This Positive Life: Cedric Sturdevant
July 31, 2012
Welcome to This Positive Life! We have with us Cedric Sturdevant, a 46-year-old gay man living in Jackson, Miss. Cedric was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 2005, along with his partner at the time who was told to get tested after trying to donate blood. After an AIDS-related hospital stay, Cedric knew he wanted to get better and become a voice for those living with HIV. He started by disclosing to his family and eventually began working as an HIV advocate, speaking in particular to the African-American MSM (men who have sex with men) community in Mississippi about prevention. In this interview, Cedric talks about coming out and then later disclosing to his family, the challenges of having HIV in Mississippi and what he does to stay healthy today.
Cedric, welcome to This Positive Life. Thank you so much for joining us today. Can you introduce yourself, and just say where you're from and what you do?
My name is Cedric Sturdevant. I'm originally from a small town in Mississippi called Metcalf. Presently, I live in Jackson, Miss. I work at a nonprofit organization called My Brother's Keeper, which is a health disparity organization for minorities. I work in the HIV prevention department, where our main focus is HIV prevention among African-American MSM -- young MSM, as well as the older MSM.
Thank you. So can you start by describing how you found out you were HIV positive, and where you were in your life at that time?
I was actually in a town called Greenville, Texas, which is near Dallas. I found out because my partner at that time -- and we had been together for six years -- through his job, they had a blood drive. He went to give blood, and he got a call back that said he needed to go get checked.
Once he went and got checked, of course, [next came] the procedure of giving the names of the people that you've been with. So me, being his partner for that length of time, I got checked. I had to go get checked. And it came up positive. We found out together.
But afterwards, because we didn't want anyone to know -- because of stigma and fear -- and we were basically around his family, we didn't seek treatment. We didn't even try to find a doctor.
But I didn't know anything about it. I had not really tried to educate myself about it at that time. Later, unfortunately, me and my partner split up, and I moved to Memphis.
Between your diagnosis and moving to Memphis, what was the period of time with that?
When I moved to Memphis, it was in June. I have two daughters, and they were both living in Memphis. At that time, they were teenagers in high school. So a lot of stuff was going on with them as well; that's why I wanted to be closer to them. When I moved to Memphis, I found a doctor once I got a job. I didn't tell them that I was HIV positive. They never checked, either.
The doctors, they never checked. I didn't tell them. They were treating me for diabetes, and this was in June 2005. I went a year, and June 2006 is when I really started getting ill. When I was going to the doctor, they were like, "Let us give you medicine," for my glands. Still no test for HIV.
I ended up in the hospital. Actually, I noticed I was losing a lot of weight, noticed I was getting tired, noticed I couldn't hold food down. I remember it was June the 6th. I had taken off work to go to the doctor, because I was feeling really bad. That evening, when I made it home, I got a call from a friend that lived in Dallas, who worked at a funeral home, who actually told me that my partner had died. So that's a date I never forget. I always go 6/6/6; so it was June 6, 2006.
That week my health was really getting worse. My family was in Mississippi. From Memphis to Mississippi is like two hours apart. They came that Sunday and they were trying to make me eat. They saw I couldn't, so they took me to the hospital. Actually, I had went to the hospital that Saturday night. They kept me there for five hours. Then they released me [even though] my temperature was 103 to 105 degrees.
So when my family came, they took me to the hospital -- my mother and most of my aunts and uncles. And my mother has 11 brothers and sisters. They came, and they were cooking and all that, but I couldn't eat. So they finally took me to the hospital, and they accepted me right away, and put me in what they call "almost-ICU." I think it was two or three days before they actually came to a conclusion of what was wrong.
So then what happened? Did you tell your family?
Well, the doctor came in. My mother took off work and was there with me the whole time. But at this time she had either stepped out of the room, or she was -- I have a sister that lives in Memphis, also, and she was at my sister's house or something, taking a break, because she was staying there with me overnight.
He came in and told me that I had a fungus. I don't remember the name of it. It was caused by AIDS. At that point, he told me my CD4 count was 7. And I didn't understand, because I really didn't know what it was. So he just told me it was 7; I don't remember what he said the viral load was. When he told me, he said, "You don't have to tell your mother that. We can tell her something else."
I was like, "No. I need to tell my mother." Because my mother is a very strong Christian woman. And I was like, "I need prayer right now." So once my mother came in, I told her. I was afraid to tell her, because I hate to see my mother cry. So I thought that's what she was going to do. But she was like, "You're going to be OK. God got you. You're going to be OK." And I never saw her cry.
Now, shortly, she left the room; she may have cried then. But I never saw her cry. Her being strong for me, actually, I think helped. And she didn't treat me any different. She treated me as her son. I mean, she was there in the hospital. I was too weak to even get up to use the bathroom at times. When the nurses came to bathe me, she would be like, "Do you want me to bathe you instead of the nurses?" So she would really do everything that a mother actually would do.
At this point, my mother was the only one that knew. And we talked about that. Once I built up some strength, she asked me, "Who do you want to tell? Or how do you want to tell?"
At that point, we decided to just tell my sisters. I don't have any brothers, just sisters.
How many sisters do you have?
I have three sisters. Once I got out of the hospital, my mother came to Memphis. I think she had left the day before I got out. My daughters actually came to the hospital and got me out.
How old were they at that point?
At that time, the oldest one was, if I'm not mistaken, 19. The youngest one was 17. And I ended up staying that night, until my mother came with my ex-wife. I still wasn't feeling good. So my mother came and got me, along with one of my sisters. They brought me back to Metcalf, my home town, to my mother's house. I was still very weak. At that time, my mother was living in an apartment, so she lived upstairs. It was just hard, even just walking up those stairs.
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