Hepatitis C Treatment: The Good, the Bad and the Unknown
I found out I had hepatitis C through a letter from the Red Cross.
I had just donated blood and their screening test detected antibodies for the virus. That meant my immune system was reacting to the presence of the hepatitis C virus by producing these specific antibodies to fight back. This was in 1990. At that time, I honestly didn’t think too much of it and neither did my doctors. I didn’t feel sick.
Until it was identified by CDC investigators in 1989, all doctors knew about hepatitis C was that it wasn’t Hepatitis A or Hepatitis B. The common term to describe it was simply non-A, non-B Hepatitis. A year later, when I received that letter from the Red Cross, there were still a lot of unknowns.
Fortunately, it wasn’t until the late 90s that I began experiencing severe symptoms. I started to feel achy all over and felt depressed. What finally sent me to the doctor was debilitating fatigue. By 2001, my quality of life was compromised enough that when I found out about a clinical trial for a new treatment, I actively pursued it.
I didn’t know what the results of the treatment would be—no one did. It was frightening to be in the dark. The clinical trial seemed like the best bet, but a clinical trial is just that: a test case. How my body would respond to the treatment was just as uncertain as what would happen if I continued without treatment. But I had to do something. I was 57 years old and my youngest daughter was only 15; I didn’t want to miss a single second of her adolescence.
The treatment involved taking oral medication (ribavirin and amantadine) every 12 hours and giving myself a shot (peginterferon) once a week.
They administered the first shot for me at the doctor’s office. An hour or so later, I was driving home and about to turn into my neighborhood when it felt like someone had swung an ax into my back. The pain took my breath away. I wasn’t expecting it at all; the doctor certainly hadn’t prepared me for such a reaction.
I managed to get home, drew a really hot bath, took some Tylenol and climbed into bed. It was a wakeup call. I thought, “if this is how it’s going to be, I’ll never make it.”
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