When did you begin thinking something was wrong?We didn't really know anything was wrong with us. About 10 years before finding out we both had hepatitis C, we began taking naps because we got tired halfway through the day. As time went on, the naps got longer and more frequent. I remember feeling depressed and anxious, and having aches and pains. Never did my doctor put it all together, other than comment that I was always sick. Dennis was very tired, but not much else.
When did you know you both had hepatitis C?Dennis is a disabled Vietnam veteran and has post-traumatic stress syndrome. In 2002, the Department of Veterans Affairs started testing all veterans for hepatitis C virus and Dennis tested positive. Then they tested me. I remember getting a letter from the clinic about my lab result and someone told me on the phone that I had hepatitis C but not to worry about it. She told me hepatitis C was just a virus like a cold and I didn’t need to do anything. I knew very little about hepatitis, other than an old friend had been treated and nearly died. I remember being very shocked and scared because it was same week that Newsweek came out with a front page article about hepatitis C. It seemed that whatever we read said hepatitis was a death sentence.
We both made appointments at the clinic, but we were told we couldn't start treatment for one year because we drank alcohol. We didn't drink excessively, but we had to be sober for a whole year. During the time we were waiting, I started using a computer and visiting websites and forums. Every site I visited pushed treatment or die. By this time, I knew what hepatitis was and was scared to death we were dying. I remember crying a lot and being very depressed because I thought we had to go through treatment or die. It was nerve-wracking.
Did you ever find out how you were infected?We're not really sure how we contracted it. Dennis continues to take the blame for it because in Nam he sometimes was exposed to blood, and he did use drugs and get tattoos. I have no idea how I got it from him, if I even did. In my life, I've had plenty of surgeries and blood transfusions, but none of that makes any difference.
Tell us about some of your treatment experiences.We started treatment in February 2003 and it was hell from the first day. We had to call the Pegylated Interferon hotline in the middle of the night because Dennis had fever and chills much like he had with malaria which he had before. Along with that, he had a massive headache and it continued through treatment for the full 48 weeks without any relief. We both had a low-grade temperature the entire year. We spent day in and day out suffering terribly. We live where it's warm, but even through the summer, we were freezing most of the time. We slept with an electric blanket, but the cold just seemed to penetrate our bones.
We both suffered from constipation and diarrhea, and right from day one, we had back pains and joint pains that were terrible and nothing like the flu. The brain fog was like permanent disorientation. We actually got lost when we left the house and had to go out together so we could help one another remember where we were going and how to get back.
I lost most of my hair. It was so thin. Before we started treatment, I had 16 inches cut off and donated it to wigs for kids. By the time I was done, I was nearly bald. It thinned but didn't fall out in patches like it did for friends on chemotherapy.