I was afraid for 29 years. My body felt fine except for the occasional nausea or aches in my legs. Other than that, I didn’t have any trouble. But lurking around in my body was Hepatitis C genotype three, the hardest type to treat. It isn’t common in the U.S. It’s possible I contracted it from infected blood from the transfusion I had in 1985 outside of the states.
I was diagnosed in 1988 when I didn’t know anything about Hep C, and my doctor didn’t know much more than me. I was told that I’d feel fatigued all of the time, but I never felt tired. Three years later, I saw a liver specialist who told me about Interferon, the newest and really only treatment for Hep C. All the stories I had heard about Interferon were horror stories. It reminded me of when people with cancer go through chemotherapy. People would lose their hair or get real sick or depressed. I didn’t qualify as a candidate for Interferon because the drug may have worsened depression and anxiety, and I already had anxiety. But those horror stories stuck with me, and I thought all treatment might end up that bad.
For years, my doctors would just check my platelet count to make sure the light-brown spots above my ankles didn’t darken from un-clotted blood under my skin. Bleeding and bruising easily are some of the symptoms of Hep C. In the ’90s, I saw a naturopath who recommended I eat oatmeal, leafy vegetables and take milk thistle to help. But nothing was changing. I’d ask for my “viral load” each time I went to the doctors. That’s the number of copies of the Hep C bug in the blood. My viral load was about 33,000 in my 40s. Six months ago, in my 60s, it was more than 4 million. On the outside, I was just me, but I kept thinking about this disease that could kill me. Hepatitis C can cause cirrhosis of the liver. For a while it felt like nobody cared.
New treatments became available without the scary side effects that Interferon had, but the drugs were very expensive. You had to be very sick for the state to pay for treatment. Last October, my doctor held his thumb and pointer finger an inch apart and said to me, “You’ve got about this much to go,” meaning there was enough scarring on my liver to be sick enough to qualify for treatment. That was how it used to be. As of January 2017, Washington state approved covering treatment for all Hep C Medicaid patients.
I was afraid of treatment, like a lot of people with Hepatitis C. The Interferon horror stories played in my head. I thought, well I’ve lived with it for this long. Do I really need treatment? But then I thought again, I’m 63. I have other health issues to deal with. Why not try and get rid of one?
My treatment consisted of one pill for 90 days. Three months on the pill and three months off. You take the pill once every day around the same time. If you miss a day, you have to start the entire three-month cycle over. I was terrified of missing a day, but my neighbor was also going through treatment for Hep C, so we reminded each other and cheered each other on.
I had problems with the first type of pill I tried, Harvoni, but the second type, Sovaldi, worked for me. After two months there was no detection of the virus. They took an ultrasound at the end of my six-month treatment.
Only the previous scar tissue remained on my liver and my kidneys were functioning fine. As of September, I no longer have Hepatitis C.
A lot of people are afraid of the side effects or the costs of treatment. I was scared, but I went for it anyway. Come by Leschi Market down by Lake Washington where I sell the paper. You can see the proof for yourself.
Ivy Irving is a Real Change vendor. She sells at Leschi Market.
Wait, there's more. Check out the November 29 issue.