Getting a diagnosis of hepatitis C was life-changing for me. It came on unexpectedly and changed all of my well-made plans for the future.

Of course, looking back, there were plenty of signs that my liver was taking a hit.

Getting tired easily and feeling joint and muscle aches seemed like a part of life. In reality, those symptoms should have been a signal that my body was trying to fight a powerful virus.

Finding out that I had hepatitis C was a relief in many ways. For the first time in years, I could put a name to what was wrong with me.

It’s not like I was totally zoned out about my health. In fact, I led a very active life. My weekdays were filled with students. I enjoyed teaching high school and was a class sponsor the year before my diagnosis.

Weekends were spent riding my bicycle, line dancing, and doing work in my community. Hanging out at the lake was a big part of summertime fun.

But as the years went by, it seemed like I needed more naps than usual. My usual pep for life was slowly draining away.

After the diagnosis, I went from having a job and the freedom to plan my future to spending a lot of time at the doctor’s office. Of course, hepatitis C had been such a burden on my liver that other parts of my body were weakened, too.

My bones ached, making it hard to get out of bed in the morning. I started talking to my doctor about treatment immediately. However, even though I was able to go back to work, I was encouraged to wait until my liver got better to begin treatment.

When someone gets a diagnosis of hepatitis C, doctors quickly assess liver health. Then they begin the process of planning for treatment to cure the disease.

There are many ways to pay for treatment, and the medications have few side effects. Most people are clear of the virus within weeks. That’s good news because the more quickly a person gets rid of hepatitis C, the faster they can get on with their life.

When I learned that I had hepatitis C, I became paralyzed in a state of shock. I allowed fear and doubt to creep into my life. Part of it was because I felt poorly with the virus.

In addition, there was a lack of information and added anxiety about paying for treatment. There were many concerns about how family and friends would react to the diagnosis and fear of long-term effects on my body. It was easy to get caught in a cycle of illness and despair.

For me, the only way to break free was to start treatment and get rid of the hepatitis C virus.

The first step to take is find out whether you have the virus. If you have been exposed, it’s important to test. Even with our human tendency to put off medical care, it’s better to know for sure.

Ask a friend or family member to help you get started. It’s easy and affordable to get a confidential hepatitis C test.

After the initial test, a medical professional can guide you. I always advise people to reach out to a nearby health clinic or to contact their doctor.

By talking about your liver health with a professional, you can learn ways to help your body stay strong while you are preparing for treatment. They can offer advice to guide you toward a healthier lifestyle.

A trusted nurse or doctor can be your best friend during this time. I will never forget the kind nurse who helped me prepare for treatment. I stop in and say hi whenever I’m near the clinic.

During treatment, it’s good to have a support network. You might have friends or a family member who will help you with grocery shopping or take you to a doctor’s visit. Reach out and ask for help when you need it.

Getting rid of hepatitis C is one of the most important things you can do in your life. It will set the foundation for your future.

After my diagnosis with hepatitis C, I was so tired that it felt like life as I knew it was over. Many emotions washed over me, including anger, despair, self-pity, and fear. Slowly, those feelings went away.

Hepatitis C was like a heavy burden. Even during treatment, my body and mind began to feel better. I was less foggy and sad.

Today, I feel lighter and happier than I ever thought possible. Facing down a hepatitis C diagnosis was the biggest obstacle that I have ever overcome.

If you’ve been diagnosed, link up with a good medical professional. Find out who your support system is. Then begin the journey toward a new future that you are proud of.

Karen Hoyt is a fast-walking, shake-making, liver disease patient advocate. She lives on the Arkansas River in Oklahoma and shares encouragement on her blog.