10 August 2023

Bill Lenane's life was saved when he was cured of hep C - he's urging people to take the quick and easy test

| Keeli Royle
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Bill Lenane with his dog at Bulli Beach.

Getting treated for hep C saved Bill Lenane’s life and he’s encouraging others to get tested. Photos: Keeli Royle.

It’s been eight years since Bill Lenane was cured of hepatitis C and he still feels like he’s improving every day.

The 67-year-old from Bulli lived with the blood-borne virus for almost four decades after contracting it from a dirty needle, but he was unaware of the impact it would have on his life.

“I was donating blood in the 70s and they wrote me a letter saying could I go back and see them because I had a rare antigen in my blood, and that antigen was hep C.”

He kept prioritising other things over his health and was eventually told that the disease had caused irreversible cirrhosis of the liver.

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“You’ve got your routines or your rituals, you’ve got your life, your daily chores and anything out of the norm for me was, ‘I’ll do it later’, because it can interfere with your day,” he said.

“It’s an out of sight disease. If it was on my nose or on my forehead you’d do something about it but it’s out of sight and you don’t know how sick you are until you get better.”

After he realised just how the virus was causing his body to deteriorate, he decided to reclaim his life and seek treatment, but at the time there were not many effective options and medication was extremely expensive.

Bill Lenane patting his dog at Bulli Beach.

Bill wants to reduce the stigma around hepatitis C and increase testing rates.

Luckily, he was eligible to participate in a trial which saw him take multiple medications a day for many months, but he said it was all worth it.

“After the treatment and you have time to sit back and relax, you realise how crook you were,” he said. “It’s so sneaky this virus, you don’t know how crook you’re getting because it’s so slow you get used to it.”

It wasn’t just the physical burden that was lifted, but it was also an inescapable connection to a life he had left behind many years earlier.

“For me it was like while I had the hep C it was the shots, to the Cross, to the sleaziness, it was just all that filthy crap from when I was an addict, it’s like you’re still connected.

“While you’ve got the virus you can’t leave your past behind because you know you’ve got the virus and you know where it came from.”

These days the treatment is much easier, with most patients able to be cured in just eight weeks, but there are still more than 115,000 Australians out there living with the disease, with many unaware they have it, despite testing being fast and free.

“It’s so frustrating when it’s just a simple test,” Bill said. “It’s five minutes, and five minutes could save your life.”

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And it’s not just available in medical facilities, with pop-up clinics, testing vans and community centres increasingly offering the services.

“It takes away the embarrassment. You don’t have to sneak around backstreets if that’s what you feel you have to do,” Bill said.

“It’s a great idea. It’s getting to the stage where people are going to be able to be tested at home; you don’t get much easier than that.”

Bill shared his story in hope that even one more person would be inspired to get tested and treated.

“I’ve got my life back. It’s out of my system, it’s gone. I’ve left the past behind totally and I don’t miss it.”

For more information visit the Hepatitis NSW website or if you have any concerns visit your GP.

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