By Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW
For 56-year-old Susan Schenck, the worst part of being informed 12 years ago that she had the blood-borne virus Hepatitis C was the doctor’s “gloom and doom prophecies about sudden cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer and death” if she didn’t immediately submit to a regimen of drugs.
She is typically wary of what the Indiana native calls the “medical mafia” of physicians pushing pills. Schenck says, “My dad was a general practitioner and he espoused drugs and doing unnecessary surgeries versus getting to the root of the problem.” She adds bemusedly, “For a simple cold I’d be put on antibiotics!”
At the time of the diagnosis Susan was a believer in the power of nutrition to heal. She attributes ultimately winning a 10-year battle with anorexia and bulimia primarily to dropping the processed and additive-loaded foods of the American diet in her mid-twenties. “I started ingesting bee pollen and brewer’s yeast, and running, and felt wonderful!”
Yet for six months after the Hep C diagnosis she religiously took Interferon. The result? “My immune system was weakened. My hair fell out. It was like taking chemo.” This led to a “horrific” depression, which got her on anti-depressants. These caused insomnia. Next stop was sleeping pills, which caused constipation.
She jumped off the drug merry-go-round and researched nutritional options for Hep C, just as years earlier she’d done for her eating disorder.
This is not to negate the seriousness of this often-asymptomatic disease, which can take decades to cause liver damage. Indeed, the CDC has initiated a PR push to urge boomers to get tested, as this generation accounts for over 2 million of the 3.2 million Americans affected by Hep C. Treating this persistent infection with a combination of peginteferon and ribavirin has a 50 to 80 percent success rate.
Adding to the furor for testing was the July arrest of David Kwiatkowski, a Hep C-carrying medical technician who injected himself with painkillers meant for patients, and left the syringes for reuse. Hep C is often contracted via shared needles.
Yet for Susan, stopping the Interferon has worked. She relies on a high raw, high Paleo diet (fish, grass-fed pasture-raised meals, veggies, nuts, no grains or fried foods). Twelve years after the diagnosis, her liver enzymes are always perfectly healthy, even when she drinks a glass of wine.
Not only that, but her disease led to a new career. “I’d been a burnt-out teacher for years," she says. "I decided to do what I loved – writing - even if it didn’t pay.” She read over 200 books while researching a book aimed at sharing the regime that had played a huge part in her healing from Hep C. Her award-winning 2009 book, “The Live Food Factor: The Comprehensive Guide to the Ultimate Diet for Body, Mind, Spirit and Planet” (www.livefoodfactor.com) is considered the raw food bible and Susan is widely referred to as “the raw diet guru.” Her most recent book is “Beyond Broccoli: Creating a Biologically Balanced Diet When a Vegetarian Diet Doesn't Work.”
Today she often feels “euphoric” – high on her own energy. Separated from her husband of 19 years (they might reunite) she is semi-retired, living in Ecuador – belly dancing at parties and traveling two hours once a month to climb up “a steep, steep cliff.”
Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW is a NYC-based therapist, speaker and author of 3 books, including "The Complete Marriage Counselor": Relationship-Saving Advice from America’s Top 50-Plus Couples Therapists (Adams, 2010). Her website is www.marriedfaq.com. She will be one of the “Expert-Connect” experts at Women at Woodstock, offering advice on finding new love after 50. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.