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. The Unknown 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 Bad 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.” Fortunately, the pain never reached that level again, but the treatment was still grueling. I tried not to look at the list of potential side effects, not wanting to dwell on the possibility that the medicine would make me itch here or ache there. But I dealt with virtually everything listed: fever, chills, headache, skin problems and loss of appetite, among others. The cognitive effects of the treatment were very challenging. My short-term memory was gone. I became paranoid and hypersensitive. Never before had I been so concerned with what other people were thinking about me. I ended up stopping the treatment after six months. It wasn’t working. It was painful. And it actually did more harm than good. My viral load—the amount of the virus in my blood—had shot up from 300,000 to 1,500,000. The Good In early 2003, I started taking peginterferon and ribavirin again on another treatment plan—this time, the regime lasted 48 weeks. And right off the bat, my viral load dropped to undetectable levels. This time, thank goodness, the meds were clearly doing their job. Now, that doesn’t mean the medicine was perfect; there were still side effects. But my doctor was able to prescribe something to help counter most every ailment. And on some level, it was comforting to know everything I was feeling was a temporary effect of the treatment. Eventually, it just became a matter of managing those side effects. In the years since then, I haven’t needed to take any medication. I still have hepatitis C—the treatment didn’t get rid of it. But the virus doesn’t affect me much anymore. And throughout it all, my lifestyle hasn’t really changed. Of course, you need to exercise and you need to eat properly. Those are just the fundamentals of healthy living, and I’d pretty much always done those things anyway. But there’s no special diet or exercise routine for hepatitis C. The only thing your doctors will say you shouldn’t do is drink alcohol. For years I did as they asked and didn’t drink anything. But sometime in 2009, I slowly reintroduced alcohol into my life. I’ve told my doctors and they don’t think it’s a great idea, but on the other hand it hasn’t really made a difference. My viral load has been stable and my liver has shown no signs of damage. Now, by no means will this be true for everyone. I’m not suggesting people with hepatitis C should disregard their doctors and enjoy a drink from time-to-time. But for me, it was when I could have wine with my dinner that I felt like I had my old life back. It made me feel normal again Beverly lives with her husband in Marietta, GA, where she spends her days reading and compiling more family photo albums than you can imagine. The most recent addition to her photo collection is an album of her daughter’s wedding. Editor’s Note: For people living with the hepatitis C virus, consumption of alcohol increases both the likelihood of liver damage from the infection, and your risk of developing liver cancer. As such, medical advice for anyone with hepatitis C virus will include complete abstinence from alcohol. For as long as you carry the hepatitis C virus, if you choose to drink alcohol, you do so at your own risk.