Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Whew! My Lab Results Improve

Last week it was time to have blood work done again and I'm SO pleased to say that, for the most part, the numbers look much better. My MELD score, which was 9 two months ago and 12 last month, dropped to 8. What a relief!

My AFP test rose from 106 to 137, but I'm still not worried at this point. It would have to rise to the 400 to 500+ before I start wringing my hands.

My heptologist, a fabulous doctor, called me personally to tell me the results and discuss what's next. First, I'm going to take metformin again to help control my blood sugar. And in a month or so, I'll probably switch from prograf to cyclosporine. This change will make it possible for me to take one of the new Hep C meds, if they become available to transplant patients. I'm not sure whether I'll want to take the meds, but I'll ponder that matter if and when the opportunity arises.

In the meantime the docs will monitor my MELD score and AFP test results, and I'll be on the lookout for any signs of ascites (edema), varices (esophageal bleeding) and encephalopathy (I refer to it as "liver dementia"), which are indications of advanced cirrhosis. Mostly, though, I will enjoy this world and the people in it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

What I Wouldn't Give for a Good Night's Sleep...

Chamomile tea, a nice warm bath, counting sheep - when it comes to sleep, you name it, I've tried it. But insomnia still dogs me, as it has since I was diagnosed with end-stage liver disease and told that I needed a transplant. While everyone else slumbers, I'm awake and watching TV, tired but unable to sleep. Often, it isn't until 5 or 6 a.m. that I doze off, not restfully, feeling uncomfortable about all the things I'm missing as I sleep the day away... and then the cycle repeats itself.

I've come to learn that I'm not alone. A PubMed article, "Role of Sleep Disturbance in Chronic Hepatitis C Infection," posted on the National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine website, reveals the following:
Chronic infection with the hepatitis C virus (CHC) is associated with physical and mental symptoms including fatigue and depression that adversely affect quality of life. A related complaint, sleep disturbance, has received little attention in the literature, with the exception of sleep changes noted in cirrhosis and end-stage liver disease. We present an overview of studies indicating sleep problems in patients with CHC, with about 60% to 65% of individuals reporting such complaints. Evidence suggests that impairments in sleep quality exist independent of antiviral therapy with interferon-α and prior to advanced stages of liver disease. Further investigation of sleep disturbance in CHC patients with a mild stage of liver disease may provide important information on disease course as well as allow additional opportunities for patient support.
Unfortunately, there is no "cure" for insomnia; experts stress the importance of working with your doctor to find a solution. A Guide to Hepatitis C, Treatment Side Effect Management, is a fact sheet on the HCV Advocate website that offers basic suggestions to address insomnia, including the following:
Make eight hours of sleep a regular habit. Sleeping less during the week and trying to catch up on the weekend doesn’t work

• Try to go to bed at the same time every night

• If you have a clock that is always lit, turn it so you can’t see the time

• Exercise every day

• If you nap, keep it short and early in the day

• Try reading before bedtime, but use a low-watt bulb

• Do not eat during the few hours before bedtime, but don’t go to bed hungry. If you eat something, choose food that is light and nutritious. Avoid spicy or greasy foods

• Take a hot bath before retiring

• If you feel you need to worry, tell yourself that you will only worry in the daytime. Make your bedroom a fret-free zone. Learn relaxation techniques to reduce stress and worrying

• Listen to relaxation tapes before retiring

• Do not lay awake in bed for more than 20 to 30 minutes. Get up, do something boring for a little while, and then go back to bed

• Your bed is for sleep and sex. If you are not doing either of these, stay out of bed
Hopefully, some of these tips will help. Here's wishing Sweet Dreams for us all.

Photo by Philippe Ramakers

Thursday, September 8, 2011

What You Should Know About Liver Cancer

Hepatocellular carcinoma, or liver cancer, is something that's crossed my mind - wondering if I might ever have it - but I've never sought information about it, until now, that is. The US Department of Veterans Affair website offers information about liver cancer, including this list of "Things to know about liver cancer:"
* Liver cancer can cause death in a person with cirrhosis.

* Patients with cirrhosis resulting from any cause, including hepatitis C, hepatitis B, and alcohol use, have a greater risk of developing liver cancer.

* Liver cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world, especially in Asia and Africa, and it is becoming increasingly common in the United States.

* Biopsy refers to extracting a small sample of tissue with a hollow needle and testing it for liver cancer. A biopsy is sometimes needed to make a diagnosis, but imaging and blood tests can usually determine whether liver cancer is present. Biopsies of liver masses can be difficult to perform and there are some risks involved.

* Liver cancer can be treated if it is detected early, but the treatment is very specialized. Patients should discuss the details thoroughly with their health care providers.

* One excellent treatment for early-stage liver cancer is a liver transplant. This is a complicated form of treatment, because a patient first needs to be a good candidate for a liver transplant, then be evaluated at a liver transplant center and placed on a waiting list, and finally, be well enough to undergo a transplant when a donated liver becomes available.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, which is overseen by the National Institutes of Health, "The (prognosis for liver cancer) is poor, because only 10 - 20% of hepatocellular carcinomas can be removed completely using surgery. If the cancer cannot be completely removed, the disease is usually fatal within 3 - 6 months. However, survival can vary, and occasionally people will survive much longer than 6 months."

Photo by Andrew Richards