When I was diagnosed with hepatitis C, I felt overwhelmed and powerless, like my body and circumstances were out of my control.

I thought I would’ve known if I had hepatitis C. But it’s a silent disease that doesn’t show symptoms of liver damage for a long time.

I battled hepatitis C for 20 years, during which I went through two unsuccessful treatments. Finally, in 2012, I received a third new treatment that resulted in the cure.

Here are five things I learned after my diagnosis that helped me a develop a proactive plan to fight hepatitis C and win.

Knowledge is powerful. Learning what hepatitis C is, how it affects the liver, and how the liver functions is key in building a strong foundation as you fight this virus.

I also learned how hepatitis C is transmitted. It’s important not to dwell on the past and how you got hep C, but move forward, take care of yourself, and seek treatment and the cure.

Hepatitis C is a virus that a person can contract through blood that has been contaminated with the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Hepatitis C attacks the liver, which can cause liver damage and compromised liver function. This can lead to severe damage like cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Hepatitis C is made up of six virus strains (genotypes) and numerous subtypes. Specific blood tests will determine what genotype of hep C you have and how active the virus is, along with tests to determine if you have liver damage.

You are the head of your team. Build a good healthcare team that works with you and for you.

Your healthcare team may consist of:

  • Liver specialists, such as hepatologists, gastroenterologists, or infectious disease specialists. These doctors specialize in liver disease, tests, and treatment, and they know how to care for your liver condition.
  • Nurses and pharmacy specialists. They can help you understand your treatment, tests, and recovery.
  • Patient assistance programs. These are available to those who need help with copays or don’t have medical insurance.

Because hepatitis C can harm your liver, it’s important to do as much as you can to prevent further damage.

Some steps you can take include:

  • eat a liver-healthy diet, including fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins
  • avoid alcohol and harmful substances
  • talk to your doctor about all medications, vitamins, and supplements you take and seek their advice on over-the-counter medications
  • exercise
  • rest
  • reduce stress and anxiety
  • get vaccines for hepatitis A, B, and annual flu shots

The goal of treatment is to eliminate hepatitis C and stop further liver damage from occurring. Direct antiviral treatments have high cure rates. The treatment plan for your liver condition is determined by many factors.

This includes:

  • your genotype
  • your viral load
  • your liver condition, such as the degree of liver fibrosis you have and whether you have cirrhosis
  • your existing medical conditions
  • medications you take
  • if you have a coinfection such as hepatitis B or HIV, or if you have more than one HCV genotype at the same time
  • if you had a liver transplant or need a liver transplant

There’s great value in finding support not only after your diagnosis and throughout treatment, but also during your recovery process.

After receiving a chronic disease diagnosis, you may experience stages of grieving. Support is beneficial when living with chronic liver disease, and it helps the healing process as well. It can also help in many areas of your life, including your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

You may find support from:

  • family and friends
  • your healthcare team
  • pastors or ministers
  • professional counselors or professional life coaches
  • online or in-person support groups

Support groups are made up of people who share the same condition as you. They understand what you’re going through because they have had similar experiences. For example, the American Liver Foundation provides information about support groups in your area.

Hepatitis C didn’t define me and I didn’t allow it to rule my life. Proactive choices made a difference not only in how I coped with hepatitis C, but also in overcoming it.

Learning about hepatitis C, building a good healthcare team, taking care of your liver, and seeking treatment and support equips you to fight hep C. It also helps you achieve your goal of reaching a cure.

Connie Welch is a former hepatitis C patient who battled hepatitis C for over 20 years and was cured in 2012. Connie is a patient advocate, professional life coach, freelance writer, and founding executive director of Life Beyond Hepatitis C.