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Jennifer's Story

The hardest part of any written project is how to start. Given the nature of this story I suppose it would be relevant to give you some brief background history as to who I am, how I grew up and who I am today.
   I grew up in the 60's in an environment where drug "experimentation" was pretty much the norm. As I got older, into my late teens I began "experimenting" as well. First it was alcohol, always alcohol. Then I progressed through the usual suspects until I became so invested in my experimentation that I would try anything. I was a real scientist; I found the best combinations of drugs, the right timing and dozens of other methods to maximize my high. I had always sworn I would never shoot up though; too scary.

Of course the best way to overcome fear, as I discovered in my scientific research, is the right combination of beer and valium. Add to this formula one part attractive man and one part best friend and we had the perfect formula for me to take my experimentations to the next level.

I won't go into what they call "euphoric recall" in some treatment circles, but suffice to say I pretty much figured I'd found the holy grail of inebriation. This was in the late 70's to early 80's before anyone knew of a terrifying little virus called HAV. The worst that could happen, we figured, was you might get "regular hepatitis" the kind that can be treated reasonably easily, or so we thought in our infinite post adolescent wisdom. Needless to say we weren't too careful about cleanliness or keeping track of whose equipment belonged to whom.

Later on in life, as I got married and started having kids I pretty much cut back my drug use to smoking weed and drinking. I went to college, got a degree in Social Work and became a Youth Advocate, a career I loved.

Fast forward to the mid nineties, I get a phone call from my kids' father informing me that he had gone to donate blood and was told he was infected with Hepatitis C. This was about the time that the disease was just beginning to be recognized as its own type, after having previously been known as non-A non-B Hepatitis.

Being a dutiful, yet reasonably functional, alcoholic my natural reaction was to conclude that I would eventually need to stop drinking to save my liver and then subsequently continued to drink daily for the next two years. It sounds counterintuitive, I know, but if you are an alcoholic/ addict this "logic" will make perfect sense to you. If you are not you can thank your lucky stars that it does NOT make sense to you.

I suppose you could say that, in a way, the discovery that I had Hep C was a catalyst for many changes to follow. One doesn't drink daily for 2 years solid without experiencing some negative consequences. My particular consequence was to land in jail. Fortunately I was offered the option of inpatient treatment as an alternative sentence. Once I'd completed treatment I was slowly getting back on with my life. Part of my new life was to take better care of myself physically; so I found a Primary Physician I liked and kept up with regular health screenings which included yearly liver panels. For the most part I didn't feel that the Hep C affected me and sometimes I'd even forget I had it. I had some other health issues, (degenerative disk disease and depression) that caused fatigue and pain, since my liver panels were generally good, I didn't worry about the hepatitis.

About a year and a half ago my fatigue increased dramatically; so did random body aches that didn't seem to be related to my neck pain. I also started to become forgetful and foggy. I kept going back to the doctor looking for answers. Menopause, yes, but my hormones weren't "off" enough to significantly affect my functioning. Next, thyroid test…nope, fine. Fibromyalgia? Eh maybe but I didn't quite meet all the criteria. CBC, fine….oh wait, viral level…dramatically increased. My doctor referred me to a gastroenterologist, who did more complete blood work (I believe it required 15 vials!) and a liver biopsy.

Fortunately the doctor said I was pretty healthy and my liver damage was slight, stage 1. All this, combined with the fact that I was not working due to having been fired because my health was having a negative impact on my job performance, seemed to indicate this was a most opportune time to try treatment.

Now I must tell you that for many years I had insisted I would never do treatment unless I was close to death. I'd had friends go through the treatment and saw how miserable they were…and they didn't clear the virus, at least not permanently. But the older we get and the more aware of our mortality we become, we begin to loosen our standards on what we will or will not do medically speaking. Besides it really seemed that all the signs were indicating that now was the time.

I began the treatment in March, for the first few weeks I felt pretty sick. The depression and anxiety was no picnic either. By week 6 I was wondering if I had made a mistake. But my nurse's appointment that week revealed the viral load was half what it had been in the beginning. Now after a little over 3 months it is undetectable. At least I feel some hope, and I feel it's worth it to continue despite the side effects. I am fully aware of the fact that the virus could come back, I have genotype 1a which is the more difficult to treat. But I also know that there's a good chance it may clear completely. There are no guarantees in life, but there is something empowering about saying ok I'm going to go ahead and try this even though it's scary and I'm going to do it because I care enough about myself and my family to try to stay healthy for all of us.

There have been ups and downs, and there will continue to be. But aren't there always ups and downs of one sort or another? I've found great support in family and friends and people in online communities as far away as England and Australia. I'm learning how to manage my time, and maintain balance so I don't become too exhausted. I'm learning to ask for help when I need it (which is probably, for me, the most difficult of all '"side effects"!) I've learned to listen to my nurse when she tells me to drink ridiculous amounts of water especially in this hot weather. And I've come to accept that if my hair starts falling out I'll revert to my 1980 punk rock spiked pixie cut.

Finally, I've become pretty open about my disease and feel I have an opportunity to educate people about this often stigmatized condition. And I do admit to people how I got the disease because the phenomenon of addiction is another "condition" that is surrounded in misinformation and stereotype. I hope that my experience and my story can help someone out there who is feeling lonely, outcast, ashamed, in denial, hopeless or fearful because I have been all those things and more and yet I'm still hanging in here.

 

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