I remember clearly when I met Lark Lands, Ph.D., for the first time in 1994. I saw her coming into a room full of activists in Los Angeles to speak about options to live healthy and survive HIV. This was a time of despair for many of us, as our health was declining and our friends were dying. With her long black hair and great smile, she spoke with urgency, wit and authority about several nutritional and lifestyle choices that could help us improve HIV-related health issues that were robbing us of our lives. Her message was full of hope as she infused her survival skills and resilience into the room. I became a great fan, and we started collaborating while I was lecturing along with Michael Mooney on the use of hormones to reverse wasting syndrome.
Lark practices what she preaches in order to take care of herself. Diagnosed with severe type 1 diabetes as a child, she always refused to accept the pessimistic prognoses of multiple physicians who predicted a greatly shortened lifespan and instead reached out for information on an integrated approach to health. She worked to integrate the best that Western medicine has to offer with all the other components of a total approach to disease, things such as boosting nutrition through healthy eating and nutrient supplementation, physical therapy and mind/body approaches. The result was that she not only outlived all those docs' expectations, but she did so in excellent shape for most of her life, with very little in the way of symptoms and no significant diabetic complications.
In her lectures, Lark would joke that she was the only type I diabetic she knew who was still alive at her age. I remember how sometimes she would rush to the bathroom to inject insulin while people were anxiously waiting to hear speak. She gave us hope and made us feel that there were still things we could do to manage HIV even as many of us were dying.
After 1996, the year effective-but-toxic HIV treatments were introduced, she became one of the main advocates of side-effect management while she traveled around the country preaching her gospel of health and self-reliance. She became the science editor for several magazines including POZ Magazine and helped HIV buyers clubs around the country with educational information for their clients.
"I learned more from Lark about the fundamental biology and metabolism of nutrition and how they relate to HIV than any college Ph.D. courses would have had!" said George Carter, founder of the New York Buyer's Club, when I asked him about Lark's contributions. "Because of her, my own work in understanding how HIV causes AIDS and where there are ways to thwart its damage to the body flowered. I am so grateful know such a remarkable and brilliant, good-hearted and good-humored person as Lark over all these years," he added.
Others who have worked with her recognize her effect on our struggle. Bob Lederer, former POZ editor and ACT UP/NY member, said to me, "Lark is a unique, irreplaceable combination of brilliant research scientist, resourceful integrative healer and generous, empathic counselor. Through her prolific output as a speaker, writer and editor (particularly at POZ, where I was thrilled to work with her as science editor), she has helped saved thousands of lives."
Sadly, Lark is now struggling with Stage 4 metastatic cancer that has spread to her lungs; it has no good treatment options; it came on rapidly and has worsened. She is now on oxygen full-time, unable to be off it for even a minute. But she remains cheerful.
I am part of a group of several key HIV community leaders touched by her work that decided to raise funds for Lark even as she was reluctant to allow us to establish a GoFundMe page. But we argued that she had given the HIV community so much for so many years that she needed to now let us do something for her.
And Lark needs our help. Most of what Lark did working with people living with HIV and with the AIDS orphans project she cofounded in South Africa was done on her own, without a salary and largely uncompensated through much of 30 years. As a result, she has no savings or retirement fund or investments to cash in. She still works as a medical editor, basically living hand to mouth every month. Thus, she doesn't have the financial resources to deal with what she is facing.
Please join us in helping a long-term friend of the community beat her cancer without added financial stress by visiting this page.