”Never awake me when you have good news to announce,
because with good news nothing presses; but when you have bad news,
arouse me immediately, for then there is not an instant to be lost.”
The Discovery of a life-threatening illness or catastrophic accident is one of life’s most difficult hardships to grasp. Just as youth feel invincible to the perils of the world, most people try to believe that disorders like cancer, HIV/AIDS, or heart disease only happen to other people. We can’t fathom how lives can change in an instant when a drunk driver strikes or jet crashes into the ocean or a crazed gunman attacks. That is until the unimaginable inevitably affects us or the ones we love. Then it hits us where we live, in our workplace, or in the world around us. A revelation that makes every future day so much different.
The news came without warning in the spring of 2001. There were no signs or indications. A simple routine physical had revealed irregular levels of antibodies in her blood. It was probably nothing to worry about. More tests were done to rule out anything serious. A few weeks later while shopping, Teresa would get another phone call from her concerned primary doctor at Kaiser Medical Center in Downey, CA. Her sad voice almost apologizing said the unthinkable, “Mrs. Sanger, I’m so sorry but you have Hepatitis C. You’re going to have to see a specialist.” Still it hardly seemed like a major concern or death sentence. So Teresa continued to put groceries in her cart thinking that her doctors would surely be able to keep it under control. “God always shows up” would be her mantra throughout and even on the first day of her journey, there was an underlying peace. Had she known what was to come, she may have more than likely fallen to her knees devastated. Her life was going to change so much because of that one phone call but her naïve child-like trust on this day would be enough.
It has often been said and demonstrated that knowledge is power but in 2001, little was known or being discussed about Hepatitis C, the disease which is now being called ‘The Silent Killer.” While the Hollywood and Washington, DC, elite have sympathetically embraced AIDS research and admirably made huge strides in stemming the epidemic (and rightfully so), Hepatitis C has flown quietly under the radar of the public eye for too many years. The statistics and prognosis are staggering. The virus was not discovered until 1989, and the mortality rate from Hepatitis C-related liver diseases has ballooned to more than twenty-five thousand people per year in just the US. One in thirty-three “Baby Boomers” have the disease. Health experts estimate 180 million people have chronic Hepatitis C globally, including approximately 4 million Americans. What is even more shocking is that of the 4 million Americans who have Hepatitis C, 75% (3 million people) don’t even know it because patients with Hepatitis C often have no noticeable symptoms. Most have Hepatitis C for many years before learning they have the virus. And by that time, liver damage may have already begun. It is crucial to get tested if you think you may be at risk, but equally important even if you have no symptoms. It is estimated that there are between thirty-five thousand and one hundred eighty-five thousand new cases of Hepatitis C each year. Liver failure from chronic Hepatitis C is one of the most common reasons for liver transplants. Chronic Hepatitis C infections are an important cause of primary liver cancer and are responsible for over twelve thousand deaths per year. Worldwide, it causes over a million deaths per year. And most Americans are not even aware of any or most of this frightening information. Over 28,000 people get transplants in the U.S. every year. Notable organ transplant recipients include Steve Jobs (Apple co-founder) George Lopez (comedian), Alonzo Mourning (NBA), Neil Simon (playwright) and Natalie Cole (singer) to name just a few.
Many celebrities diagnosed with the disease have gone public to raise awareness, increase organ donations and encourage more testing. Stars like Naomi Judd, Steven Tyler, Pamela Anderson, Larry Hagman, David Crosby, Greg Allman, Jim Nabors, Ken Watanabe, and Evel Knievel have bravely fought the Hepatitis C virus. Many more have sadly not revealed their health status. The virus infects three times more people than AIDS will likely kill more people than AIDS. "Stigma, shame and fear can suffocate awareness. These barriers prevent people from getting tested, receiving treatment, and clearing themselves of this disease,” said Live Aid Founder, Sir Bob Geldof.
With increasingly busy Americans getting their “news” from their cell phones, social media and the pop culture age media coverage, it is hard to believe but here is an actual likelihood. If you polled people on the street, chances are they would be more informed about the antics of their favorite reality stars, athletes that have used steroids, or the latest greatest Hollywood scandal than they would know about Hepatitis C. I do not believe that Teresa or I had ever even consciously said or heard the words “Hep C” since health class in high school. Think of the last public service announcement, billboard, or inflight magazine where you saw a message about Hepatitis C. I can’t recall a single one. How about you? What is needed to get our attention? Will we have to wait until it’s too late? Who will sound the gong? As the Chinese philosopher, Lao-tzu once wrote, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” So, the voyage begins.
When faced with huge challenges, true character is clearly revealed. Would you run or lash out? Many might ignore or deny. Some might even ask why? They would be well within their right to shake their fists at the sky. But those with Absolute Positivity face it head on with a quiet confidence. They let it go and trust in a power greater then themselves. Some might even keep shopping.
POSITIVITY: With childlike faith and innocence, Teresa chose to trust that things would all work out. God Always Shows Up would become her mantra.
PRAYER: Long before that fateful day, hundreds of prayers had been said in the confidence and shelter of Teresa’s Ladies Prayer Small Group.
PEOPLE: The compassionate and caring staff at Kaiser Permanente would—from the very beginning—provide world-class health care with a heart.