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Teniecka Drake: Balancing HIV Advocacy, a Husband and Three Young Children

March 7, 2011

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Have you thought about how you'll talk to your kids about HIV -- whether it's talking to them about your own status; or, when they get older, telling them about how they can protect themselves and practice safer sex?

I've thought about how I would bring it up, but I haven't reached any definite answer. During the sex talk that we are going to have -- on account of, I've got girls and I've got a son, and they're all going to need to know that -- I probably would talk about all the different STIs [sexually transmitted infections] that you can contract from having sexual contact. I would do it age-range appropriate. Because my best way to do it is through storytelling, like I did to my husband, I will bring out a scenario, and then I will bring myself into it. I would start with, "So, what do you think?" -- and then ask them, "Do you know about your Mommy?" I'd explain to them how their mother contracted this illness, and what they can do not to: "You can't put your trust in everybody, and make sure you protect yourself, because Mama didn't do that. Mama didn't do that."

Then I would tell them, from the heart, that Mama's not saying go out there and go do it, and just make sure you wear condoms. Take your time when you're doing this. Because it's a big decision to go out there and sleep with anyone you want. Even if you have a condom on, it could break. [Use your mind, not just your body.] Protect your body, because that's your body. If you get something like HIV, or any of these other diseases that don't go away with a shot or some kind of medicine, you have to deal with that for life. That's a consequence of not protecting yourself.

Make sure you know what you're doing. Because the price to pay is a very long one. And it's a very hard price if you contract something like what Mama has. That's what I would say. So, I know what I want to say; I just haven't figured out the way I will say it. I've kind of got my head wrapped around it. I've got a few years before I have to bring on the big guns with these conversations.

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Switching gears to your professional life: What are you up to now? Are you in school? Do you still work in the HIV field at all?

I'm going to a different school since the last interview. I'm going to Kaplan University online. I'm majoring in business administration -- trying to get my bachelor's degree in that. I would like to use that degree to open either a restaurant or a nonprofit. The nonprofit would be dealing with homelessness and HIV, and all sorts of stuff. I haven't really worked out the kinks in my mind. But that's how I want to use the degree: to help others.

As far as the HIV work: I was doing peer mentoring training just this weekend, Friday and Saturday. I'm going to be helping others that are newly diagnosed with HIV and don't know how to deal with it.

Do you do peer mentoring with a specific organization in your area?

Yes. I do it with S-CAP, which is the Southern Colorado AIDS Project. They also go by Southern Colorado Health Network. They're trying to start up peer mentoring for their newly diagnosed people that are having trouble wrapping their heads around what the meds are about, and have questions like: What is a CD4 count? What is a viral load? What are these things I'm dealing with? Why am I sick? All of that. Just being a mentor: taking them by the hand and letting them know how they can go about their life, and knowing that it's not a death sentence, and that they can make it.

It's a six-month program. After that they should be able to go out and get resources and be a little stronger than they were when they first came to you all wound up and not knowing what direction they wanted to go, feeling a little lost and isolated -- all that stuff that people with HIV mostly deal with, the emotional toll and all of that. So when we get it started up, I can't wait to do it.

I'm also going to be in Ebony magazine -- in their April 2011 issue, their inaugural spiritual issue. I'm looking forward to that. I've already done the photo shoot. I'm just waiting for the April magazine to come out and go get me a copy.

The section is about people who have gone through different obstacles, and how their faith has helped them get through it. The interviewer found me on Who's Positive [a Web site that raises HIV awareness by showcasing the first-hand accounts of young adults coping with HIV]. I think she also saw me on TheBody.com. She read my story on either one, or both, and she said she was so impressed that she wanted to use me as the lead in a story. I was really excited.

With all of the activities that you're involved in, how do you manage childcare? Are you and your husband just really strong partners, as far as the childcare piece?

My husband does not work. He's not happy about it. He got laid off from his trucking job back in 2009, and he's got some issues dealing with that. But since he hasn't been able to go to work, it's just perfect that, if I need to go somewhere, or I have to travel or even go to different parts of Colorado Springs, he can stay home with the children. He doesn't have any qualms about it, and we don't have to worry about paying for childcare, which is really expensive. We just do handoffs like that. And I promised him I'd get him an EVO phone. So I owe him that, to upgrade his cell phone.

I give him gratitude and little things that he wants to show him that I still appreciate him. If he's tired, and wants to take a nap, and I'm awake and just doing my schoolwork, I'll watch the kids for him. You know, just give him that time away. So he gets what he needs and he keeps doing what he does as a good dad, and a great husband. And he gives me a day off from cooking, and things like that. So I do think we're really strong. We switch off. We make sure that we compromise.

Switching gears again: How do you access your HIV meds, and your health care in general?

Since I was in the military and I'm a vet, I get my medication from the VA [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs]. That's part of my service-connected disability, which means that my medications from them are totally -- and always will be -- free. I just tell them, "Hey, I'm running out of Kaletra [lopinavir/ritonavir]" or, "I'm running out of Epzicom [abacavir/3TC, Kivexa]," or whatever meds that I need. They say, "OK, let's just send it to you. How many bottles are you short?" Or, "You just order what you need," and it just comes.

I'm so fortunate, and actually, very happy that I don't have to deal with ADAP [AIDS Drug Assistance Program]. When I first got diagnosed and I had to use it for a little bit, they were doing good. They had an apothecary who was a supplier of the medication in Boulder. Now they've switched to a Walgreens and it's a little bit more complicated, and a little bit more difficult. I've been hearing about wait lists, and all different types of stuff. I'm just so glad that I don't have to go through that route, and have to fight and re-fill out forms and documents. I'm just glad I don't have to deal with that part.

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This article was provided by TheBody.com.
 
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