I began experiencing hot flashes, night sweats, fatigue, and forgetfulness. These are not uncommon symptoms for a woman approaching 50. Although no longer top performers, my ovaries were producing sufficiently. My symptoms were intermittent, I dismissed them. I magically lost 20 pounds. Although aware of a lack of appetite most often this is cause for celebration, not a medical complaint. As I slid effortlessly into my new size 5 low cut Levis, I realized even simple mental tasks seemed to require more effort.
Diagnosis : Uterine fibroids, I had a hysterectomy. Finally, welcome relief but my symptoms returned and persisted. Many months and medical tests later I was presented with a correct diagnosis: Hepatitis C. "What ever is it", I shrieked in disbelief. "Hepatitis is like salmonella, right? Did I leave the butter out too long?" Impossible !
In fact, Hepatitis C is an incurable virus. Yes, another one. I did my share of AIDS work in the 80s, caring for and burying friends. I got regular AIDS tests, always negative, I persevered. This can't be happening to me, I survived one killer virus only to get another? With similar stigma and transmission methods, Hepatitis C now affects 5.5 million Americans, 1 in 50, more than 4 times that of the HIV virus. In contrast about one in 1,000 Americans has MS.
If I had to have an incurable virus, this would be the one to have, right? With numbers already so high surely drug companies are racing for a cure? Indeed they are, but the process will take years. There is treatment available now, but it can produce severe side effects and is only effective in a small percentage of cases. Due to my particular strain of the virus and high viral load I was not likely to benefit from the treatment. I went for it anyway.
I reached out for support and embraced the unexpected agony of fear and rejection. My life partner abandoned me, my Rolodex culled itself. Most folks simply disappeared. Invitations and my hope dwindled. A neighbor refused to allow her daughter the opportunity to dog sit for me. I quit sharing my repellent secret. I sank into depression and despair, I became very ill.
Also COO of a struggling dot com company, I imagined ravenous vultures multitasking in delight. A two-fer sharpened their salivating beaks. Both my business and my life now clung by a thread. A small steadfast group stood by me. Thank you Siri & Janet for traveling half way around the world to hold my hand through my 2nd CAT scan. Thank you Dreamboat, Deb, Pat, Mickey, Cheryl and Sandra for seeing me through 3 bouts of double pneumonia in as many months. Your courage, strength, and unwavering commitment saw me through very dark hours. My enormous gratitude can not be expressed in words.
My diatribe aside, ignorance can only be cured with education. Here's my short course: Hepatitis C is a blood borne virus, it requires blood to blood contact for transmission. The most common forms of Hep C transmission are IV drug use (only once counts), sniffing cocaine with shared straws or bills (rumor has it our President is in this category), blood transfusions, tattooing, piercing, even sharing razors or toothbrushes can potentially transmit Hepatitis C. If you are single or not monogamous you should already be practicing safe sex. If not, here's another good reason to start. If you think you're at risk, be responsible, get tested. If you have it, don't give it. If you don't have it, don't get it.
I am of the opinion that the next and the next killer viruses will be blood borne. Become smart about blood. Think about where and how blood can be transmitted. If someone cuts themselves in your home, offer a bandage, don't bandage a wound for another no matter how small. Gals, wrap your sanitary products thoroughly before disposing of them. Kids, think long and hard before getting tattooed or pierced. If you use drugs, don't share paraphernalia.
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