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As Long-Term Survivors, We Look Back but Must Continue to Look Forward

April 6, 2017

The past is the past, you can never change it. You must stop looking back and step forward, but not forgetting the memory.

-- Unknown

A long-term survivor of HIV for 27 years and now a man in his mid-fifties, I went through the self-grieving process for myself many years ago when I expected -- and was told by a health care provider -- that I had five, maybe seven years to live. Now, having long outlived that prognosis, I, like so many other long-term survivors, have had to "refocus" and try to adjust my everyday life while not forget the journey with its ups and downs.

Looking back is only normal, I suppose, and while we cannot change things that happened in our past, we can use things learned from the past to guide us into the future, to make us better. I suspect there are a number of people like me out there, who never thought they would be on the frontlines of the AIDS epidemic and especially so in rural America. Taking control of my own life by becoming an advocate, educator and a voice, is just something that grew out of the dark and hopeless days of so many years passed. Representing the rural area as a man with HIV/AIDS became my saving grace, but the flip side of that has been a sometimes isolating life and a feeling that mine is just a lone voice in the overall, larger picture of what HIV/AIDS is today.

Looking back, I am one of two survivors from the original HIV/AIDS support group, Circle of Friends, that met over twenty years ago. Within that group was a wide range of participants who were at varying stages of the illness, including the newly diagnosed, like me. Aged from very young to their fifties and sixties, heterosexual, homosexual, both male and female, we had it all, in regards to diversity. Yet, our common thread was that we were rural citizens, and we all were finding our ways to thrive, and/or survive as best we could. I suppose that is one of the harder memories of the past for me: to know that so many I knew are gone and I have been allowed for whatever reason to still be here. It is with this, however, that the memory of those I knew will not be forgotten.

No doubt, those of us who became infected with HIV did not go out seeking to become infected, although, as I have learned, there are some who possibly do. Yet, speaking for myself, I certainly did not seek it out. I naively met someone who, as it turned out, lied to me about their positive status, and I engaged in unprotected sex with them. So, with that brief encounter, my life was forever changed. I have, however, come to accept my responsibility, or lack thereof, in becoming infected with HIV. Again, it is a hard lesson from the past. But, in order to move forward, I had to let all of that go, in that I could not change the outcome once it had happened.

Certainly, the outlook on HIV/AIDS is vastly different to what it was nearly thirty years ago when I became infected. Treatment options allow us to obtain undetectable viral loads, giving even us long-term survivors hope. So, it is with this that, as I look back, I must continue to look forward, and adjust my life accordingly.

Related Stories

Train of Thought, Then and Now
As Old As You Feel, Aging With HIV
The Balancing Act of Surviving HIV With Limited Resources
More Personal Accounts of Older People With HIV/AIDS

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Positive and Beyond: A Rural Perspective

Harold R. 'Scottie' Scott

Harold R. "Scottie" Scott

Harold R. "Scottie" Scott grew up on the family farm in rural Jackson County, Tennessee, which has a population of less than 10,000. On October 24, 1991, he learned he was infected with HIV via a phone call while at work. This set into motion a personal journey, which would include a very public announcement that he was living with HIV while a featured speaker at a 1994 World AIDS Day program. He has since gone on to volunteer in various capacities, representing the rural person's voice on HIV/AIDS and the issues that are sometimes unique to rural versus urban life. Among other roles, he is a speaker/educator who lives openly with his status while serving as a resource for the newly diagnosed in rural Tennessee. He currently resides some 30 miles east of Nashville, Tennessee.

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