Handling Depression and Having Pride After an HIV Diagnosis
June 28, 2012
Welcome to This Positive Life! We have with us Richard Cordova, a 33-year-old gay man from Chicago. Richard was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 2002, which did not surprise him since he had been living a life of hard partying, heavy drug use and unprotected sex at the time. But thankfully, he came across an opportunity for a clean break and ran away with it, literally. He quit the partying and drugs for marathons and 200-mile bike rides, a calling that helped him rediscover his passion for life. Today, Richard is an HIV advocate, working as the director of athletic events at Test Positive Aware Network (TPAN), a spin instructor, a transformational speaker, as well as helping thousands of people every day as TheBody.com's very own safe sex and HIV prevention forum expert!
Richard, welcome to This Positive Life. It's wonderful to have you here today.
Thank you so much. I'm very excited to be here.
Thank you. Can I just get you to introduce yourself? And just tell us what you do, where you're from, where you live.
My name is Richard Cordova, and I do quite a few things. I am the director of athletic events at Test Positive Aware Network. It's a local AIDS service organization here in Chicago. I'm also the safe sex and HIV prevention forum expert on TheBody.com. Thank you, thank you. And I'm also a spin instructor and a transformational speaker. So I'm busy, busy, busy.
Can you talk about how you first found out you were HIV positive?
I found out that I was HIV positive -- I had an all-over body rash. And I thought I was having a breakout from a seaweed wrap I had gotten while I was on a cruise. So I went in to my doctor. He looked at the rash, and he said, "That's syphilis." Then the question that he asked me was, "When was your last HIV test?"
And I said, "It's been about two years."
He said, "It's time for an HIV test."'
I said, "OK," and did the test. The test came back positive. That was in 2002.
So, now, you say it had been two years. So you had been tested in the past for HIV?
OK. So you had a sense that you had some risk that you were experiencing? What did you know before testing positive?
I knew about HIV. I'd say deep down I'm sure I knew about the risks, but I don't think I'd ever actualized them to myself, and thought about, "OK, this is safe sex, and this isn't safe sex," in the sense of making my decisions based on what I knew to be true. I had been engaging in behaviors that definitely -- I knew when he said it's time for a test, I knew that the test was going to come back positive.
I had been partying. I was heavily into crystal meth at the time. And you know, I had been having unprotected receptive anal sex. I knew. I knew the test was going to come back positive. There was no, "Oh my gosh! How did that happen?"
How old were you at the time?
So what did you think? And how did you feel when you first heard your doctor say that your test results were positive?
I definitely was in a state of shock for sure. You know, it was very matter of fact. It was like, "OK, what's the plan? What are we going to do? What's next?"
My doctor said, "Well, the first thing we need to do is, we need to do a viral load test. We need to do a CD4 count. We need to see what state your immune system is in." I came back with 123 CD4 cells, which automatically qualified me for the luxurious title of living with AIDS.
So it was very matter of fact. It was like, "OK, what do we need to do?"
He was like, "Well, I really think we need to start on medication immediately." And so that's what we did. I started on Atripla (efavirenz/tenofovir/FTC). Well, I take that back. I started on the medications that would soon become Atripla. They were, at that point, three medications. So we started on meds.
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