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This Positive Life: An Interview With Richard Brodsky

April 1, 2011

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Olivia Ford: That's amazing. Now how would you say your relationships with family and friends have changed since you've been diagnosed and been so open about your HIV status?

Richard Brodsky: My wife's my best friend. We celebrated our 30th anniversary by running a marathon last year. The kids are a little tough on me. They see it, well, why don't I go back to work? I was a successful architect. But it's a little hard for me. From the brain cancer, there are times I just need to lie down and rest during the day. I get headaches easily. And it just feels right what I'm doing now.


Olivia Ford: Well, switching gears a little bit, especially because you mentioned the brain cancer just now, talk a little bit about what your health has been like since your HIV diagnosis. You said that your T cells started to go down a little bit. You started meds, it sounds like, fairly early on. But please talk a little bit about your HIV health and then also how you found out you had brain cancer.

Richard Brodsky: I'd been basically on Combivir (AZT/3TC) and Viracept (nelfinavir) since 1997. My T cells, generally, they're always in the range of 1000 and the viral load is undetectable. I've been very fortunate. I really haven't had these opportunistic infections. What happened was after I wrote this book -- this is getting into the brain cancer -- I was going on a book tour. It was really exciting coming back to New York. It was pretty much the most exciting week in my life. I was really looking forward to it. Jodi and I were going to be running in the New York City Marathon. Pfizer was considering having Jodi and I as spokespeople for their medicine. I was doing a book signing at Barnes and Noble near the White House. I was doing one in Greenwich Village at their store. I was speaking at American University and NYU. So everything was really, really going good.

At the book signing at Barnes and Noble, though, I had a seizure. A few weeks later, Pfizer wasn't interested in me anymore, but it had nothing to do with being HIV positive. And then a few weeks later, I went from being relatively healthy -- the HIV, I never thought of myself as really being sick from it -- to finding out that I had terminal brain cancer. I was expected to live only two to four years. I guess I'm not like a big tough guy and some people keep these things quiet.

"I went from being relatively healthy -- the HIV, I never thought of myself as really being sick from it -- to finding out that I had terminal brain cancer. I was expected to live only two to four years."

-- Richard Brodsky

I remember calling my eldest daughter and just being really, really upset with everything. She'd been in school in Florida. She came back because I had a book signing in Washington D.C. and authors are not supposed to cancel. Maybe brain cancer would have been an exception but as long as I could stand, I wouldn't miss the book signing. So we went to Washington. We had a really nice time. It was a real bonding experience.

And then the brain cancer was like two days before the marathon. It was going to be a tough one. I had messed my shoulder up pretty bad also -- had a bad fall. And I sort of wanted to get back to running. I would ask my doctors, "When do you think I can run again?" They'd look at me like I was crazy. Like, "Well, here's a list of funeral parlors." All my doctors, after the surgery, they wanted to put me on chemotherapy. I did have radiation.

But I found one doctor -- she's actually a board member of the foundation, Casilda Balmaceda -- she was wonderful. She was like, "No, you don't go on chemo. That's not for you." And I was able to start running again. And a year later, I finished the New York City Marathon. Dr. Balmaceda finished it with me.

Two years from the day of my brain surgery, Jodi and I, we were flying to Africa to participate in the first-ever World AIDS Marathon, an event my foundation sponsored. I think what happened was at a certain point, when they said I had two to four years to live, this was in November 2002, it seemed like I was doing pretty good. I got the feeling, "I don't think this is really going to kill me in two to four years." And my brain oncologist suggested I start a foundation. And I said, "OK, will you be a board member?" And she said, "Yes!"

Olivia Ford: Wow. And now how many years has it been since you were given two to four years?

Richard Brodsky: 2002. It's 2011. So it's about eight and a half years.

Olivia Ford: Wow. How do you think you were able to beat it? I assume you've been in remission for a number of years.

Richard Brodsky: I still go for MRIs every three months -- keeps close tabs on how I'm doing. I did have a seizure about two years ago. I tend to eat healthy. I exercise. I don't drink. I don't smoke. I don't do drugs. I have a very loving, supportive wife. And the running, I think, really helps. I like definite goals, what I want to accomplish with my life, which I think helps a lot. We also sponsor these local runs on Long Island. The comradery of the runners, I think, also is very important. They're very supportive.

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Reader Comments:

Comment by: Jeanne (Tucson Az) Mon., Jan. 27, 2014 at 6:24 pm EST
This was a very uplifting story.The fact that this family was affected by AIDS and was still able not only to survive but thrive and help others is
compelling and inspiring.
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Comment by: Dale (Adelaide, South Australia) Thu., Jun. 23, 2011 at 7:00 am EDT
What a gorgeous story of 2 amazing people & as is often stated throughout history, behind every good man is a great woman.

Well done, I am so happy for you both
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Comment by: Tomica G (Brooklyn, NY) Fri., Apr. 29, 2011 at 6:42 am EDT
As for reading this interview this is a reality check for many people. It's great that you can open up to the public to discuss how you became a HIV victim. Many people think that they can not cathch it just by someone being clean from the outside. Everyone needs to get tested it's just the right thing to do. People need to understand the outcome of what may happen during unprotected sex.
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Comment by: Joseph Ndatala (Tanzania,Shinyanga region.) Tue., Apr. 19, 2011 at 4:35 am EDT
I am achairpeson of Ebeneza Group Community Based Organization,wehave PLWHAs and orphans chidren in our centre.We looking for support to help these people in food,clothes and tretment so we ask you if you can support this people if you need any avidence we will send you if youneed.
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Comment by: Evarist K. (Arusha Tanzania) Thu., Apr. 7, 2011 at 3:18 am EDT
I am encouraged to continue my relation with my positive girlfriend
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Comment by: John Mon., Apr. 4, 2011 at 10:06 pm EDT
WE ALL SHOULD PRAY FOR BOTH Party and stop judging you dont know ive been there
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