One of the worst things I have done in my life was to buy into the idea that I was sick– physically and emotionally. In the year 2004, I was diagnosed with hepatitis C and emphysema. I was 53 years old and working in a career that I loved for only a few years. I knew how I acquired those illnesses of course and blamed only myself. My previous life in the underworld of addiction hell, brought with it those devastating consequences. Testing showed that I had the worst kind of hepatitis C (genotype 1a) and had only 1/4 of the lung capacity I should have had.
Having worked hard in college for six years, completing graduate school with the highest honors, I looked forward to a long career in a field that I had been all too familiar with–addiction and mental illness treatment. But my best laid plans came to a screeching halt. I thought my life would never be the same. I struggled to breathe, got sick often and experienced flu-like symptoms most of the time. Until I was diagnosed by the doctors, I had been able to work through it, albeit not easily. I had never questioned doctors’ diagnoses and treatment before that time, why would I have done it then? When they told me I would progressively get worse, I, like many people, gave in and gave up.
I soon found myself living alone in a small apartment, tethered to an oxygen machine, giving myself shots of interferon and taking a plethora of other medications. I took on the sick roll well. Depression and shame replaced excitement and hope for a bright future. No longer able to work and steadily gaining weight added to my new self image of a helpless victim. The time came when I could no longer care for myself. I was at death’s door and welcomed the relief it would bring.
One day my sister came to visit and saw my condition. She packed me up and took me to her home some distance away. I found myself living in a room without any control over my life. I learned later that the doctors treating me believed I would not live past two weeks. The hepatitis C was beginning to ravish my body and I felt sick all the time. I was on machines day and night to breathe.
But through it all, there was a ray of hope. Deep within me was the knowledge that I had been in this state complete despair once before when I had hit a bottom from addiction. I began to go without oxygen for a few moments at a time, then a half hour, then an hour. No one knew that I was more willing to die than to live that way any longer. I began to decline foods I considered bad for my health and joined a gym. Feeling embarrassed to be in a gym, overweight and carrying an oxygen tank, I forged on.
I had woken up one morning and said, “I don’t want to live like this anymore!” So I changed. Anyone who knew me then, is shocked and amazed at my health and vitality today. My doctors (on the rare occasion I need doctors) like to tell me how sick I was when I first arrived in their offices.
No longer on oxygen and cured of hepatitis C (as of this summer), I live in an apartment that feels like a castle at the beach and I just published a book. I am honored and humbled to have many wonderful friends. Sometimes I think that if my life gets any better than this, I don’t know if I can handle it.
I know I am not special. Many people overcome more horrible things every day. Through all of this, I have learned that my story is meant to help others, to bring perhaps a ray of hope that change is possible. I trusted my heart and changed my life. When it comes down to that very moment of asking, “Do I want to live or die,” is when things can change.
I hope you enjoyed my story. Feel free to comment and share with others.