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Portraits of Hepatitis C

Five people share their stories on living with hepatitis C and overcoming the stigma surrounding this disease.

Text by Mary Baucom | Photos and Video by French Press Films

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Even though more than 3 million people in the United States have hepatitis C, it isn’t something that many people want to talk about —or even know how to talk about. That’s because there are a lot of myths about it, including misunderstandings about how it’s passed, or transmitted, from person to person. The most common way to get hepatitis C is through infected blood. It can be transmitted by intravenous drug use and poorly screened blood transfusions. In rare cases, it can be transmitted through sexual intercourse. The symptoms develop slowly and usually go unnoticed for months or years. Many people don’t know exactly how or when they were first infected. All of these things can create a certain stigma about people living with hepatitis C. Still, there’s nothing to be gained by keeping it a secret. Finding the right specialist, getting support, and talking about it openly are three things people with hepatitis C can do to live a more proactive life.

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Jim Banta, 62

Diagnosed: 2000

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“The advice I would give is to keep your spirits up. [You] have a beginning date and you have an end date. And the treatments are a lot better than they used to be. And the chance of being cleared is very, very good. …I’m hep C clear today and I’m a happy, happy man.”

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Laura Stillman, 61

Diagnosed: 1991

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“I learned that I can handle it, and that I can figure out what needs to be done, get the information, and make decisions in spite of being really sick. [After] I was treated and cured, energy seemed to come back from nowhere, and I became a lot more active. I started doing contra dancing again, and I was in a good mood for no apparent reason.”

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Gary Gach, 68

Diagnosed: 1976

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“If you have hepatitis C, you might have a physical tendency to be depressed. ...And so it does you well to counterbalance that with joy, to nourish joy. [I’ve] been meditating all my life and I’ve found that my practice of meditation, of just focusing on my breathing to return to the present moment, is totally helpful throughout to clear my mind and to set my intention.”

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Nancy Gee, 64

Diagnosed: 1995

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“I’m very optimistic about my life. I feel that I accept my past. I love my cohort group that also contracted hepatitis C, and just embrace what I’ve been through, and it’s a part of me. [Life] is exciting, it’s like it’s new to me. I have friendships now. I have a boyfriend. I can retire from my job in three years, and I’ve kind of made it, and it’s wonderful.”

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Orlando Chavez, 64

Diagnosed: 1999

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“So my advice would be to find a competent provider. Find a support group that offers support, outreach, education, prevention, and treatment. Become your own advocate, know your options, and most important of all, do not isolate. No one is an island. Connect with other people that either are going through, have gone through, or are soon going to go through hepatitis C treatment and get support.”

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