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This Positive Life: An Interview With James Nicacio

September 15, 2011

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Can you tell me a little bit about how you're spending your time now?

I've been hired as a data specialist and a consumer advocate at Community Special Services here in Fresno. I used to just volunteer there, and they actually gave me a paid position. I'll likely be coming on full time this fall as a data specialist in our HIV/AIDS clinic.

I'm still in school at Fresno City College. I'm only taking one class per semester, because I'm so busy. I was taking prerequisites to get into the nursing program, but now I'm thinking of switching to public health. I want to stay in the health care field, stay with this organization and stay connected to people living with HIV. Maybe I'll get a master's in public health at some point. One class at a time. [Laughs.]

What kinds of volunteer work are you still doing?

I'm still involved with the Community Advisory Board, as their volunteer coordinator, and in our local implementation group. I volunteer at the Fresno County Health Department doing HIV testing and counseling on their mobile units. If I ever have to talk with somebody who has just been diagnosed, it gives me that one-on-one time with them, to let them know that I know exactly what it feels like to be told that you're HIV positive. It makes me feel good that I'm able to be there at a really crucial point when somebody is given their diagnosis. But I don't do that as much as I used to now that I have a permanent position with my organization.

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I became a member of the California Planning Group, which works with the Office of AIDS to develop a comprehensive HIV care and prevention plan for the state of California. That's where a lot of my efforts have been going. I went from the local level to the state level with regards to volunteering.

I think one of the reasons why I keep myself so busy is to help me stay connected to leading a better life. Today, I'm really proud of saying who I am and what I'm doing. I'm proud to say that I'm a person living with HIV, and I'm proud to say that I'm empowering myself, as well as other people, to live with HIV.

I definitely do it because I want stigma to be eradicated. I want it to be normal for somebody to live with HIV. I want it to be socially acceptable and OK for people to live with HIV. I found a passion in doing this work. It's given me direction and it gives me meaning for living.

It sounds as if you spend a lot of time dealing with HIV. Do you ever get sick of talking and thinking about HIV?

I do take breaks every once in a while. I'll take a few days to just really do nothing, go out of town. You've got to do the things you've always wanted to do. I'm making sure not to consume too much of my time with it.

What has doing all of this work with other people living with HIV taught you?

It's taught me that people are compassionate, that there are people out there who really care about other people. The providers I work with, I notice that they're very passionate about what they do, and they really care about the individuals, regardless of whether they have HIV or not.

There's hope out there in the world for people living with HIV. I've met some remarkable people who are doing great things and who are HIV positive. It inspires me to see some of the work that people do.

What do you think are the biggest issues that need fixing in HIV today?

I think one big issue would be getting back to work after being disabled for so long. That's an issue for me, and that's a common issue that I see. I think another common issue -- just from seeing the people in our Community Advisory Board -- is an aging population living with HIV, as well as dating with HIV. I think those are some really important issues that we are trying to discuss and work through, maybe getting people to come here and speak to us about what it's like getting back in the dating scene; what it's like living with HIV as an older adult and dealing with some of the complications the medications bring on, like heart disease, high cholesterol, sometimes diabetes. Having to deal with issues other than HIV are issues of people living with HIV.

What do you know about access to HIV treatment for people who are undocumented in your home state of California? Is it very difficult?

I know that there are a lot of undocumented people accessing health care. I don't know too much about the process or what that's like, but I do know that, being in the Central Valley of California, we do have a lot of undocumented people. I think there's a fear for a lot of them that if they come in for health care, they are going to be deported. I know that they will not be denied health care.

That's another issue that needs to be worked on: letting undocumented people know that they should still seek treatment and seek health care, and that they are not going to put themselves at risk for being deported. There is health care for them.

Do you have anything else that you'd like to share with our readers?

I'd like to encourage people to get involved in some kind of outreach within their local communities. In our area, one of the demographics being hit hardest by HIV is youth. We have youth coming in our doors with advanced HIV disease. I think that education and outreach are the missing elements from what's going on. We actually have a task force here in Fresno to figure out how to get the word out to our youth, and involve youth in getting the word out, to hopefully have some impact here at the local level. If everybody could do that, then maybe the numbers could drop.

With that, we have to bring this interview to a close. James, it's been such a pleasure. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me.

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

This interview originally took place in May 2008, and has been revised and updated. Additional reporting was provided by Olivia Ford, the community manager for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.


Copyright © 2011 The HealthCentral Network, Inc. All rights reserved.

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