One person on the left attempts to speak to the person on the right. Above the couple's heads is a speech bubble containing a large tangled scribble.

Explaining HCV Treatment to Romantic Partners

Some people prefer to keep their medical decisions private, while others prefer to share information with many. When it comes to the treatment for hepatitis C, there are often no consistent visible side effects (compared to something like the hair loss that often accompanies chemotherapy for cancer). This allows many patients to choose how open the wish to be with their hepatitis C diagnosis and their personal treatment plan. However, many doctors suggest that a person’s primary partner be involved in the treatment experience. This is because patients with consistent support systems often tend to recover at better rates and they may have less issue with side effects than those who try to go through the treatment process alone.

Before the treatment begins, it is important for the person being treated (the patient) to discuss their needs with their partner, as much as they can plan in advance. This includes having a talk about boundaries, whether the patient wants or needs to be reminded about medication (or whether they would find that belittling), whether they want to be treated more gingerly or whether they prefer to be treated as typically as possible until or unless they themselves ask to be treated differently. The patient may also wish to discuss doctor’s visits with their partner so that the partner can be aware of any scheduling conflicts or to make arrangements to either be present at appointments or to understand that their presence is not needed at appointments, but that perhaps there may be medical news to discuss afterward. Having these conversations before the treatment begins allows both partners to talk through their own feelings and needs and to plan together how to best support each other through the experience. It may be easier to talk this out before the process begins as emotions may become heightened during the treatment process itself.

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If the patient is on their partner’s health insurance, there may be additional discussions or assistances needed in order to ensure that all of the treatment protocols and office visits are covered under the health insurance plan. If the patient will be missing work, they may need to discuss any financial implications this may have on the household so that their partner can also plan for that or discuss the ability to earn more money during that time in order to maintain financial balance.

During treatment

Although the pre-treatment discussions may have gone calmly and smoothly, the needs of the patient or their partner may change during treatment. This is very normal. This often happens because the partner finds himself/herself feeling more nervous or worried than anticipated or because they have questions they would like to ask the treating physician. The patient may also change their mind about how involved they want their partner to be based on the impact of the medication. In some cases, the side effects of treatment can lead to exhaustion or weakness. That may force the patient to ask for more help than they had expected or planned. In other cases, the medication side effects may include jaundice, constipation, or diarrhea, which may lead the patient to ask for more private time at home out of a need to preserve vanity or to not feel embarrassed during an already trying time.

In addition, there may be issues or doctor recommendations that were not discussed or planned for at all. This may be because the treatment time extends due to changes in medication or because the side effects of the medication may require more specific at home care, such as major changes to the patient’s diet. These changes are often rooted in being asked to maintain a healthier diet in order to help the body to fight against the hepatitis C virus and the side effects of the medication. This may mean that there are more trips to the grocery store for fresh produce than is typical within the patient’s household. If the patient is feeling weak or does not want to be seen during a time of looking less than put together, the patient may ask their partner to run these errands.

Overall, there is no right way or wrong way to handle the relationship or the roles of each partner in the relationship during the treatment process. Decisions made in advance may need to change during the process, decisions made at one stage of the process may change at a different stage of the treatment process. The best way to prepare for and to manage treatment is to agree to regularly check in with each other and to communicate. This can prevent misunderstandings or other added stressors during an already stressful time.

After treatment ends

Once treatment officially ends, the patient may want to immediately jump back into the life patterns they held before treatment. Some are able to do this easily. Others require more time and a slower transition. Some also choose to alter their lives, either based on how they feel after the medication has impacted them or because they have taken time to reevaluate their priorities. It is important to talk any changes or expectations over together to ensure that both partners remain on the same page and understand the choices they are each making, as well as how these choices will impact their relationship and their life together.1-3

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