This Positive Life: Nicole on Advocacy, Dancing and Making the Most of Life
March 20, 2013
Nicole Price switched from condoms to birth control as a form of pregnancy prevention with her long-time boyfriend, thinking that HIV was something that happened to "other people." After they broke up, he got sick, and she discovered that they were both HIV positive. Before her diagnosis, she had a troubled past that included meth use and dropping out of high school. Since her diagnosis, she has graduated from college with a degree in computer technology, become a program manager at the BABES Network -- YWCA in Seattle advocating for women with HIV, and has learned the importance of being non-judgmental.
Though hip surgery has made walking a chore for her in the past year, Nicole never misses a chance to dance on the weekends. Dancing is her de-stresser and her main form of exercise. She loves live music, she actively dates and she has found her voice by helping other women become educated and take control of their health. She is living proof that HIV is not a death sentence -- quite the opposite, it's given her a new life that she is proud to live!
Can you start by describing how you found out you were HIV positive?
Well, it was September of 2000 and I had been dating a guy for five years, but we broke up. And it had been a year since we had broken up and he got really sick and wasn't sure what was going on. He was having really bad flu, and didn't know what was going on. We were still really good friends and cared about each other. He ended up in the hospital, and about two weeks later, found out he had full-blown AIDS. So, he told me, and then I had to be tested. And I had to wait two weeks for the results. That was a very long two weeks. And I also tested positive. That was the end of October of 2000.
And how old were you then?
What did you think and how did you feel when you got news of the diagnosis?
Since I had to wait for two weeks, I had some time to think about it, researched a lot online. Kinda was trying to diagnose myself. I had an idea that I had it because I had gotten flu-like symptoms two years before, and got really sick for about two weeks straight. I couldn't keep anything down. So that kept sticking in my head. I had a good idea that I was going to be positive. But I was hoping I wasn't. When I got the news, I was in shock. I didn't speak, I didn't cry. I had a girlfriend with me, and I was just silent. I didn't talk probably until the next day; I was just in complete shock.
How long did you feel that way?
I was like that for two weeks, and then I started to get better, but I was probably pretending that it wasn't happening. And my ex-boyfriend was really sick, so I was trying to help take care of him when he got out of the hospital, because we were still friends. I was making sure he was taking his meds, and everything, because he had two opportunistic infections, so he was really sick. I kinda focused on helping him, and not thinking about it. And my counts were really good at the time, so I kinda just put it on him. I am a caretaker, so.
What was the first thing that you did that helped you come to terms with your diagnosis?
At first, I didn't want to tell anyone. I didn't want to tell my family and let them down. I was a meth user and I dropped out of high school. And I felt like, "Here's something my parents can't save me from, or fix." And I just felt horribly awful. So, I didn't tell them at first, but I think once I started telling my parents I felt better. I had someone else help me tell them, and they were very supportive. And once I started telling people and learning more about it, I felt better about it.
Did you realize that you were at risk for HIV at the time you were infected?
No, I had no idea. My boyfriend was 12 years older than me. We did use, but I never used injection drugs. For the most part, we used condoms. I was always worried about getting pregnant. So once I started birth control, I didn't even think of it. I mean, you don't think that things like that are gonna happen to you. That happens to other people. So, no, I never thought I was at risk.
What ended up happening to your boyfriend?
He ended up getting better. He started medication right away, and was doing really well. He got clean. I struggled with getting clean; I think I was trying to hide from a reality. But, he ended up getting better. We were going to get back together at that time, but we decided not to. But he started to do a lot better.
So, you believe you know, with certainty, who you got your HIV from.
Were you ever able to talk to him about whatever feelings there were from you about being infected by him?
Well, he felt really guilty because I was so much younger, and I had never done any drugs before. So, he had this guilt that he got me started on meth, and now, here, he gave me HIV. And I was young, and he felt really guilty about it. But, I didn't blame him. He didn't force me to do drugs. I didn't say, "Let's go get tested together." "Here, let's use condoms." He didn't really know about it, so I was never really upset with him about it. He was, sort of, after I was diagnosed, a big brother to me. He was trying to help me get clean and help me get better. But I was never really mad at him for it. It's my responsibility too.
Did you say that your parents were the first people you told about your diagnosis?
No, the first person I told was an older woman that was trying to help me get clean. A friend of the family. I called her from the hospital. And, then, one of my girlfriends went with me to get tested. And I told another couple of friends. And then, of course, it kind of got out to other people.
How did you start the conversation when you would disclose to people during that time? That first person you told, that mentor, how did you start that conversation?
Well, she knew that he had been sick, and we all thought it might be cancer or something. We had no idea. So, I called her from the hospital and told her, "He has full-blown AIDS. And, there's a chance I could have HIV and I need to get tested." And that's all I said to her. But, once I started, it was pretty easy for me to tell, it was sort of this feeling of relief to tell people. So it wasn't that hard, it's just, "He was sick, we found out what it was, and I have HIV." I was maybe a little too honest about telling folks.
Was there any filter? How did you make the decision whether or not to tell a particular person you were positive?
No, there wasn't [Iaughs]. You know, I told the people that I worked for. I had two different jobs. I was waitressing, I told them. There wasn't really any set format that I used. I just told them. I figured, if it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone. And a lot of people should know about, because they don't really think about. They think it happens to other people who do different things.