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Gemma's story

Gemma peppe In January 2002 I went to my GP complaining of feeling unnaturally tired all the time. Despite going on a health kick I felt drained and exhausted most of the time. On a recent trip to the Royal Academy with my father I’d gone home in a cab in tears because I was so shattered. My GP ordered a liver function test as I mentioned, not for the first time, that I’d had non-specific hepatitis in the 80’s. While I was waiting for the test to come back I met someone who had hepatitis C. They told me what the symptoms were and how you get it. I knew without seeing the test results that was what I had.

Gemma Peppe - Campaigns and Events Manager

When I went to pick up the results, my GP got the screen up and told me I was fine as A & B were not detected. I was looking at the screen and I could see that it said C was detected so I pointed it out to him. He gave it another look and said “Oh yes, C, well I’m sure you’ll be fine, you look fine”. I remember feeling very confused. On the one hand what I read on the internet indicated that this was a dangerous and potentially fatal disease. I didn’t know how I was supposed to react. I felt very frightened. However, because of the way my doctor had under-played it and because no-one seemed to know about the disease I felt like I couldn’t voice my fear. So I just got on with life and put up with the symptoms.

It stayed that way until 2004. I was doing a Masters in documentary research and I decided to investigate hepatitis C so that I could get a better understanding of it. I had a title in mind which was Chicks on Interferon and in order to fit the film to the title (never a good idea) I originally was only looking at women’s experiences. Most of the women I met were 10 or more years older than me and suffering from bad health due to their disease. Two things became clear; that I wanted to do treatment to try and clear the virus before I was 40 and that the subject wasn’t one I could confine to gender. I decided to make a film about my experiences during treatment.

It was tough doing treatment and the film at the same time, physically and emotionally. I was co-directing and producing it so even when I was feeling at my worst and wanting to shut out the world I was having think about what should be going into the film. I would force myself to call up my co-director to tell her to come over with the camera. One of the most difficult times was when I got the news that my treatment hadn’t worked. I had to re-live that moment again and again in the edit suite and never got immune to it affecting me.

During my research I met Charles Gore who helped me get funding to make the film.I also trained to work on the Helpline which I did during the first six months of my treatment. I was always phoning Charles with hair brained ideas like getting pop stars to do paintings for an auction. When my treatment failed Charles asked me if I’d like to work at the Trust. I started working on an awareness campaign called What Not To Share which ran for a couple of years and now I run Get Tested! the Trust's flagship awareness campaign.

I've noticed as the years have gone on, hepatitis C has given me more trouble and I'm more achy and more tired but it is possible to live and work with hepatitis C; though I’m lucky to work in an office that understands.

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