A musician shares his hepatitis C journey.
Since collapsing onstage in 2003 in the throes of hepatitis C, Alejandro Escovedo has spent almost as much time talking about his health during interviews as he’s spent talking about music.
But these days, his voice is upbeat and even joyful. Finally cured of the potentially deadly viral infection, the acclaimed Texas rocker, 67, is touring on behalf of the Prevent Cancer Foundation and its mission of making people aware of the connection between viruses and cancer.
“I dodged the bullet by a hair,” he says. “When you go through something like that — and when you watch so many of your friends die from cancer — you do anything you can to further awareness.”
Last year, Escovedo was named a national spokesman for “Think About the Link,” the Foundation’s prevention and education campaign that focuses on three viruses linked to cancer: hepatitis B, hepatitis C and human papillomavirus (HPV).
He’s filmed a public-service announcement, and last month he launched a 12-city “Think About the Link” concert tour that brings him to the Kessler Theater on Feb. 8.
“Alejandro is a wonderful example for people to understand that hepatitis C is a potential silent killer, but there are curative treatments available now,” says Prevent Cancer Foundation president Carolyn “Bo” Aldigé, who founded the organization in 1985. “He has a very positive message that everybody of a certain age or risk factor should be tested.”
Spread through contaminated blood, hepatitis C can cause liver cancer if left untreated. Doctors are now recommending that people born between 1945 and 1965 get tested, since baby boomers are five times more likely to be infected with the virus than other adults.
The tricky thing about it is people can have the virus for years with no symptoms. Escovedo — who says he’s not sure how he got hep C — had no idea he was infected until 1996, after he felt sick during a Canadian tour and a friend told him “You look worse than Keith Richards.”
Back then, treatment options were limited, and Escovedo kept touring full-throttle. Then, in 2003, he began vomiting blood before going onstage in Phoenix. Somehow, he made it through the show, but he collapsed while leaving the stage.
Friends rushed him to the hospital, where doctors told him the virus had caused advanced cirrhosis of the liver. They also gave him a dire prognosis: He might only have a year to live, maybe less.
Escovedo took the drug interferon until its side effects became unbearable, then relied on meditation, medicinal herbs and acupuncture to keep his symptoms at bay. Meanwhile, an army of his colleagues pitched in to pay his medical bills with the benefit album Por Vida: A Tribute to the Songs of Alejandro Escovedo.
Against all odds, the singer’s hepatitis C never turned into liver cancer, and his condition even stabilized enough for him to resume his career. Still, he continued to struggle with fatigue, compounded by PTSD he and his wife, Nancy, suffered in 2014 after being pummeled by Hurricane Odile while staying at a beachfront house in Mexico during their honeymoon.
Finally, good news arrived in 2015, when doctor prescribed him Harvoni and Olysio, two new drugs with a promising track record for fighting hepatitis C.
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