Compassion Saves Lives: My Hepatitis C Story

My journey with hepatitis C started in January 2017. Actually, my journey with hepatitis C started prior to 2017, as I am a person who has struggled with problematic substance use my whole adult life. I started drinking when I was 17 years old. At 19 years of age, I was intensively using alcohol and party drugs. By 23 I was in full-blow cocaine addiction, and snorting drugs was not “doing it” for me anymore. This is when I started engaging in intravenous drug use, and entered into a high-risk life style to support my substance use. In 2015, at 26 years old, I could not go on living the way I was.

My options were pretty bleak. It was either get into recovery, or die. I chose recovery. At the time in my life, I would have done anything to not use drug or alcohol, so my best thinking was to get into a relationship. I was not healthy, and neither was the relationship I entered into. The person I was with was very controlling and abusive. After fifteen months, the universe aligned, and I found proof of infidelity and had a chance to flee the situation while he was away on a business trip. I moved provinces and moved in with my mom. Because I was in recovery from substance use disorder and did not want to go back using, it was important for me to find a counselor and a family doctor.

Getting support and a diagnosis

Thankfully my mom’s family doctor accepted me as a patient. My priority was to have STI testing done. During the appointment we discussed my medical history, and I told her about my IV drug use, and my time as a sex worker. She asked if I had been screened for HIV and hepatitis C recently. Because I could not confirm if I was tested before I entered treatment in 2015, she thought it would be best to have me screened to be safe. So off I went and did the STI, HIV, and hepatitis C screening.

A couple months after testing I heard back from my doctor, my blood work came back positive for the hepatitis C antibodies, and so the diagnostic and treatment process began. It was a scary time, with a lot of uncertainty. Thankfully, I had an addiction counselor and victim service support worker who were wonderful in providing me support. They helped me learn about hepatitis C and come to terms with my diagnosis. I thought hepatitis C was a death sentence, and was thankful to learn it is curable, and treatment had advanced from the days of Interferon.

Treatment and paying it forward

Once it was confirmed the virus did not reverse itself on its own, I was prescribed Epclusa. I took one pill every day, at the same time for twelve weeks. Treatment (for the most part) was painless with very little side effects. I received the good news I am hepatitis C free on August 28, 2018. I felt fine when I received my diagnosis, and would have never known I had the virus if it was not for my family doctor who listened without judgment, and did her due diligence in providing care. I am extremely grateful for her.

Today I feel blessed I have the opportunity to share my experience. I was a person who used drugs intravenously, and when I started I did not have a clue about safe practices. Today I am a harm reduction advocate, and believe in meeting people where they are at. As a survivor, my commitment is to speak openly and honestly about my journey, with the hope to help someone else and reduce stigma.

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