Monday, May 17, 2010

World Hepatitis Day 2010: How I Became HCV+ (#thisishep)

As I gear up for World Hepatitis Day 2010 which is this upcoming Wednesday, May 19th, I want to share my story of how I became Hepatitis C positive (HCV+)...

It was January 1988 and I have just been diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia. After months of not feeling quite right after a viral infection and my doctors playing a 'let's wait and see' game, I've made it to the hospital in pretty bad shape, with a white blood cell count of .9 and severely immune compromised. I knew before the doctors told me that things were very serious and didn't flinch when I was told I was in for the fight of my life. Without a sibling match, the treatment plan went from a bone marrow transplant to four courses of chemotherapy.

I soon learned how leukemia treatment worked. Each time I entered the hospital for a month-long course of treatment, they gave me enough chemotherapy to wipe out my bone marrow but preserve my stem cells. Without my bone marrow to generate new cells, my doctors relied on multiple blood transfusions to get me through the weeks when I could not make my own red blood cells, platelets and clotting factors. Soon I lost count of the number of blood transfusions I received.

Years later, when I reread my cancer treatment consent forms, I saw the mention of the risk of non-A, non-B hepatitis from blood transfusions. However, in the moment, that risk was not enough to stop me from signing the forms and agreeing to treatment. Back then,
my attention became firmly focused on how I was winning my fight with leukemia with the completion of each course of chemotherapy. By August 1988, the fight concluded. I was in remission, cancer free and done with my treatments.

Yet on a celebratory trip to San Diego a week later, I started feeling poorly. I cut short a night of dancing with my friends to head back to our hotel room so I could lie down. I don't know what possessed me to exam my face in the bathroom mirror when I entered the room, but as I stared at myself I saw that my eyes had a yellowish tinge to them. I asked my friends to confirm what I saw, but they didn't notice the subtle change. I spent a restless night with nausea and stomach pain, feeling anxious to get home. I endured the return trip lying down in the back seat of my friend's car, sipping a bottle of Gatorade and trying to enjoy the end of a trip that seemed to be headed in the wrong direction.

Once home, I called my oncologist and was instructed to immediately go to the Emergency Room. It was there that I learn I was experiencing the symptoms of acute hepatitis as they prepared to admit me back into the hospital...


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