“Back to normal? Heck, I’m even better!”
When Connie Welch was diagnosed with hepatitis C in 1994, there were no cures for the disease, but she refused to give up hope. Eighteen years later, she was freed of the virus, and today is more energetic than ever!
In 2012, Connie Welch, sat down with her family to a celebration dinner. She had just taken her last pill of a hepatitis C-fighting medication that would clear her of the virus she’d contracted 20 years earlier. “I broke down,” she says. “It was an emotional moment. Eighteen years ago, I was told I probably wouldn’t live that long.”
“I was determined to conquer hep C!”
Connie remembers the initial sense of bleakness she felt after being diagnosed. “At the time, there was only one treatment and no cure.” She searched for hopeful messages from others with the disease, but found none. “It was extremely dark and depressing. I thought, Where are the people going through this who have courage and hope?”
In 1995 and again in 2000, Connie tried two treatments that failed. “To hear, I’m sorry, treatment didn’t work—that is a downer. I understand how difficult it is to wait [to be disease-free],” says Connie, whose faith, family and determination helped her resolve to “live fully” with the disease. She put treatment thoughts aside until, in 2012, her doctor told her there was a new medication—a protease inhibitor—that had a very good chance of curing her.
“I was willing to fight!”
They were words she never thought she’d hear—and they roused her fighting spirit. “I’ll give it all I’ve got,” Connie said, vowing to do everything she could to eliminate hepatitis C. Although hopeful, she was still scarred by earlier treatments. So she could barely believe it when just four weeks after treatment, “I went ‘non-detected’ for the virus.” And six months after treatment ended, came the results that had once seemed so out of reach: all clear! Connie was cured of hep C! “Working closely with my healthcare team made a huge difference in my treatment and recovery,” she says. “They helped me through every phase!” Monitored by her doctor each year, she happily announces, “My liver is in great shape now!”
These days, Connie tries to provide others with the disease the resources, community and encouragement she’d looked for in her own journey. “I want people who have the virus to know, You can get through this!” says Connie, who with her husband divides her time between their home in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex and their sheep ranch in central Texas. “Medically, we have more treatment options to help patients than ever before!” She adds: There is hope, not just wishful thinking, but solid as a rock hope in treatment for hepatitis C.
Connie shares 5 strategies that
helped her make the most of every day
1 Feed your body well. A hep C diagnosis can make you feel like you’ve lost control, says Connie. “I wanted to try to help my body. So I cleaned up my diet and began eating lots of fresh vegetables and fruits and no processed foods. I began drinking lots of pure water, and ate quality protein. I avoided sugar and fatty foods—even artificially sweetened foods. It helped me to know that I was doing everything I could on my end.”
2. Get support. In addition to her family and church family, Connie leans on others with hep C she has met through over the years. “I did have dark moments,” says Connie of her 18-year fight. “You need a strong support system. And learning from others that you have different treatment options, and that there are steps you can take if your insurance company denies you a therapy—it’s empowering!”
3. Open up to your doctor. ”In the beginning, I knew nothing about hep C. I wondered: Can I cook for my family? Hug my children? Kiss my husband? I spent an hour-and-a-half in my doctor’s office getting the facts. There are so many myths around the disease. Having the answers [to my questions] helped relieve the anxiety.”
4. Let go of the guilt and the shame. A lot of people don’t know for sure how they contracted hepatitis C, says Connie. And a lot of people do know, and experience some regret. “What matters is that you have it, and what are you going to do about it? Are you going to be proactive and get treated and cured? Are you going to do everything you possibly can to help your liver recover? You can’t let guilt or shame get in your way.”
5. Be patient. “It took me a good five months [after learning I was cured] before I could skip my afternoon nap and slowly start back with my walking,” says Connie. “Don’t expect to be ‘back to normal’ a few days after finishing treatment. Your body has been through a horrific battle. It takes time to rebuild. And realizing that saves you from wondering, What’s wrong? Is hep C back?” In fact, your recovery depends a lot on how long you’ve had hepatitis C, your genotype (the type of hepatitis C you have), any liver damage you may have, and the type and duration of your treatment. But, hang in there, says Connie, adding: “I ended up with more energy than I had prior to treatment!”