Enrique Franco, Manassas, Va., diagnosed in 2007
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. At the same token, I demanded people to hear me, to say, "Hey, I have HIV now!"
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's just going to be there. It bugs me sometimes, but I just have to learn to live with that.
I just wanted to let the young ones, the ones that are lost or scared, to know not to be scared. If they just got diagnosed, I don't care how old they are, 18 years old or 50 years old. This is a scary thing, but I don't want anybody to feel scared or anything like that.
I'm not a doctor, but the best diagnosis for me -- and I really think it is for anybody -- is not to put your head down. If you put your head down, you're not going to win. In order for you to combat HIV successfully, you've got to say, "You know what? This is my body, this is my life. I'm not going to stop living. I refuse to put my head down."
I think if I could generate a message to everybody who has just been diagnosed with HIV: If they have that little inkling of hope in their minds and in their hearts and they let the seed take, it'll grow into this big tree that HIV will not be able to cut down at all.
I really get offended when I hear somebody moping about, "It's sad, and I want to feel sorry for myself." You don't have time for that. You really don't. You've got to just keep pushing forward. It's OK to be scared, just don't hang your head!