On Dating and Finding Love as a Woman Living With HIV
November 20, 2013
How has your cancer-related health been recently?
I've been cancer free for four years. I think Oct. 13, 2008, was the day I had my last treatment. It was either the date I had my last treatment or the day I found out that I was cancer free, which was right around the same time I ended treatment. The five-year mark is the first big milestone in being cancer-free. But four years: I'm feeling pretty good about it. [Editor's note: Andrea recently hit that five-year mark!]
Talk a little bit about your health generally -- how it's been in relation to HIV, and what you do to keep healthy.
OK. Health-wise, I am on the meds these days. I was a holdout for a long, long, long time. Actually, a surprisingly long time, considering I found out I was HIV positive in 1987. The first time I tried a cocktail was 2001, many years later, and I was only on that first regimen for six weeks.
I was actually training for the National AIDS Marathon at the time, in Chicago, to raise money for AIDS programs. My T cells were down and viral load was up. I thought, if I want to do this marathon, maybe I should go on these meds. I ended up feeling way crappier on the meds.
Do you remember what regimen you were on at the time, or what you started with?
Yeah. I was on Combivir, which has AZT in it [and 3TC]. I was always such a big anti-AZT person before that. I even had got up on a soapbox and talked about how bad I thought that stuff was. Because, in the beginning with monotherapy, I saw my peers in their 20s taking this stuff around the clock, every six hours, in huge dosages. I would meet them at a conference or seminar, whatever, and I'd be going to their funeral four or five months later. So I avoided that.
The specialist doctor who I saw for Epstein-Barr was very, very cool. I was still getting these shots (B12, magnesium and folic acid) every other week, and was doing that for eight years, till I moved to New Mexico with my first husband. I actually continued to do it, and learned how to give myself the shots.
I had pressure from a lot of my peers to go on the meds for a long time. People were actually angry with me because I wasn't on the meds like they were doing. I think part of that anger was, I was doing well. I was healthy. I think that's where a lot of the anger came from. I think there was a lot of jealousy involved. It was a huge thing for a long time.
The first regimen that I was on was Viramune [nevirapine] and Combivir. I had nausea and headaches, and I didn't feel good at all. Then I went off that. The regimen I'm on now is Intelence [etravirine, TMC125], Isentress [raltegravir] and Epzicom [abacavir/3TC, Kivexa]. This has been a great regimen for me. I've been doing really well. At the very beginning, I had some problems with nausea, but they went away.
What led you to the decision to start taking that regimen, ultimately, and to start taking HIV meds again?
Starting again had to do with my T-cell count. And I had seen my viral load go up and down. I had seen it get as high as 300,000 when I wasn't on the meds, during a very stressful period in my life. I had always said to myself, if my T cells go under 200, I'm just going to go on these meds. I'm not going to be a fool; I'm just going to do it.
And it actually happened where they hit 200 and under that, where I still did not go on the meds. I went to North Carolina, did ozone therapy for three weeks, and changed my health around. In 1995, I did that. So I held out. When my T cells hovered in the 200s I did go on the meds.
When I started my first regimen, in 2001, the first six weeks, it was just a difficult decision to start after going so long without starting and arguing with people. And then I felt like crap and I was training for this marathon, and so I went off them. It felt wonderful. Because my viral load was lowered. In that six weeks, it was actually lowered a huge amount.
Switching gears back again: When and where did you meet your current husband?
Oh, I love that you asked me that! My current husband and I re-met each other at our 20-year high school reunion. We've known each other since the fourth grade. We even had a little fifth-grade romance for about five days. It was the last week of fifth grade at that elementary school. The fifth grade went to the Santa Monica Mountains for a program called "Outdoor Education," and stayed in cabins. It was romantic.
Then it was summer, and then we started middle school. Over the summer, the romance didn't last. We didn't stay in touch. We were little kids. We didn't drive, or anything. So we had classes together: middle school, high school, same grade, everything. Didn't really talk to each other much, you know, if at all.
Then we graduated. He got married to a Nicaraguan woman, and I got married to a Chicano guy. He had a daughter. We both divorced after three years, which was both of our choices. Our 10-year reunion came and went. Neither of us wanted to go, because neither of us liked the school -- we, in fact, couldn't stand it.
And then the 20-year reunion came along. We were both divorced at that time.
We had people talk us into going, so we both went. When we were there -- this is kind of funny -- I was in the buffet line at the reunion. Robert was behind me in line, so I wasn't facing him. But he saw me, and he goes, "Andrea!" I thought, Wow, whoever this is knows me by my butt. My booty has got them recognizing me.
And, sure enough, he copped to it. Yeah. All these years later. I turned around. "Robert!" And immediately, when I saw him, both of us felt like we were back in that fifth-grade romance again. It was the coolest thing, and we've been together ever since then. We're going on our 10-year wedding anniversary in December.
Thank you. Thanks.
It sounds as if he's been very supportive of your work, and fine with your HIV status. Has that been true since the beginning?
Once he made the decision, after entering a sexual relationship with me -- because we were dating and stuff, and I was holding off as long as I could to even tell him I was positive, which was about two weeks. We were going on a lot of dates, and he was trying to be really romantic. And I was giving these mixed messages because I liked him, but I had earlier experiences with even kissing a guy before I told him and then they freaked out. So I was really careful.
And then I told him after two weeks. He was very compassionate and sweet, right from the start. At the time I told him, he had been wondering, "Are you a lesbian? Do you even like me?" So when I told him, he was like, "Oh, that had to have been so hard for you all this time to have to keep that a secret." But he didn't say right away that he wanted to continue the relationship.
Around that same time, this earlier boyfriend who infected me with HPV, who I'd broken up with, was calling me all the time, trying to get back together. He wanted to marry me. One time, Robert was at my house and on the answering machine, Dan, this guy, was just leaving this long, drunken, "I want you back" message.
Well, that was kind of the day that Robert decided, "Yeah, I'm going to go for this." And he really has been wonderful, right from the start. It's the first time I've been in a relationship with an HIV-negative man (which was almost all of my relationships) where my HIV status has not been an issue at all. I feel normal. I feel like how I felt pre-HIV, when I felt like a normal person. So it's awesome. I love it.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Olivia Ford is the executive editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.