Who is Giovanna?
Giovanna lives with her partner in Melbourne, Australia and works as a librarian. She describes her ethnic background as ‘Italian’: like both of her parents, Giovanna was born in Italy. Giovanna explains that her experience of hepatitis C made her reflect on the importance of secure work and benefits such as sick leave.
Giovanna was diagnosed with hepatitis C in the mid-1990s. Experiences in a hepatitis C support group put her off interferon-based treatment, but her liver health started to decline in 2012 and she then decided to try the treatment. She was cured of hepatitis C, but experienced significant physical side effects. One important outcome of having hepatitis C treatment was that it encouraged her to change careers.
She was not diagnosed until 1994 or 1995, when she went to see a new doctor, who she remembers saying, ‘It would be nice to carry out a range of tests for physical health’. She recalls that they ‘tossed in the HIV test and hep C and a whole bunch of other things’ in order to be ‘quite thorough’. She remembers feeling ‘a bit shocked’ to receive a diagnosis of hepatitis C because she was ‘completely asymptomatic’.
After her diagnosis, Giovanna joined a hepatitis C support group. She recalls witnessing the effects of interferon-based treatment on some of its members. According to her, she ‘freaked out a little’ because they appeared ‘quite ill’ from the treatment, and she decided to postpone treatment by waiting until the available treatment ‘seemed to be getting better’.
She remembers having regular tests for her liver health alongside a few other health issues during this period: ‘I was getting tested for […] a few other[…] ailments, so that was just part of my regime. Every six months I’d get the liver done […] and whatever else was going on.’ In 2012 Giovanna was seeing a different doctor, who ‘picked up that […] the viral count [of her liver] had for some reason gone up quite a lot’. She recalls this is when she started to consider treatment.
Giovanna recollects reducing her work week to four days due to the potential side effects of the only available treatment at the time, interferon-based therapy. This was important because, as she explains, ‘[I] went through the physical side effects, the tiredness, you know, some of the psychological things that can happen to people […] I was going to the gym once or twice a week, but at one stage, I couldn’t lift more than two kilos. I was really shocked […] Every time walking up a flight of stairs, I was completely exhausted by the time I got up one flight.’
After completing treatment Giovanna went overseas. She recalls that at this time she was ‘physically feeling a lot better’, but she was also ‘wary’ that the treatment may not have worked. After some months she was informed that the treatment was successful, a result she says she was ‘quite happy’ with.
Giovanna describes a range of effects hepatitis C had on her life, including a career change. She recalls that this period of ill health made her consider the importance of sick leave and other benefits that she didn’t have in the job she had at the time. As a result, Giovanna decided to retrain at university and move into a profession that was more secure: ‘I just changed my whole career, and I wanted something that, you know, had good superannuation [and] was steady. I knew I could get a steady income, just in case I did get sick, I knew I had, you know, good sick leave provisions [in my new career].’ She continues to feel passionate about her work since her career change.
Giovanna (F, 58, experience with old [interferon-based] treatment) explains that spending time with her friend was a good strategy for managing some of the side effects of her interferon-based treatment.
So, basically what I would do was do the injection on the Thursday night, take Friday off work, and then that sort of left the whole weekend to recover from that, and then I’d be okay to go to work on Monday. The other thing I was fairly determined to do was be physically healthy. So, I kept the gym up, because I was going to the gym once or twice a week, but at one stage, I couldn’t lift more than two kilos. I was really shocked. So, physically [the treatment] was impacting on me a reasonable amount and, you know, the other thing I do remember is every time walking up a flight of stairs, I was completely exhausted by the time I got up one flight of stairs. Then, you know, I was trying to keep myself mentally healthy, and luckily, I had a friend who also didn’t work on Fridays, and she’d pick me up in her car and we’d go shopping together for food […] That was actually quite a nice time, going to different farmers’ markets, going to different food shopping centres all over Melbourne. So, it turned out to be kind of a nice thing to do. So, I tried to use Friday as keeping myself mentally healthy day.
Giovanna (F, 58, experience with old [interferon-based] treatment) recounts negotiating with her manager to accommodate her treatment schedule in 2012. She also says that she spoke about her treatment with a colleague she felt she could trust.
Well, I told my manager at work, because I had to explain to him why I had to take the leave in the way I did, and he was quite good. I mean, I explained to him, you know, why I needed to be on this regular cycle, and I’d got a certificate from the specialist indicating that Friday was the day I was often going down to the clinic to get things checked. So, I just took every Friday off. So, I told my workplace; well, one person. I did tell another person at work, because she did notice I actually lost quite a bit of weight, and she noticed that I couldn’t make it up a flight of stairs, which was unlike me, and it was someone I, you know, I felt that I could trust, so I told her at the end of the treatment.
Focussing primarily on physical health, Giovanna (F, 58, experience with old [interferon-based] treatment) says she had more vitality and felt physically stronger after being cured of hepatitis C in 2012. This experience also inspired her to take up running. (Note: strong language)
I think in that time I actually went overseas, so I started physically feeling a lot better. I wasn’t as tired as I was after the treatment, and when I got the final result, I felt quite happy, you know, because, yeah […I had] to wait six months [before you get the final result]. So there was a bit of feeling a bit wary that maybe it hadn’t worked, but my specialist seemed to indicate that it had worked. I just had to wait for that six month period before I was pronounced cured […] I mean, the other thing I did after the treatment was I waited a while, then I decided to take up running as a bit of an FU [fuck you] to the disease, because there was that stage where I remember being at work, walking up two flights of stairs and being really puffed out and people noticed, and I thought, ‘I don’t like this, I don’t like that sensation’. So, once I got cleared and, you know, was pronounced cured, a few years later, I took up running. So, I did a four-kilometre charity run, which was fun.