Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Do your part. Get tested. Get educated. Use condoms.

Seattle just had it's yearly AIDS awareness walk on September 29th. Whenever it comes around, it reminds me of the people I've known and lost to the disease.

The first time AIDS touched my life was when I was 19 years old. My friend, J., found out he was HIV positive right around the same time I found out I was pregnant. He was a fun guy to be around. He was always bouncy, super funny, full of adventure, and gorgeous.
Since he was the first person I had ever known with HIV, I asked him a lot of questions. He brought me tons of literature on the disease and how you can and can not contract it. He also shared with me the story of how he got it.
He told me that he came out to his parents when he was 13 years old. His parents were very conservative and would not accept a gay son. They threw him out. He ended up living on the streets of San Francisco in the late 80's/early 90's. He was not old enough to get work anywhere, so he started hustling for money to make ends meet. He did this for a few years until he met a man who let him live with him for awhile. Eventually he was old enough to make it on his own with a legitimate job. He moved to Seattle and tried to put that life behind him.
He found out he was HIV positive in his early 20's. He knew when he went in to get tested there was a pretty good chance he would be positive given what he had been through up to that point. The news hit him hard. A mutual friend of ours told me that he just looked in the mirror for hours saying, "You have AIDS" over and over again.

It was so strange hanging out with him, knowing that he had a disease that was going to eventually kill him, mostly because he didn't look or seem sick at all. I stayed hopeful that they would find a cure before the disease took over.
As my pregnancy progressed and my stomach grew, his symptoms got worse and worse. He started getting spots on his scalp, his gums were a mess, and he ended up getting Hepatitis. He was getting very sick very fast.

I asked him if there was anything I could do. He said the best thing that anyone could do was get tested, even if you are not in a high risk group. He said if everyone who ever had sex got tested, we could significantly reduce the spread of the disease. He also asked that I tell as many people as I could about how you can and can not contract the disease. At the time, people in Seattle were well educated, but my relatives in middle America and Alaska were still pretty in the dark about the whole thing.
So, I started making a point of bringing up what I knew about HIV whenever I had the opportunity. I got a really unexpected reaction from some people. There were people who told me that I was putting my unborn child at risk by hanging out with a person with AIDS.
This is so untrue.
No matter how I tried to explain to them that this is not possible, the more they told me that I was being a bad mother by allowing this person to be a part of my life. Some went as far as to try to tell me that they would not be surprised if my child was born with AIDS because of my friendship with a person who had the disease. I'd never been faced with such a fearful and ignorant reaction before. I hardly knew how to respond to it.

Eventually, when my friend got to a point where he was very very sick, the disease was spiraling fast and taking it's toll, he talked to his mother and she finally told him it was OK for him to come home. He knew that he was probably going to die soon, so he had a small party and told us all goodbye. He said that he wanted us all to remember him as being young and healthy. He thought it would somehow be easier if he knew that we would always remember him how he was, to go through what was coming up.
After that day, I never saw or heard from him again.

Over the last 13 years, I've kept my promise. I've advocated testing for everyone, no matter what. I've tried to educate people about what I know and I'm really impressed with how much people do know now compared to what they knew back then.
There is still a lot of ignorance out there about the disease. There are still people who think it is just a "Gay disease". There are still people who think you can get it just from being around people with it, but one of the most astounding things I've seen are the people who refuse to be tested. I've actually met people who are sexually active and I ask them if they have ever been tested, and they tell me no. I ask them why not. The most common answer?
"Well, my last partner was tested and they were negative, so that means I am negative."

PEOPLE! Come on!!
If you are sexually active, it is your DUTY to be tested.
If you change partners often, it is your duty to be tested at least once a year if not every six months, whether you are straight or gay, male or female. Period.

There is not a cure for AIDS, so the only thing that we can do to prevent the spread of AIDS is to arm ourselves with knowledge. If every person who is sexually active was tested regularly we could greatly reduce the spread of the disease.

Do your part. Get tested. Get educated. Use condoms.


For some, having HIV/AIDS is like being alone in the dark.

For some, not having an UNDERSTANDING of HIV/AIDS
and its prevention KEEPS them in the dark.

We all have the opportunity to move into the light of
AWARENESS

3 comments:

Marian said...

Great post. We're lucky to live in a time where this information is readily available-- one of my favorite movies is "And the Band Played On," based on the book of the same name which chronicles the early days of the AIDS epidemic in Reagan America. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it!

Melodie said...

No wonder you live so far from the Midwest! I guess being in the military and moving around the country, has allowed my mind to be a bit more open!
BTW........get your mammogram !!

Melodie said...

You have a breast cancer history in your family! That should be a factor in your insurance paying for a mamm. I've had 2 different kinds of BC. One was hormone + the other - . Have the insurance person in your Drs. office check on it for you. Don't wait!

 

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