This Positive Life: An Interview With Anthony Castro and Frank Lopez
February 1, 2011
Welcome to This Positive Life! We have with us Anthony Castro and Frank Lopez, a loving couple from San Francisco. In 2000, Anthony, a then-19-year-old immigrant from Chile, discovered he was HIV positive. With an initial CD4 count of four, he was given only six months to live. Anthony's partner, Frank, was diagnosed in 2007. He had been living a party lifestyle after a long year of heartbreak and financial frustration. Anthony and Frank tell us about their experiences living with HIV; how they met and fell in love; and how they cope with the cultural stigma they both face for being both positive and gay.
Bonnie Goldman: Welcome to This Positive Life. I have an amazing couple with me today. They will introduce themselves and tell you a little bit about their story. Anthony, why don't you start?
Anthony Castro: Hi. My name is Anthony. I'm 28, and I was diagnosed with HIV in the year 2000. I just came to this country that year, in February, and in May I was diagnosed with HIV.
Bonnie Goldman: Where did you come from?
Anthony Castro: I came from Chile.
Bonnie Goldman: What, you came as a tourist?
Anthony Castro: I came as a tourist. Basically, I was thinking of staying in the country, but I was not really sure, coming from a Latin country where gays are not well seen. Basically, they get discriminated a lot and even sometimes harassed on the streets. I wanted to see a new country, probably for me to live in. So I was in that process. I came in February. Unfortunately, my family didn't like it that much, so they left before me.
Bonnie Goldman: What made you get tested?
Anthony Castro: I was dating this person, and he wanted to have unprotected sex. For that reason, we decided to get tested before that. I got tested and I found out that I was HIV positive.
Bonnie Goldman: What did you feel like? What did you know about HIV when you were first diagnosed?
Anthony Castro: I didn't know much about HIV. Basically, I knew what people would tell me. It was a "gay disease." It was a "death sentence." So I was really scared. I didn't want to get it. But it happened. Unfortunately, when I went to the doctor it was my first doctor experience in this country.
Bonnie Goldman: How did you go to the doctor? Did you have insurance?
Anthony Castro: No, I didn't have insurance. I went under this person's insurance. He could take some people with him. So that's how I got tested.
Unfortunately, the doctor didn't know much [about] how to talk to people with the virus. He told me I was really sick. He told me not to make plans for the end of the year because I was too sick, that basically, I should start making my peace with everybody. Yeah, I mean, he didn't know how to speak to someone. I mean, it's shocking news, telling somebody that you have a disease that has no cure yet.
Bonnie Goldman: But in 2000 there was good treatment.
Anthony Castro: Yeah, there was good treatment. But he told me that with the way that the virus was advancing on my body, treatment would make me even worse, that my body would now resist the treatment because I was too sick. So he said, "It wouldn't have any importance for you to take meds because they will make you sicker than you are."
Bonnie Goldman: What were your numbers?
Anthony Castro: My T-cell count got to be 4, and my viral load got to be 6 million. So I was -- yeah, I was really sick. I was. I didn't look that sick at the time. But with time, I started to lose my hair. Then I lost my nails. Then I lost my toenails, too. I got really skinny.
Bonnie Goldman: Did you start treatment?
Anthony Castro: No, because of what the doctor said.
Bonnie Goldman: Oh, so you just thought it was over.
"So for a 19-year-old guy, to tell him at 19, 'Your life is over,' I started to do anything that I hadn't done before -- meaning, trying drugs, drinking, going to clubs, having sex."
-- Anthony Castro
Anthony Castro: Yeah. The doctor told me that by the end of the year, I shouldn't be alive.
Bonnie Goldman: And so he didn't provide treatment?
Anthony Castro: He didn't provide treatment. He said that it was going to make me sicker.
Bonnie Goldman: Where was this?
Anthony Castro: This was in Miami. It was difficult news, and obviously, I was at the time just 19. So for a 19-year-old guy, to tell him at 19, "Your life is over," I started to do anything that I hadn't done before -- meaning, trying drugs, drinking, going to clubs, having sex (which I hadn't done that much, but the few times that I did, obviously, I got infected).
So I started with this self-destructive behavior that drove me to lose my hair, lose my toenails, my nails. I was so skinny. I'm 5 foot 8. I got to weigh 120 pounds. And my skin was full of rashes. My body was shutting down.
But then the antigen came. And I was still alive. I'd keep getting involved in all this self-destructive behavior, till one day, I realized it was already 2003 -- and I was still alive. So maybe I was not supposed to die. So I started educating myself about the virus. What can I do? Obviously, I've passed the few months of life that they gave me. So there had to be a reason for me to still be alive. So I educated myself about the virus: What could I do?
This article was provided by TheBody.