It was October of 1993 when I was diagnosed HIV positive. Then I was told that I probably would have two years to live at the most. In 1993 there was not treatment available yet and the only option that was given to us newly diagnosed was AZT! Yes, with exclamation point! – It was one of those only options that also were giving us hope somehow to receive some kind of treatment.
The struggles to manage AZT complicated more my state of mind. I thought to myself, why is this making feel sick when just a few weeks ago I was feeling okay? The struggles were accompanied by the several things to do as newly diagnosed; you know, we all get pointed to all directions go here go there to get available services to us living with HIV. Yes, I was very afraid of dying. That was the only thing that was in mind. Specially watching people dying by the dozens, each week there was a news at the community drop-in center where I went for support services, that fewer people would be coming than week before, that some of those people were in the hospital or have just passed away. I remember many of them and keep their memory close in my heart, but honestly have lost count!
Until one day, in 1996 there was the big news! It was announced at the International AIDS conference that a breakthrough with new medications was the real hope for a better quality of life prolonging more years into our new lifetime. This indeed marked a milestone and there we went all trying each a different combination and then another; until from the few medications available I found couple that worked okay for me. Side effects were a major decision maker or breaker, but when you are living with HIV, you don’t that luxury to choose from when you already to tried combinations. If you did not take medications the chances of survival became less and less. Despite the uphill struggles managing the side effects and adding many other things to my regimen of medications with other medications to balance the effects of the side effects, it was the never ending story.
Few days ago I was thinking that next year I will be turning 50 years old! I am actually very excited about it, a friend asked me few times; why are you so happy to get old? My response was the same story that I am telling and describing in this article. The real truth behind the challenges and all the bad permanent side effects from some medications that until today affects me very much; such as neuropathy in my feet that is killing me each day, by dealing with the pain that just don’t go away. The constant battles with digestive problems and complications with the fact that the medication’s toxicities that I did not know how much this could affect us in the long term. The inexplicable complications with bone density, headaches, night sweats, complications in my prostate, fatigue, and well – don’t wish to keep listing, you got the idea. Not counting with the fact that after you turn 40 years old things just don’t work the same way, pain here, pain there, pain everywhere! Nothing is quite the same.
I have kept myself with a positive attitude that maintained my spirit alive since my diagnosis. I am not completely sure if it is because of my positive outlook in life that perhaps people that knows me or meet me for the first time do not believe I am currently 49 years old. It is maybe a nice compliment that I give to people or that I get from people, a compliment to me means way more than what it is, it means that I have had the chance to live longer and somehow making to have healthy life. I am able to have the energy enough to work my eight hours and a bit more when needed. I am very active and I like to stay busy, busy so that I don’t think on negatively about anything, on the other hand when I keep my mind busy doing something productive for my community makes me feel good and it feeds my soul.
I am indeed looking forward to entering into the golden age. Turning 50 is good. Why not? After all, I never thought I was going live to be around this long. Being involved, working and committed to HIV education and prevention continues to be my very first priority and will continue to be committed until my last breath. I recall words from that Angel, (Pedro Zamora) questioning as he was getting sicker: “who is going to hold my torch to continue my work advocating and fighting against AIDS stigma and discrimination?”
I humbly wish to think that Pedro can listen to me and my message to him is: I did Pedro and I am! I am here to continue your fight, our fight against AIDS/HIV/Stigma/Homophobia/and battling with my very own HIV by continuing taking my medications, even if I feel like I don’t want to continue sometimes, I am hanging in there. Am I afraid of dying? Yes I am! But I smile and continue to move on. Gracias Pedro Zamora for being my inspiration.