What is your message to people who have just been diagnosed?
I would say, "You're not alone." Because when I was diagnosed I didn't know anybody. I didn't have anyone I could talk to who was positive. There were people in the field that could empathize with me; but there was no one there that could sympathize with me. You're not walking in my shoes.
Find someone that can support you that is going through or has gone through what you're going through. Don't do this alone, because it's a lonely, lonely road -- that you don't have to travel alone.
And everyone deals with their diagnosis different. My doctor uses me as a reference in his office for other patients who are newly diagnosed. So he has called and given my name to people. I've called. But you can't make a person, if they're not ready to accept. So you have to meet them where they are. And I offer my shoulder and my ear. Because that's all I can do is listen, give them an outlet.
I didn't have that. I had it in people that worked in the field. And I respect those people, and I'm glad they were there for me to give me that area where I could release. Because that's what one of the organizations did. That organization led me to HAART. I was able to cry -- let it out. Because there was no one -- I couldn't talk. I wasn't talking to my family about it. I couldn't burden my child with it.
People stay so isolated, and they don't want to come to support groups, and they don't want to reach out.
Right. And that's where AYA -- it was a very good support group called AYA (Allowing Yourself Acceptance). I was one of the first groups. The Volunteers of America here in Baton Rouge offered that class after I was diagnosed. That helped me tremendously. That was one of the ways I was able to tell the guy, you know? That was . . . it allowed me to be able to be open. That broke that wall down. So that was during that time, too, when I was dating this guy.
So when we had the AYA session I was able to -- oh, I was so excited, but it was because the counselor said, "I can see the difference when you came in here."
Because when I walked in that door -- and this is a true story -- I went because my doctor told me I needed, you know, counseling. I was like, "OK." And when I went to that clinic -- or, to their office -- when I walked in the door, I looked at the women and I said, "I don't have anything in common with these women." But then in the same breath, the Lord said to me, "Yes you do. You're looking at them from the outside. But you all have the same thing on the inside." And that's when I allowed myself to open up to the support group. And that started, too, my healing process. After that, I became a peer educator. I can't wait to retire and be able to do this work full time.
And with that, we're going to bring this interview to an end. Thank you so much. This was such a great interview.
Yes. You're welcome.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Kellee Terrell is the former news editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
Follow Kellee on Twitter: @kelleent.
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