When I was diagnosed with hepatitis C infection in 2005, I had no clue what to expect.
My mother had just been diagnosed, and I watched as she deteriorated rapidly from the disease. She passed away from complications of hepatitis C infection in 2006.
I was left to face this diagnosis alone, and fear consumed me. There were so many things I worried about: my kids, what people thought of me, and if I’d transmit the disease to others.
Before my mother passed away, she took my hand in hers, and said sternly, “Kimberly Ann, you need to do this, honey. Not without a fight!”
And that’s exactly what I did. I started a foundation in my mother’s memory, and learned to face the negative thoughts that plagued my mind.
Here are some of the “what ifs” I experienced after my hepatitis C diagnosis, and how I managed these worrisome thoughts.
Dealing with fear
Fear is a common reaction after a hepatitis C diagnosis. It’s easy to feel isolated, especially if you’re uncertain what hepatitis C is and if you experience the effects of stigma.
Immediate shame came over me. At first, I didn’t want anyone to know I was positive for the hepatitis C virus.
I saw the rejection and negative reactions from people who knew my mom after learning she had it. After my diagnosis, I began to isolate myself from friends, family, and the world.
Worry and depression
My immediate outlook on life halted after my diagnosis. No longer did I dream of a future. My perception of this disease was that it was a death sentence.
I sunk into a dark depression. I couldn’t sleep and I feared everything. I worried about passing the disease to my kids.
Every time I had a bloody nose or cut myself, I panicked. I carried Clorox wipes with me everywhere and cleaned my house with bleach. At the time, I didn’t know exactly how the hepatitis C virus was spread.
I made our home a sterile place. In the process, I separated myself from my family. I didn’t mean to, but because I was afraid, I did.
Finding a familiar face
I would go to my liver doctors and look at the faces sitting around the waiting room wondering who also had hepatitis C.
But hepatitis C infection doesn’t have any external signs. People don’t have a red “X” on their foreheads stating they have it.
Comfort lies in knowing you aren’t alone. Seeing or knowing another person living with hepatitis C gives us security that what we feel is real.
At the same time, I found myself never looking another person on the street in the eyes. I would constantly avoid eye contact, afraid they could see right through me.
I slowly changed from the happy Kim to someone who lived in fear each and every moment of the day. I couldn’t stop thinking about what others thought of me.
About a year after my mom passed and I knew more about the disease, I decided to be bold. I printed my story on a piece of paper along with my picture and put it on the front counter of my company.
I was scared about what people would say. Out of about 50 customers, I had one that never let me get close to him again.
At first, I was offended and wanted to scream at him for being so rude. He was the one I feared out in public. This was how I expected to be treated by everyone.
About a year later, the doorbell at my shop rang and I saw this man standing at my counter. I went downstairs, and for some odd reason, he didn’t step back like the hundred times before.
Puzzled at his actions, I said hello. He asked to come around to the other side of the counter.
He told me he was ashamed of himself for how he’d been treating me, and gave me the biggest hug ever. He read my story and did some research about hepatitis C, and went to get tested himself. A Marine veteran, he had been diagnosed with hepatitis C as well.
Both of us were in tears at this point. Nine years later, he is now cured of hepatitis C and one of my best friends.
Everyone deserves their cure
When you think there’s no hope or no one could possibly understand, think of the story above. Fear hinders us from being able to give a good fight.
I didn’t have the confidence to step out and put my face out there until I began to learn all about hepatitis C. I was tired of walking with my head down. I was tired of being ashamed.
It doesn’t matter how you contracted this disease. Stop focusing on that aspect. The important thing now is to focus on the fact that this is a curable disease.
Each person deserves the same respect and a cure. Join support groups and read books about hepatitis C. That is what gave me strength and power to know I can beat this disease.
Just reading about another person who has walked the path you’re about to is comforting. That is why I do what I do.
I was alone in my fight, and I don’t want those living with hepatitis C to feel isolated. I want to empower you to know this can be beat.
You don’t need to feel ashamed about anything. Stay positive, stay focused, and fight!
Kimberly Morgan Bossley is president of The Bonnie Morgan Foundation for HCV, an organization she created in memory of her late mother. Kimberly is a hepatitis C survivor, advocate, speaker, life coach for people living with hepatitis C and caregivers, blogger, business owner, and mom of two amazing kids.