07/29/2015 06:30 EDT | Updated 07/29/2016 05:59 EDT

One Blood Test Saved My Life

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Doctor holding tablet PC talking to patient

I know all too well why it's important to get tested for hepatitis C.

I underwent back surgery for scoliosis at the age of 16, during which it's likely I received tainted blood containing the hepatitis C virus. Years later, at the age of 39, I was married with two children and needed to have two more surgeries, one week apart, due to back pain I had been experiencing for seven years. Pre-surgery blood tests revealed that I had the hepatitis C virus and had been living with it unknowingly for 23 years.

I was terrified. I didn't know anything about hepatitis C. How did this happen? Was I going to be OK? Did I pass the virus onto my husband and children without realizing it?

I went on to learn that an estimated 250,000 Canadians have hepatitis C, but that this number is really much larger because so many people like me don't know they have the virus. The problem is that people with hepatitis C, which is spread through blood-to-blood contact, often experience no symptoms and many live for up to 20 or 30 years without feeling sick.

Thankfully, my husband and children were just fine and I could now focus on getting treated in order to rid my body of this virus. I had my first round of treatment eight years ago, which took six months and caused chemotherapy-like side effects including fatigue, nausea and hair loss. Let's just say it wasn't a fun experience and unfortunately it was also unsuccessful. Then last year, I underwent treatment again, but with a new drug combination that lasted only four months, required that I take two pills a day and the only side effect I had was a slight headache. This treatment was successful and I can now say that I'm cured and hepatitis C free!

I'm sharing my story publicly because mine is a cautionary tale. If I could live for years without knowing I had this virus, so can others. That's why it's so important to get tested. The sooner you know you have it, the sooner you can get treated and hopefully cured. Something that I was quite surprised to learn is that more than 75 per cent of those infected are baby boomers.

This experience has been extremely challenging both physically and emotionally for me and my family. At one point, I was afraid that I might not get a chance to see my children get married or to one day become a grandmother. Having just attended my son's wedding, I can happily say that I'm getting that chance. I look forward to enjoying more milestones with my family and only hope that my story will prompt others to take action and get tested.

About Hepatitis C

An estimated 250,000 Canadians live with hepatitis C, a deadly virus that attacks the liver and can lead to liver cancer, liver failure or even death. Hepatitis C is a leading cause of cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver transplants. You may risk exposure to hepatitis C by using injection drugs (even once), getting tattoos, piercings, pedicures, manicures or medical procedures with improperly sterilized equipment, sharing person hygiene items with an infected person (e.g., razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers) or having had a blood transfusion or received blood products prior to 1990.

To learn more about hepatitis C, visit the Canadian Liver Foundation or complete this short questionnaire to find out your hepatitis risk.


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