It's very rare that we have an opportunity to sit and talk with the children of people who are living with HIV/AIDS for our This Positive Life Series. John Whitty's mother, Cassandra, had been living with HIV/AIDS for almost decade and was completely unaware until she was finally diagnosed in 2000. Despite showing numerous symptoms and having multiple hospital trips, like so many others, she fell through the testing gaps. Cassandra admits she never really thought that HIV could happen to her.
We sat down with John to briefly talk about the impact that his mother's diagnosis had on him and his family, and what he learned about HIV in the process.
When did you find out about your mother's diagnosis?
Probably six months to a year after.
And how long ago was that?
Ooh-wee, it's been a while -- over, what, 10 years?
And so what was your initial reaction?
Total hurt. Anger. Rage, really. That's the best way to explain it.
And what was your rage about? Who or what was it toward?
It was more or less one of those things that, uh -- how could this happen?
Did you ever think maybe your mother was at risk of contracting HIV?
Until it happened, no. It never crossed my mind. Never.
Why was that?
It was just something that was not in my sphere, nothing I considered to be an immediate threat to me or Mom. Just never thought of it.
And so when she told you that she was positive, were you concerned? Were you worried? You know, some people, their reaction is they don't want to share certain things. They feel weird about people using the bathroom. Did you have those types of fears?
No. Basically, that's my mother. I mean, I had to get over the initial trauma. I was kind of traumatized about that. Even though it was a painful stab to me, I eventually sided with her, to see her through this.
So what does that mean, you sided with her? Were you upset with her?
No, I didn't stop talking to her. But it was just the initial putting this together, and how to go forward with this. How long does she have? And things of that nature.
I mean, before my mom, Magic Johnson was the only one that I knew of that had the medicines and doctors to survive this thing. So that was my next step -- to try and find out what did she need to do. How are you going to ... basically, educate me.
What was that education process like?
It was kind of slow, because I was not in the immediate area of her, pursuing it. So it was kind of slow, bits and pieces of her initially getting me, you know, informed on what I need to do -- the truths, the false accusations, of the disease.
How has your mother's diagnosis changed you?
It's changed me. Well, to be honest with you, it's helped me. I'm not going to say it really changed me because the one thing she's always told me, and I've always heard, was, you know, "Wear your condom. Protect yourself no matter what."
But I have daughters. I have a son. So that basically brought me to a "What am I going to do to educate them?"
I'm not letting what people say keep my children away from their grandmother, you know? Or what people may say bother, or hurt, or hinder my mother. That's still my mother, whether she has HIV or not.