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Monday Reflection: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Death!

By Rae Lewis-Thornton

October 3, 2011

This piece originally appeared in Rae's blog, Diva Living With AIDS.

I thought that I had lost my mind when I opened the window at 4:00 a.m. and stuck my head out of the window to cool off on Friday. But when I felt the impulse to raise my t-shirt in front of the window this morning so the heat and sweat that was under my breast could cool down, I knew that this was out of control.

I had been fighting the truth of this for three months now. I just couldn't come to terms with it. I had been on a medication that caused me to have hot flashes for six months so I made myself believe that this was a residual from that medication even though I've been off of it for three months now. But when I pulled my shirt, yes you heard me right, when I pulled my shirt down and moved from the window, I picked up my iPhone and called the doctor.

MENOPAUSE! Are you kidding me? Yep MENOPAUSE! WOW! I didn't think that I would live long enough to see menopause. #For Real When I made a transition to AIDS the life expectancy was three years and at one point I was sick enough to die. And the truth of the matter is AIDS has a mind of it's own, you never know how it's going to hit you or when, but make no mistake it will hit.

Rae Lewis-Thornton

I remember when I first started speaking I would go to high schools and ask the freshman to stand, and I'd say, "By the time you graduate I'll be dead." And according to everything we knew about AIDS, I should have died.

Yes, I had a great doctor and I did everything that was expected of me, but honestly HIV/AIDS treatment didn't take a turn for the better until the mid-nineties and by that time I had been infected for over 10 years.

I remember when my T-cell count was 8, my viral load 400,000, and I was a size 0. The quality of my life had withered away. My life consisted of speaking and bed. I would crawl myself out of bed, pull my Diva together and go speak and turn right back around and crawl back into bed, until it was time to speak again.

I was waiting on death and I did nothing to prepare for a future. I didn't save a dime. I lived for the moment. I couldn't see past each gig. And after that third bout of PCP, I knew that my life was over. But a funny thing happened on the way to death, I lived!

So here I am, looking menopause in the face. Well actually, perimenopause. Let me explain. Menopause is actually the end of the road. It's when a woman's menstruation stops altogether. Her body stops making eggs and produces less estrogen and progesterone.

And the new fancy term for getting there is perimenopause, it's the time leading up to a woman's last period. During this time a woman's period can stop and start again until a year has passed since she has actually had a period. During this stage a woman has changes in her hormones made in the ovaries and this causes hot flashes, mood swings, weight gain, decreased sexual drive, headache and memory loss, to name some in this long list of issues that effect women during this time. But honestly many people interchange these two terms, menopause and perimenopause.

Whatever you want to call it, that's what I'm going through. My gynecologist who specializes in women and HIV is already on the job. I was not surprised to learn that hormone medications can change the levels of HIV medications because many HIV meds are affected by simple things such as over-the-counter medication and alcohol. So now she is in the process of determining what I can take so that my HIV treatment is not hindered in anyway.

So here I am living! Living on the way to death. I say that because as sure as I'm living today, we will all die one day. The difference for me now, is that I'm thinking more about my future than I am about the end. The truth of it all, no one knows the hour or the day except God and trying to predict when AIDS is gonna take me out of here is trying to play God. The only thing I know for sure is that life is a precious gift! It says that you are still a part of God's earthly plan. And each morning when I wake, no matter what I'm facing, I give that day everything I got; to do less than my best is a slap in life's face.

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See Also
More Personal Accounts of Women With HIV/AIDS

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Rae Lewis-Thornton

Rae Lewis-Thornton

Rae Lewis-Thornton is an Emmy Award-winning AIDS activist who rose to national acclaim when she told her story of living with AIDS in a cover story for Essence Magazine. She has lived with HIV for 27 years and AIDS for 19. Rae travels the country speaking and challenging stereotypes and myths about HIV/AIDS. She has a Master of Divinity degree and is currently working on her Ph.D. in Church History. Rae has been featured on Nightline, Dateline NBC, BET and The Oprah Winfrey Show, as well as in countless magazines and newspapers, including Emerge, Glamour, O, the Oprah Winfrey Magazine, Jet, Ebony, the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune, to name a few. She earned the coveted Emmy Award for a first-person series on living With AIDS for Chicago's CBS News.

Rae is an active user of social media -- read "Long-Term HIV Survivor Discovers the Power of Twitter," an article on TheBody.com about Rae's social media activities.

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