Fourteen years ago I walked through the doors of Test Positive Aware Network scared, lonely and afraid. What I found was hope, friendship, and the tools to help me survive with HIV. Back then the meeting rooms were packed with people, wall-to-wall, standing room only, people hungry for knowledge and fellowship. AZT, Louise Hay and Co-Q 10 were the buzzwords in treatment. Combination therapy meant going to a support group with your partner. Constant reminders of sickness and death were everywhere you looked, and memorial services were all too common.
But in the midst of all that, and out of that, grew what you hold in your hands today. And this issue gets back to the basics. In order to win the fight against HIV, you must first learn everything you can about the virus to gain the upper hand. It's like going back to school. You've got to eat, live and breathe HIV. You'll need to immerse yourself in your studies. You'll want to learn enough so that you can work with your healthcare provider to design a treatment program -- one that you can live with, that you can adhere to, and that works for you. If you are not currently receiving care, accessing treatment and services is half of the battle. If you live in Chicagoland, the new 2005 Chicago Area HIV Services and Professionals Directory, published by Test Positive Aware Network and funded by the Ryan White CARE Act, is a great place to start. To find out more about services where you live, visit www.tpan.com. Whether you're negative or positive, you need to protect yourself and others not only from HIV, but also from other sexually transmitted infections. And if you are suffering from lipodystrophy or peripheral neuropathy, there are now new treatments available and on the horizon.
We've fought hard to get to where we are today. Armed with the right information, we can empower ourselves to take back control, and live longer, healthier lives. Thanks to the many activists, clinical trial participants, researchers, organizations and individuals who somehow found the courage to carry on despite the odds, you and I can reap the benefits.
One of those individuals in the struggle was Charles E. Clifton. Charles, the former editor of Positively Aware, died suddenly and unexpectedly on August 15th. I had spoken with Charles on the phone just a few days before he died. He was home recuperating from a recent hospital stay. I explained to him that his e-mail box was full, and I asked him if he could download the e-mail onto his laptop. I told him, "You don't have to read it," and he laughed. "Don't worry, I won't," he said. And then, a very uncharacteristic "Ouch" came out of his mouth (Charles was never one to complain). And I never asked him, "What's wrong?" After we spoke a few more words, he said, "I'll see you on Monday." And then I said goodbye. I said goodbye to someone, who more than any other person in the fourteen years that I've been associated with TPAN, was a walking, living testament to what it meant to be self-empowered. Charles led by example, his door was always open, he had a contagious laugh, and a smile that made you want to smile back. I've lost both my mother and my father, and without ever realizing it, Charles was someone who had come into my life at just the right place and time. He made me feel not alone, he had faith in me, he trusted me, and he guided me. And through his example, I became more empowered and self-confident. He had that effect on so many of us, that's why his death has been especially difficult. But I know that his life, and his work, had meaning. And that's the most anyone could ask for, and the legacy I hope to leave as well.
We now know so much more about how this virus works, and there are so many more options in treatment, that we owe it to ourselves and those who have gone on before us to learn as much as we can, to take care of ourselves and each other, and to give something back in return. By volunteering at an AIDS service organization, joining a community planning group, or simply reaching out to someone in need, you honor those who have gone before you. Take charge of your life, act responsibly and share what you learn. Yes, with knowledge comes power. But with that power comes responsibility.