By JUSTINE DOIDGE
“Infected”, “virus”, “disease” and “chronic” are not words you want to hear sitting across from your GP, not at any time, but especially not in your early twenties.
I’m now 44, but those were the exact words I heard some twenty years ago when I was diagnosed with hepatitis C at age 24. I had no symptoms and the thought had never crossed my mind that I may be living with a chronic blood disease that, if left untreated, can (at its worst) lead to liver disease or even liver cancer.
It was a routine blood test, a general all-over check-up to make sure everything was in working order. I was at a friend’s house when I called the clinic to find out the results. “Yep, all good. Everything’s looking fine” the nurse said down the phone. “Oh, what’s this down here” she went on “you’ve tested positive for non-A, non-B Hepatitis (now known as hepatitis C)”. Those three words, “You’ve tested positive” which were said so casually, instantly changed my life.
My first thought: “What does that even mean?”
My second thought: “Am I going to die earlier than if I didn’t have this thing?”
I scheduled a doctor’s appointment, hung up the phone and went into the next room and cried. All I knew is that I was now living with something.
Although hepatitis C is a serious condition, it’s slow acting and more often than not symptoms don’t show for many years. I was told that it would affect me later in life and treatment was something I could consider later down the track.
Although I acknowledged the diagnosis I was in my twenties and had bigger priorities, so I put it to the side. I wasn’t experiencing symptoms, there was no awareness around hepatitis C at that time and there didn’t seem to be any real urgency to get treated, so I got on with things. I travelled, moved to Sydney (originally from NZ) and started to explore my new stomping ground.
It was over a decade later, in my late 30s, when I decided to get better acquainted with the condition I had been living with for almost half my life. I began evaluating my life and my priorities.
It was time for me to start taking care of my body, a body that had served me so well for 37 years, a body I had punished in my younger years living a fast and hard lifestyle, a body I now needed to pay attention to.
I found a healthcare team that became an incredible support network. I began treatment and (long story short) was able to clear the virus five years ago in 2008, which I am very fortunate and grateful for.