March 23, 2011 – Living with HIV and Fighting Against AIDS

A week ago, I was sitting in the basement of the Plaza Library, listening to Marvelyn Brown, author of the book, The Naked Truth

Author Marvelyn Brown
A week later, I awoke today, sat down at my computer and read the sad news that Dame Elizabeth Taylor has just passed away. 
A week ago, I was pleasantly surprised to see a lot of young people, especially young women, arrive to hear Marvelyn speak.  And they sat quietly as she told her story.  Her story of living with HIV and becoming an activist.  She was open, honest and authentic.  She was unpretentious and real.  She related, with delight, her story of meeting the young man who would bestow this disease upon her.  She shared, in detail, how honored she felt when the young man suggested he trusted her enough not to use a condom. 
Then, she shared the shock and reaction to discovering her HIV positive status.  And how it affected those around her.  And how her life changed dramatically. 

A book about "The Naked Truth" of HIV and how "it lives with me" according to Marvelyn

She shared with the audience the financial cost of taking 7 pills a day.  They sometimes cause nausea, vomiting, lack of appetite, etc.  She also shared the emotional cost of losing friends and family, many ignorant and uneducated as to how HIV is contracted, and more concerned about how the disease would affect them…instead of it’s impact on Marvelyn. 

Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra

And now, a week later, we learn about the loss of an Oscar-winning actress named Elizabeth.  Because of the loss of her friend, Rock Hudson, back in the 1980’s, she decided to do something about those who were suffering with HIV and dying from AIDS.  She decided to use her fame as a weapon in the war.  She hated her fame.  It was a fame that came from an acting career, numerous health issues, multiple marriages, and an affair resulting in a denouncement from the Pope and Catholic church.  As an activist, she found a use for the fame.
Marvelyn and Elizabeth.  One living with a disease, fighting the stigma associated with it, and declaring war on AIDS.  The other saw many friends affected by both diseases and became a warrior fighting for a cure to help others like Marvelyn. 
In the passage of days between these two Wednesdays, I thought a lot about this HIV & AIDS.  During that time, I became very confused and vexed by the discovery of “bugcatchers”.  I thought I knew a lot about HIV/AIDS but I didn’t.  On Facebook, my friend Monica posted her discovery of this oddity where people seek out sexual partners who are HIV+ in a form of Russian Roulette.  Apparently, these individuals have no fear about having unprotected sex or sharing needles because those who participate dellusionally believe medication will minimize or eliminate any ill effects. 
I was also thinking back about 25 years ago when HIV and AIDS first struck.  Back then, I wasn’t concerned about my own health because I was safe.  And I didn’t know anyone who had the disease.  But then, Jhon Patrick started getting sick. 
JP was my brother-from-another-mother-of-another color.  We had very similar backgrounds.  We worked at the same hotel.  We had similar interests.  When he told me his status, I was shocked and scared.  I promised him that we would get through it together and I would always be his friend.  He got mad at the disease and at me sometimes.  I watched his body weaken while his faith got stronger.  And I watched him get thinner and thinner until there was nothing left…but his faith. 
I have lived with this disease for over 25 years.  No, I don’t have HIV or AIDS.  But I lived with the disease of FEAR when I got tested and had to wait two weeks to get the results.  I lived with the disease of IGNORANCE before I started reading and educating myself.  I lived with the disease of SORROW as I found out about at least 5 friends and co-workers had either contracted HIV or died of AIDS.  And I am living with the disease of FRUSTRATION.  I get frustrated when I see the numbers of those infected and affected increase in number, spreading around the world and reaching deep into our communities. 
Now, I want to live with the cure of EDUCATION.  So I’ll share this simple bit of information.  HIV/AIDS may have been first perceived as a GAY or HAITIAN disease of origin but that is no longer true, if it ever was.  It is OUR disease.  HIV/AIDS does not discriminate or segregate.   Even people of faith can contract the disease. 
Marvelyn ended her talk with three simple suggestions:
  1.  GET TESTED
  2. GET EDUCATED
  3. BE RESPONSIBLE

I’ll leave you with this.  Of all of the diseases that desperately need a cure, this one has very simple prevention.  DO use a condom and DON’T share needles.  And KNOW your status. 

While we wait for a cure, we still need to educate ourselves and show love to those who are HIV+ or living with AIDS – no matter HOW they contracted it. 

Today, one warrior died in battle.  But one is still fighting the war.  I dedicate this post in memory of Elizabeth Taylor.  And JP, my brother-from-another-mother-of-another-color. 

English born actress Elizabeth Taylor posing in a midnight blue velvet evening gown with sapphire and diamond jewllery, Beverly Hills 1988. (Photo by Terry O'Neill/Getty Images)

Carlton

RESOURCES:

Center for Disease Control – www.cdc.gov

AIDS Walk Kansas City – www.aidswalkkansascity.org

Marvelyn Brown’s website – www.marvelynbrown.com

TruthAIDS – www.truthaids.org

Dr. Mehret Mandefro, Founder and Executive Director of TruthAIDS – www.drmehretmandefro.com

Dr. Mehret Mandefro (photo credit: upenn.edu)

All of Us, a documentary on HIV/AIDS and it’s effect on African-American women – available on DVD and viewing on Netflix.  Link to trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YokxFK9J5f8 

The Lazarus Effect, a documentary on how medicine is being used against AIDS in Africa – available for viewing on April 15th on HBO West and available now on YouTube

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