On August 27, 2001, I found out that I was HIV positive. I was surprised, hurt, confused, and angry, all at the same time.
A friend of mine who is a nurse told me that she had noticed visible lymph nodes behind my ears and on the back of my neck. She examined them and suggested that my lymph nodes were swollen. While I was concerned, the possibility of HIV was not on my mind.
Working in the health field, I started looking into "swollen lymph nodes." Among the many possible causes, HIV was mentioned. However, it was on the bottom of my list.
I mentioned my swollen lymph nodes to some members of my family and they suggested that it was probably due to stress. While my mom told me not to stress any more, we all know that this is easier said than done. "As soon as you calm down and take things easier," she said, "the swelling will go away."
I went to see my doctor and he also asked if I had been under stress. However, he decided to run some blood tests, including a test for HIV that he didn't tell me about.
I found out I was being tested for HIV in a terribly roundabout way. My brother learned that I was being tested for HIV from the receptionist at my doctor's office and proceeded to ask me in front of my mother why I was being tested. Naturally, I denied that I was being tested for the virus, as I honestly didn't know that my doctor had drawn blood for this purpose.
Now that I think about it, I was ashamed to learn that I was being tested for HIV. The fact that my family found out I was being tested for HIV would likely open the doors to too many questions about my sex life that I wasn't ready to answer. But I was a divorced woman who had had only one sexual partner to speak of since separating from my ex-husband four years earlier.
I returned to my doctor ten days after my initial visit, and was told that there was a "problem" with my bloodwork and that another round of testing would be necessary. Meanwhile, I was becoming even more stressed and my swollen lymph nodes were becoming painful. I thought I was dying.
I decided to call my insurance company because I was tired of waiting. They told me that my life coverage had been changed to accidental coverage due to my blood results, but didn't provide any specific details. That afternoon, I received a letter from the insurance company with the same vague news.
I went to see my doctor that evening, told him about my phone conversation with my insurance company, and showed him the letter. I learned then that I was HIV positive. He told me not to stress, that it wasn't a death sentence.
I was bombarded by a lot of feelings, but fear was not one of them. Perhaps more out of anger, I remember telling my doctor that I would never die from AIDS, not in this lifetime. It took some dealing with, but I learned that there are so many people living with HIV who are happy and healthy. I intended to do everything in my power to make sure that I remained a survivor.
I have a beautiful, bubbly, and very intelligent daughter who will be turning ten years old in April. She's my reason for living. My brother, who I told about my HIV status the day I found out, has been very supportive and I love him for it.
It took some time after my diagnosis to tell my mother. It took some courage to tell her, and she received the news very well. I even told a friend of mine, and she was very happy I told her. She told me that she'll be there for me any time of the day. Ever since I told people around me about my status, I've felt much better and freer. I would say my life is back to normal.
I also befriended a doctor who works at the clinic I work at, and he's been a great friend so far and he's also been supportive. He explained everything about my disease and helped me understand much more about it.
What inspired me is all the personal letters I read on a website for women living with the HIV. I think that I am going to live for as long as God wants me to live, and I am going to live my life the way I want. I told myself that I am not going to allow anyone to judge me. I began to take better care of myself and decided to go back to the gym and eat healthier. I'm not ready to give up on life.
I would like to tell all those women who are struggling to cope with the disease that it is not a death sentence and that you can have a long life, as long as you take your medication and live a healthy lifestyle. Don't be ignorant about HIV. Gather as much information as you can — this is what I did and it helped me to accept my situation very quickly.
Don't be afraid to ask your doctor questions, especially when you feel you don't understand. I live in a country where hundreds of people are still dying of AIDS every day because they are not well informed about the disease. Some are ashamed and afraid to go to the hospitals to get antiretrovirals (ARVs) and other life-saving medications, and some don't have access to the ARVs because they live in rural areas where hospitals are far from their homes. I hope this will change with time.
Soon after my diagnosis I also began to work at my clinic with women like me living with HIV, by providing information and education. My hope is to provide as much support as I found when I was diagnosed. Support is very important to living a healthy life.
Lots of love!