Hep C Patient Encourages Canadians To Get Tested
Patient Perspective It took 23 years for Sharon Rider to discover that she had hepatitis C, and the diagnosis changed her life.
Sharon Rider was first diagnosed with hepatitis C when she was 39 years old – more than two decades after she had been infected.
“I didn’t have any clue at all that I was carrying a virus,” she says.
In Canada, an estimated 250,000 people have hepatitis C, a virus that attacks the liver and is transmitted through contact with infected blood. Many patients, like Rider, may be infected for years but show no signs of the disease.
“When hepatitis C presents with symptoms, it’s usually because irreversible liver failure or liver cancer are already present,” says Dr. Morris Sherman, a liver specialist at the Toronto General Hospital and Rider’s physician. “Whereas if you can catch it before then, particularly if you catch it before the onset of cirrhosis, it’s completely curable.”
Doctors discovered Rider’s hepatitis C when she was being prepared for back surgery.
“Once you have that blood test, you’re either not going to have it, or if you do have it, then you’re on the path to get better because there is a cure”
Unlike hepatitis A and B, there is no injection to protect against hepatitis C. The virus can be contracted through unsafe sex, intravenous drug use, non-sterile medical equipment, or being born in a country where hepatitis C is more prevalent.
While Rider doesn’t fall into any of those categories, she is part of the most at-risk group for hepatitis C: baby boomers. This generation, defined as those born between 1945 and 1965, makes up 70 percent of hepatitis C cases.
Medical records confirmed that Rider contracted the disease at age 16 while undergoing surgery for her scoliosis. During the procedure – conducted prior to 1992, when blood started getting screened for the virus — she was transfused with hepatitis C-infected blood.
Life with hepatitis C
Rider showed no symptoms and doctors simply monitored her condition every six months. As the years passed, Rider began to feel run down, but as a working mom of two, she never thought to mention it to her physician.
“Like every other woman, you don’t think it’s a virus making you tired, it’s just regular life,” she says. However, in her case, her lethargy was a symptom of liver cirrhosis.
At first, Rider saw this as the beginning of the end and began ticking items off her bucket list. Thankfully, last year, a drug trial successfully cured the 51-year-old of her hepatitis C.
New lease on life
Both Rider and Sherman encourage adult Canadians, particularly baby boomers, to get tested for the virus. “Once you have that blood test, you’re either not going to have it or if you do have it, then you’re on the path to get better because there’s a cure,” says Rider.
Being cured of hepatitis C has given the Ontario mom, now 52, a new outlook on life.
“When I found out that I had liver cirrhosis, I [expected to hear] that I’d have a short lifespan,” says Rider, who worried that she wouldn’t be around to see her children get married or have grandchildren. “I don’t think about that at all anymore because I know I’m going to be here.”
This summer Rider’s son got married and she was there, free of hepatitis C and full of joy.