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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 what is your dating life like now?

Right now, I have a friend, but we're just friend-friends. I'm not sexually active, because I choose not to be right now. I still have a wall up and I love me, and I don't want the stress of a relationship added to what I'm still dealing with. Even though it's been almost 11 years, I'm still dealing with it.

And to bring someone into my life to bring stress -- I have enough with family.

Do you find that women who were your age when you were diagnosed really still don't think that they're at risk?

I think because of me now my friends think a whole lot differently. And they have come to me with questions. They have said to me plenty of times, "You know, that could have been me." Like I said before, we come from that era where we didn't practice safe sex. So whether or not they're practicing safe sex now, I don't know, because I'm not in their bedroom. But I know that they are more aware now since I disclosed to them.

What does doing work mean to you?

"I always tell people, 'I know my status; do you know yours?' God left me on this Earth for a reason. And I believe that reason is to tell people."

I always tell people, "I know my status; do you know yours?" God left me on this Earth for a reason. And I believe that reason is to tell people. You know, the Bible says that our people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge. I can give you the knowledge that you need. What you do with that knowledge is left up to you.

Most importantly, this work gives me a lot of fulfillment. When I go speak somewhere someone always comes up to me and tells me about someone either in their family or even them. One time, I had spoken at this church, and a guy came and followed me to the back of the church. He said, "I just want to thank you." I could tell that he was so ...

You moved him.

Right ... to a degree that his brother was HIV positive and had been positive for years, and he would not shake his own brother's hand.


So I really made him feel bad, the way he had been treating his brother. He said I crucified him and made him feel bad with my story. But because of hearing my story, when he left the church he said that he was going to his mom's house, straight to his brother and hug him.

I said, "Well, you want to start with me?"

And he hugged me.

I said, "Because, see, I can't hurt you. But you can hurt me. You can hurt your brother more than your brother can hurt you."

It's that stigma.

It's that stigma. And I told him, "But you know, I'm sitting there, you're a minister. And you're preaching love. But you have a brother that's been positive and won't shake his hand?"

But it takes just one person to make a difference. And it never fails, when I go speak somewhere, someone comes up to me and tells me how much they appreciate what I said or that they are going to get tested for HIV. Some people even call me to let me know about their test.

I ask, "How was your test?"

"It was negative."

I say, "So, good, stay that way. Now that you know, keep it that way."

"I don't see a difference in having cancer and having HIV, other than the fact that society accepts cancer, but they frown on HIV. And we're both trying to only do what? Survive."

Speaking of stigma, I want to talk about stigma in the African-American community. And I want to be clear, that stigma exists in all communities. But why is it important for you to break down the wall of stigma in our community?

My son's aunt died of cancer. And I can remember a conversation she and I had before she died. And when she told me she was dying, we sat there and I compared what she was going through to what I was going through. And I just said, "You know, I don't see a difference in having cancer and having HIV, other than the fact that society accepts cancer, but they frown on HIV. And we're both trying to only do what? Survive. Live on this Earth just a little while longer."

She's dead and I'm still here.

People need to understand that HIV is a disease that's just like cancer and high blood pressure. It's something I have to live with. You can live a productive life. It's how you choose to handle your diagnosis. So I took my life and just looked in the mirror. I said, "Lord, whatever your will is, I'll do your will." And His will to me is to teach others -- to spread the word, not the virus.

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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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