“I got Hepatitis C by sharing needles when injecting drugs. Today, my life is better and Medicaid is making it possible to cure my Hep C.”
“You can do it, too!”
It was late summer 2017 when I found out I had Hepatitis C.
I was not surprised because months prior I found out that my boyfriend at the time had it and we had been sharing needles. At the time he was the only person I shared with and I figured since we were in a relationship it’d be ok.
I was so naïve at that time, lost in a drug fueled haze. I did not think that perhaps he was sharing with others or cheating on me and I knew very little about Hepatitis C.
I found out due to a hospital stay prompted by my failing health. On top of my heavy drug use I have a chronic health condition called Short Bowel Syndrome. I have to follow a strict regimen of medications, diet and hydration drinks all the time.
I was not doing any of this while using and the drugs dehydrated me, left me malnourished and drained my body of vitamins and minerals. Not to mention that my liver had already been damaged as a child due to my condition and the treatments. At the time none of this really phased me, probably because I was not done using yet.
A year and a half later when I had about seven months clean I decided, at the urging of my GI doctor, to start the process of getting treated. For the longest time I did not know that Hepatitis C could be cured. Through others in recovery I heard about the awful treatments that made you sick.
Being on 2 different pills plus interferon injections and becoming very ill did not sound appealing at all. Nevertheless, I went to see a hepatologist. I’m glad I did because I learned about the new medications that are out with little to no side effects.
The process for me began with blood work and a liver ultrasound. The blood work is to check for Hep A, Hep B, Hep C, liver functions, viral load and genotyping. These tests are to find the right medication for your genotype.
The process was easy and once insurance approved it, I received a call from the specialty pharmacy letting me know about the medication and when to expect its delivery.
Relapse and detour
Sadly, I did not go through with treatment at that time. I relapsed and never started the treatment. I chose not to start the medication because at that time Hep C treatment was a one-shot deal. If you did get treatment and then went back to using and contracted the virus again you could not get the treatment a second time.
Times are different today and Medicaid no longer asks if you have previously had Hep C treatment, Physicians are no longer required to assess the patient’s chances of completing treatment, so you can potentially be treated twice.
(Read more here about how new Medicaid rules let people who use/d drugs get Hep C treatment.)
Throughout that relapse and getting back into recovery I began experiencing joint issues and fatigue. My liver functions were elevated. I started seeing a rheumatologist for my joints thinking I had arthritis. I was checked for rheumatoid arthritis and the tests were negative. The doctor told me that my problem was a result of having Hepatitis C and I needed to get treated as soon as possible.
Sadly, I had one more relapse after that which ended in an overdose.
Hep C treatment begins
August 23, 2020 is the day my life began again. I now have over 7 months clean.
Around the four-month mark I had to find a new primary care physician (PCP) and I chose to go with OSU. My new PCP got me in with a hepatologist ASAP.
With one visit I had all the orders for labs and a liver ultrasound. Within a few weeks my Hep C medication was approved and I was set up with an online appointment with the OSU pharmacist to go over my medication and its side effects.
I was prescribed Epclusa. The treatment is one pill daily and is to be taken at the same time every day. The treatment is 12 weeks long. At the end of treatment, I will have a follow up appointment with my hepatologist and labs done to check my viral load.
These new treatments which are typically 1-3 pills per day and treatment, depending on medication, ranges from 8 – 12 weeks. The new treatments are extremely easy and the side effects are mild.
My personal experience with Hep C treatment
Here is a summary of my experience with Epclusa so far. Once I had my pharmacy appointment, my medication was shipped to me in 2 days.
I began the treatment at 6 pm on a Friday evening. Within an hour and a half I began to have a headache and was very tired, so I went to bed.
Saturday morning, I woke up feeling like I had not slept and was nauseated. I was mentally foggy and tired throughout the day with a slight headache. I took my next dose Saturday at 6pm. Within an hour I had the same symptoms, extreme fatigue, headache and nausea. Sunday morning, I was still very tired and nauseated.
However, the nausea subsided after I ate breakfast. I felt a little better throughout the day on Sunday. Sunday night’s dose produced the same, but milder, effects…tired, headache and very slight nausea.
Monday morning, I woke up feeling better. No nausea, no headache, the fatigue still lingers but it is not as severe as before. For me the worst of the side effects subsided after 3 doses.
My present and my future
I have been on Epclusa for almost three weeks now and I’m feeling good. My main lingering symptom is mild fatigue.
I would say that the treatment is well worth it. Compared to the damage I have done to myself with drugs and the side effects of Hep C, treatment is nothing.
I would definitely take the side effects of Epclusa any day. Starting treatment is always scary, especially when you hear horror stories about it. My doctor and pharmacist answered all questions and put my mind at ease. I am grateful for the care provided me and the policy changes that Medicaid made so I can have a bright and healthy future.
Today, I have a wonderful job and am engaged to a man I love and will marry June 5th. (Love you, Jeremy!) My life is better than it has been in a long time and getting treated for Hep C is one thing that made it all possible.
So, if you are considering treatment for Hep C, just do it! It is well worth it.