November 20, 2008
Greetings, my friends!
Years ago I worked as director of an agency for people living with HIV/AIDS, and although the work was satisfying, I was irritated with one principle of the agency: "You don't know what it's like if you are not HIV positive."
Really? It seems our caregivers get a pretty good idea. One of the most unintentionally hurtful things my brother Dick's late lover said to him, as my brother cared for him throughout his illness, was "you don't know what it's like." My brother had a horrific front row seat to his lover's disease and dying process. Isn't that close enough to understand?
This comes to mind because I've spent the last month caring for my oldest brother, Hal, in Michigan, as he suffered through the last of his chemotherapy for lung cancer. I've taken him to doctor appointments, watched over his meds, and lain sleepless listening to his late night coughing fits. I learned how to change the bandages from an open wound in his chest where his left lung used to be. I discussed with him his plans should his life expectancy suddenly shorten. Don't tell me I don't know what it is like to live with cancer.
My video blog below takes you to Grand Rapids, Mich., where you'll meet Hal and even my 102-year-old grandmother, who has her own opinions on longevity.
Caring for Hal also took me out of myself, out of my disease, and allowed me to focus on another person. This has been my gift this holiday: to be there for Hal and to put my own HIV infection into perspective. And what have I learned?
That my HIV disease, and HIV in general, is not so unique, as much as my self-centeredness wants to say otherwise. Those of us living with HIV are, however, uniquely qualified in one respect: helping others going through difficult times medically, regardless of the diagnosis.
If you are fortunate enough to be living in good health with HIV, here's a holiday suggestion for you: Reach out to those who might benefit from your empathy and compassion, whether it's a friend with HIV, a brother with cancer or someone elderly confined to a nursing home. You're qualified.
In the meantime, please be well.
To contact Mark, click here.