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A Grandmother Talks About Testing HIV Positive After a Misdiagnosis

An Interview With Cassandra Whitty -- Part of the Series This Positive Life

April 16, 2012

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So he's saying these wonderful encouraging things, and you're just, like, whatever.

All I knew about was that HIV meant death. HIV meant death. By the grace of God, I drove myself home. And my son said it took me about six months [to disclose to him[ but he was actually the first person I saw when I got home from the doctor. So he was actually the first person that I actually told.

I walked in the door and he was laying on the couch and he said he saw it in my face. He knew something was wrong. I don't remember crying for about maybe six months. Because I still was in shock. You know, I listened to his story. Because I never really -- we never really talked about it for a long time. So in his mind it probably was six months. But he was the very first person when I walked in that house. He was lying on the couch and I told him I was just told -- what I had just been told. He hugged me, and we hugged each other.

I called my pastor and I called my boss. Because at the time I didn't know I didn't have to do that. But you know, I didn't know how this was going to affect me.

"Prior to being diagnosed, I was just like, 'Lord, I'm tired of being sick.' And then when I was finally, properly diagnosed, things started getting better."

Because, you know, some people who have cancer do call their pastor or tell their boss. You're not always thinking something bad might come from that.

I'm not thinking. I don't know what's going to happen. So I'm trying to get my ducks in a row; you know, trying to figure out what's the next move. So I called my pastor. I was going to call my mom, but I didn't want to at this time.

That was in November. December, I went to my specialist -- I had an appointment -- who, at this point, was like more of a second opinion. He did the Western Blot test, a confirmatory test. And when that came back in January -- because I had to wait again -- he said, "We're not going to worry about where you got it from at this point; we're going to get you better."

January they put me in -- started -- a regimen.

What were your labs at that point?

Oh, I still have the paperwork. My viral load was in the millions. I was knocking on the door of AIDS . . .

And when you saw that, what did you think?

This is a new world to me. So for the first year, really, I was trying to deal with it. Prior to being diagnosed, I was just like, "Lord, I'm tired of being sick." And then when I was finally, properly diagnosed, things started getting better. So I wanted to get better before I told my mom. So within three to six months you start seeing changes. I started gaining weight. I started getting better. So I started out with my family. And I come from a large family. I have five sisters and two brothers and I can remember that was the week of Thanksgiving when I found out. And I was at my sister's house, and my brother-in-law, who is the assistant pastor. And he prayed. Now, the only people at that table that knew was my son, myself and my brother. So I had to sit there with this, you know to give thanks.

So you were really putting on an Oscar-winning performance on Thanksgiving.

"One of the things that my doctor told me is that I needed support and that only I can decide how I was going to handle that support system."

Oh, yes, I was. It was a Thanksgiving I'll never forget. So you know, I was just moving along with my life. After I started getting treatment I started getting better. One of the things that my doctor told me is that I needed support and that only I can decide how I was going to handle that support system. But he was always asking me had I told my family yet.

So I started with my siblings. And three of them live out of town. I wanted them to hear it from me, face to face, and when I told them, I got nothing but support from my family. But my baby sister lives in Houston. And I had to tell her over the phone. And the one thing that she said to me that stayed with me was, "Well, you know, maybe you're going to be the next Magic Johnson."

At that time, I wasn't ready to hear that, because I didn't want to be that. I come from a popular family in town and everybody knows us in our hometown. I moved here, to Baton Rouge, and people know me here. So I'm looking at the fact that, you know, my life has changed. People are going to be looking at me, you know, like the scarlet letter on my back.

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More From This Resource Center

Magic Johnson Wants You to Know: He Isn't Cured of HIV

Living With HIV? African Americans Share Their Advice

This article was provided by TheBody.

See Also
This Positive Life: John Whitty, Son of Cassandra Whitty's HIV/AIDS Resource Center for African Americans
HIV and Me: An African American's Guide to Living With HIV
More Personal Accounts on African Americans and HIV


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