Through much of her youth, Cathy Olufs felt indestructible. In spite of risky sex and years of crack cocaine use, Cathy thought she wasn't at risk for HIV. "Like a lot of other women, I thought that I wasn't at risk because I was heterosexual. I really thought that it was a disease of intravenous drug users and gay men." For a while, she had a lucky streak with testing; that is, until her third test came back positive.
Cathy was 31 at the time. That news sent her right back to her drug of choice, crack cocaine, and soon after, Cathy's addiction landed her in prison. There she was forced to acknowledge that she needed help. Attending an inmate-run HIV support group, she found the inspiration and the guidance to continue her own self-care and to help others like herself. Since leaving prison in 1996, she has given up drugs and has dedicated herself to working with HIV-positive people.
Cathy is now the education director at the Center for Health Justice, providing HIV education inside correctional settings. Cathy says she found her calling in educating others and motivating by example, as an activist, writer and public speaker.
Since she tested positive, Cathy has also gotten married and completed her bachelor's degree at Antioch University in Los Angeles.
Her health is good, she reports. "Because I have such a broad understanding of HIV and HIV medications, and have seen a lot of people that have had real difficult times with medications ... I don't fool around. I take my medications as I'm supposed to. I really feel like if it is truly possible to take lemons and make lemonade, that's what I have done. And I enjoy my life. I feel like everything has happened and unfolded the way that it was supposed to. I used to be ashamed of my background, but not so much anymore. I would not be the person I am today if I hadn't walked through all the experiences of my life. I am richer because of it."
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