faithful God.
Alan decided to write this update in his own words.
A number of you have been asking about my health, and we wanted to share publicly what has been happening so we can clarify the rumors and also solicit your prayers.
During the summer, we followed up on some routine blood work that had indicated elevated liver enzymes. The result was shocking. I have hepatitis C, and have likely had it for several decades. For those of you who don’t know much about the disease (as we didn’t), it is a virus that attacks the liver, slowly causing inflammation and scarring. Most people who have it show little to no symptoms and are unaware of the disease for 20 to 30 years. It is not easily transmitted, except through infectious needles or blood. We are not sure exactly when I caught it, as I had both blood transfusions and surgery during my childhood and youth in Africa. Since the virus was only discovered in 1989, transmission through blood transfusions was common.
At the end of the summer, I got a biopsy to determine how far the disease had progressed. Unfortunately, I have stage four liver disease, known as cirrhosis. A normal liver is stage one; an inflamed liver is stage two; a hardening or mild scarring of the liver (known as fibrosis) is stage three. Stage four is when there has been permanent, irreversible scarring of the liver and is the last stage before liver failure. While there are many potential complications, the greatest risk is the development of liver cancer, which occurs in 20% of all cirrhotic patients. Even without cancer, if the virus remains in my system, the condition will likely worsen and I will need a liver transplant.
I don't feel sick. Like most patients with hepatitis C, I don't experience many symptoms. Other than some mild fatigue and insomnia (that we had initially put down to the stress of my accident in March), I feel fine. I have continued to engage in my regular teaching and evangelistic ministry and we could almost fool ourselves that I do not have a potentially life-threatening disease. But the biopsy and test results are clear. Unless we do something, as our specialist put it, there will likely be severe liver complications within five years.
We have been through the cycles of good and bad news. First, we found out that there was medical treatment available that was able to clear the virus from over 80% of patients. Then we got the bad news that I have the worst type of virus (known as Type 1), which has traditionally only had a 35% success rate. Then there was more good news. In the last two years, new drugs have been made available which have doubled the rate of success for Type 1 patients. Then more bad news, as we found out the potential side effects of treatment were severe, including fevers, fatigue, rashes, anemia, a lowered immunity, depression, nausea and a host of other unpleasant possibilities. About 15% of patients have to stop treatment because they can’t tolerate the side effects.
We have visited three liver specialists and talked to numerous doctors in our friendship network such as Neil Nedley, Mike Hollie and John Chung. It is clear that there are no natural remedies that will kill the virus. While we are taking steps to be as natural and healthy in our diet as possible (and fortunately, we had already been eating a healthy diet), we have no other recourse but to pursue treatment. There’s a danger in posting this publicly, as every person who has found a natural remedy to work for them will try to persuade us to adopt it so that we can fight this disease. We’ve looked into this extensively and we have not found a single person who has been cured of Hepatitis C by natural means.
So while we are convinced that we will do treatment, we are still finalizing what that treatment will be. In October we will see a fourth specialist to consider a clinical trial. There are several new treatments that claim to have better efficacy and less side effects. However, they are not publicly available as they are still being approved by the FDA. We are going to be carefully looking at our options before making a final decision and we hope to start treatment by January. My treatment is expected to last a full year and we will not be able to do any significant travelling or speaking during that time. Our hope is that I will clear the virus within the next year and then begin restoring my liver. We are hopeful that with natural remedies and a healthy lifestyle we can avoid a liver transplant.
We would appreciate your prayers as we move ahead. With three young children (who vaguely understand what is happening) and a burgeoning ministry, it is a little scary to face our own mortality. We are planning on an anointing in the next couple of weeks and believe in God’s restorative power (whether by medicine or more miraculous means!) Regardless of the future, we are grateful for your support, and most of all to our loving God, who never allows more than we can bear. We are confident that even though He has not ordained suffering, He uses it as part of His great plan to change us into His image, and to reveal to the universe that sin (not pain) is the enemy. Whatever is ahead, His hand is over our lives, and we trust His loving care.
Alan and Nicole