(BlackDoctor.org) — Hepatitis C is killing more Americans than HIV, according to a just-released study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One of the millions infected is singer Natalie Cole, 61.
The multi-Grammy winning star recently opened up about managing her condition and her life, as well as how she managed the guilt of knowing her past most likely contributed to her developing the disease.
Cole lost her iconic father, Nat King Cole, when she was just 15, and struggled with drug abuse for years, which she described in her 2000 autobiography, Angel on My Shoulder. After going through rehab for drug use in 1983, Cole thought she put the dark days behind her.
But in 2008, a diagnosis of the liver disease hepatitis C brought them home again.
Hepatitis C is a viral infection that damages the liver and other organs. It may lead to a liver transplant or even death. In fact, Cole got a transplant in 2009, but not for a new liver. Because of chronic hepatitis C, both her kidneys had begun failing, and she received a new kidney.
“I’ve been so fortunate to have learned so much from my past experiences,” she says. “So I knew there was a lesson to learn from this too.”
Too many patients suffer with chronic hepatitis C in silence, Cole says. And many more unknowingly live with the liver disease because they’re afraid of being tested and facing a lifetime with chronic hepatitis C.
“I want people to know you can live with hepatitis,” she says. “And there are remarkable treatments available to help you do just that.”
Cole also had this to say about her hepatitis C diagnosis…
Were you having any hepatitis C symptoms before your diagnosis?
NC: I had virtually no symptoms. There was no warning or any signs – which really made the diagnosis a shock.
If you weren’t having hepatitis C symptoms, what led to the diagnosis?
NC: I was in the studio recording “Still Unforgettable” in 2008, and had a hernia that needed to be [treated with surgery]. As is the case with most surgical procedures – even minor ones – my doctor ordered routine blood work beforehand. The results came back and the doctor said my blood count wasn’t great and that I needed to see a kidney specialist.
Were you anxious?
NC: At that point, I wasn’t really worried. Then when the doctor said ‘You might have hepatitis C’, I said ‘What?’ I was completely and totally shocked.
What went through your mind when you heard you had chronic hepatitis C?
NC: It’s scary. Your liver is so vital to your health and the thought that I had [hepatitis C] was unnerving and terrifying. I didn’t see it coming, so I was really quite upset.
Did the doctor offer possible causes for contracting the liver disease?
NC: I’ve been very open about my heroin use of over 25 years ago. The sharing of needles and other paraphernalia involved with drug use is the most common way to get this disease. It wasn’t a stretch to connect those dots. That’s why when [the doctor] told me I had hepatitis, I thought ‘Oh my, don’t tell me that this [hepatitis C virus] was able to live in my body for 25 years and now my past is coming back down on me.’
Did you feel guilt about your drug abuse and consequent diagnosis?
NC: I’m usually the type to say, “I’m just going to fight and live in the present.” I can’t be bothered beating myself up with guilt. Once I got sober, I learned guilt is just too stressful. I take full responsibility for anything I’ve done in my life and the consequences – so there’s no room for guilt. But I got very angry. Then I started worrying. I worried how my diagnosis would affect my life and career. What would treatment involve? I was so angry at myself, but I realized there’s no point on dwelling on the should-haves and getting stuck on anger or worry. So I refocused on “What are we going to do to get me healthy?”
What causes hepatitis C infection?
Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus. It is spread by contact with an infected person’s blood. You can get hepatitis C if:
• You share needles and other equipment used to inject illegal drugs. This is the most common way to get hepatitis C in the United States.
• You had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992. As of 1992 in the United States, all donated blood and organs are screened for hepatitis C.
• You get a shot with a needle that has infected blood on it. This happens in some developing countries where they use needles more than once when giving shots.
• You get a tattoo or a piercing with a needle that has infected blood on it. This can happen if equipment isn’t cleaned properly after it is used.
• In rare cases, a mother with hepatitis C spreads the virus to her baby at birth, or a health care worker is accidentally exposed to blood infected with hepatitis C.
What are some typical Hepatitis C symptoms?