Living with a life-threatening disease is no easy feat. It's especially difficult when you've got other problems. We asked HIV-positive Hispanic men and women to tell us some of the things that help them survive day to day.
Here's their advice.
DON'T LET HIV Define You!
"It's only been seven or eight months since I was diagnosed. Initially, I was paranoid. All of a sudden I didn't want to hug people. I felt like I was an alien or whatever. I didn't want to get anybody sick or anything like that. My mom, she still gets on me. She says, 'Your HIV does not make you who you are as a person. It does not define you.' Today, honestly, I can say that I treat HIV like it's a pebble in my shoe. I have it, and it's going to be there. I can't take off the shoe and dump the pebble out. It bugs me sometimes, but I just have to learn to live with that."
-- Enrique Franco, diagnosed in 2007
Don't Be Afraid to Find Love!
"Finding love has been hard, but I am with a man who is also positive and who has been living with HIV longer than I have, so he is an inspiration to keep on going."
-- Javier Fontanez, diagnosed in 1999
You're Not HIV! You're You!
"I went to a women's group. The first thing this lady said was, 'I've been diagnosed for a year, and I don't think I'm ever going to date again and I'm never going to have sex.' I remember I looked at her and I said, 'No, you'll be okay. You watch, in another year you'll be fine.' The next year she met someone and they're already living together. I said, 'You see!' The person is negative. There's hope. You're not HIV. You are you. You have a soul just like everyone else."
-- Damaries Cruz, diagnosed in 1991
Make the Best of Your Life!
"I figure I went down this road, this path of having HIV through my drug addiction, and then through all these complications, for a reason. It's best to do something with that experience, to move forward, maybe help other people in the same situation that I've gone through. HIV has definitely given me direction, that's for sure. It's made me responsible for my health; it's made me responsible in many different aspects of appreciating life and going forward."
-- James Nicacio, diagnosed in 2001
Stay Calm! Don't Give Up!
"Don't give up! Educate yourself—this is extremely important. Find something that appeals to your psyche, to your inner peace, to help you deal with the information you will be getting, because some of it will be scary as hell. If you have something inside you that keeps you calm, you will navigate through things beautifully."
-- Lucia, diagnosed in 1989
"I would say take things day by day. Feel your sadness, feel your mourning. However, there will come a point when you need to get proactive to see where your viral load, T cells and overall health are so the doctor can determine when you should begin HAART. Write down a list of priorities. If some things on the list are pulling on your heartstrings more than other things, than do what you need to do, whether that means getting support from friends, family or a significant other. If you are in a housing crisis, don't have insurance, need food, etc., you may want to get hooked up with a case manager right away so that he or she can help you apply for programs you may need."
-- Greg Sanchez III, diagnosed in 1985
ADVERSITY CAN HELP YOU GROW
"Being HIV positive is not an experience one would seek, but you can turn it into something that can make you grow as a human being in terms of knowledge, discipline, being merciful and being compassionate with others. For me, that is crucial."
-- Gabriel Santiago, diagnosed in 1990
Don't Obsess About Your CD4 Count!
"I try to live in the moment and enjoy everything I can. I'm not obsessed with my CD4 count. I know a lot of people who concentrate on their numbers and forget to live their lives. I don't let the disease take over my life—between the morning dose and the evening dose, I have a life to live."
-- John Puig, diagnosed in 1986
Take Care of Your Lovers!
"My ex-lover, who is my roommate today, is still negative. I said to him, 'Baby, I give you back exactly the way I found you, because I have never put you at risk.' Protection, that's my message. Protection, love and care. That's what it takes. People with HIV are like negative people, we need love around us."
-- Fernando Castillo, diagnosed in 1993
Love Yourself So You Can Thrive
"Do you love yourself enough to take treatment on a daily basis? If you don't love yourself, you won't do it."
-- Beatriz Díaz, diagnosed in 1992
USE Inspiring Stories to Heal
"I couldn't tell my parents over the phone. I knew I had to fly to Puerto Rico and let them know.
I was really concerned about how they were going to take it. They're Christian fundamentalists, so I knew my being gay was an issue. I didn't know what to expect. I prepared myself mentally, just in case I was going to get some rejection. Then the day came, and I sat in my parent's living room
and I told them that I had AIDS.
My dad, who is what I like to call a true macho Puerto Rican man, who I had never seen cry, ran into his bedroom, crying. Like really, really, crying. I ran after him and I grabbed him. He put his head on my shoulder and we both cried. To my amazement, they accepted me immediately. I thought they were going to put away the spoons, the cups, so I couldn't use them, because I've heard horror stories from other people. But, no. From day one, they accepted me, and they were there for me. I've been very blessed with having a very supportive family."
-- Rafael Abadia, diagnosed in 1993