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Dealing With death
Oct 3, 2011

I was diagnosed in 2008 after getting very ill. The diagnosis gave me really bad anxiety and panic attacks for a long time after that. I felt like I had become so fragile and could die--something people in their early 30's don't think much about. I educated myself on HIV (still learning) and realized people go on to live healthy lives. My anxiety and depression has gotten much better.

Having said that, I do have times that I feel like something bad is going to happen. I try to get back on track. However, a few months ago, I found my uncle dead. He was just 59. He didn't have HIV, but it has had a huge impact on me.

And now, I'm in shock and saddened at the loss of Dr. Bob--who was also 59. I looked up to people like him, and you for that matter - people who've been living with the virus for a long time and doing seemingly well. I had just told my partner over the weekend (I believe the day he died) that I look for inspiration in people like him. He did so much work in HIV, was a husband, traveled the world, etc. And, all with a happy well-being. It made me try to get off my ass and get back to doing the things I use to do, which I had retreated from doing. The question inevitably comes as to whether there is really a future for us. Are the uplifting claims that we could live a normal lifespan really accurate? 59 is so young.

I've known at least 5 HIV positive people who have died in the last couple years when they were 50-60 years-old. These range from heart attacks to liver failure. I just don't know how to process the uplifting claims that we should live a normal lifespan versus the people I've seen die way too young this year. I keep coming back to being thankful to HAART which gives us more healthy years, but knowing that HIV will still win out. I guess I'm just still stunned by this and I'm sure I will process it and be able to move on being thankful that I am here now.

Response from Dr. Fawcett

Thanks for writing. Dr. Bob's passing is an unwelcome reminder that the possibility of death is always near. I too have lost friends and acquaintances this past year to the virus. Although HIV is now considered a manageable disease, the fact is that people are still dying. I wish this could be better conveyed to those who have a very casual approach about the virus and are still putting themselves at risk.

Those of us with HIV have the difficult task of trying to live our lives as fully as possible in the face of great uncertainty. It's true that medications have greatly improved both our lifespans and, for the most part, our quality of life. But we are often reminded that our medical fortunes can quickly change. I believe the best approach is do everything we can to maintain physical health and then to focus on each day as a gift that is full of possibilities. I know what a struggle it is to keep my imagination out of the past or (especially) the future, but that only takes me away from the present moment, where I actually live. If I can use today to accomplish something positive (and that can vary depending on one's physical and emotional state - it may be something as simple as getting out of bed or taking one's medications), then the day has been well-spent. Dr. Bob made wonderful use of each day and left a legacy of helping thousands of people. I believe each of us also has the opportunity to use today to make a real difference.

Thanks and be well,

David



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