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U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson: Get Tested for Hepatitis: Congressman discusses personal diagnosis, cure

December 13, 2013

Originally published May 20, 2013

On an evening in 1998 when I got word from my doctor about my diagnosis, I had already planned to go roller skating with my family. I decided not to change my plans. But I remember feeling "shell-shocked" and very alone in that rink full of people that night.

I had been really tired for weeks on end and one weekend I practically slept for two straight days. That is what prompted my visit to my doctor and he was smart enough to order a test, even though that was not routine at the time.

When my doctor told me I had hepatitis C, my thoughts were of contracting cancer of the liver or cirrhosis, resulting in the need for a liver transplant. The doctor said I had about 20 years to live so I made a determination, while skating that first night, to fight and conquer this disease.

My wife, Mereda, has stood by my side from the beginning and provided the strength in helping me overcome this illness. When I was weak, she was strong. She has been my rock throughout this entire process.

In December 2009, I decided to publically share the details of my diagnosis and my battle with hepatitis C. I became one of the public faces of the disease.

My hope is that my disclosure will provide others suffering from hepatitis with the confidence to speak out and help educate the community about this silent epidemic. If you have viral hepatitis, have faith and be strong. You are not alone.

More than 5.3 million people in the U.S. are living with hepatitis B and/or hepatitis C and 65 to 75 percent of them are not aware of their infections. Viral hepatitis is the leading cause of liver cancer -- one of the fastest growing, deadly and most expensive cancers to treat in America. 

Through clinical trials, medical research and testing, we must seek new, more effective treatments. I want to send a strong message that a cure is possible. I believe all Americans should be tested and if they have a positive result, they should be treated.

Make no mistake about it -- viral hepatitis is treatable, but it all starts with testing.

That's why on May 23 in honor of National Viral Hepatitis Testing Day, I'm hosting a free Viral Hepatitis Testing Day in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill with my Viral Hepatitis Caucus co-chairs: Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) and Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.).

I am also a proud sponsor of the Viral Hepatitis and Liver Cancer Control and Prevention Act, which would establish, promote and support a comprehensive prevention, education, research and medical referral program for viral hepatitis infection. 

My motto is: Get Educated, Raise Awareness, Know Your Status.

Today, after a long battle, I am pleased to announce that my therapy is complete and I am cured of the virus. I am alive, feeling good and strong. In the inimitable words of the Godfather of Soul James Brown, "I feel good!" And I want everyone else too, as well! 

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