The eyes, friendships, the stigma of hepatitis C, and coming out to friends

If you tell your good friends you have cancer, heartfelt concern will pour out to you from their eyes. But If you tell your friends you have hepatitis C, their eyes will probably turn away in thought. Being polite, as most people are, your friends are unlikely to tell you

  • they assume that you contracted hep through risky behavior and that you are continuing the behaviour
  • they fear you’re contagious.

All behaviors that result in any disease are risky, but any Baby Boomers who were completely free of risk during their youth were probably living in monasteries. We’ve all grown up at least a bit since then, haven’t we? In fact, any acquisition of the virus is by nature an accident, except for some documented cases of hep being spread in health care settings. Still, friends couldn’t possibly understand the whole story of your own HVC infection in as much depth as you do. And they’re more likely to be lottery winners than to have gained as much knowledge of hep transmission as you have. But hey, if they’re lottery winners, maybe they can help you with the high cost of drugs!

So do you tell your friends about your infection or keep quiet? My solution when I was first diagnosed was to tell only my family and dearest friends, and only under these four conditions. I would tell them:

Friends

A friend is there to listen.

  1. in person
  2. in a quiet place
  3. when they had time to hear the whole story about my infection and about the extremely low probability that anyone could catch hep from a friend
  4. after they promised not to tell anyone else.I stuck to these conditions for six months. During that time some gossip spread to people I hadn’t told personally about my help, and with hep on my mind all the time, it got harder not to tell people. Now, after learning last week of my 12-week sustained virologic response (I’m cured!) I am letting the hep cat out of the secret bag. Today I will open my blog to the world and let my friends–including those I’ve never told–know about it.

    I’m feeling free now.

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