I first learned of PrEP a few years ago at WORLD, a nonprofit organization I volunteer with that serves and advocates for HIV-positive cisgender [women assigned female at birth] and trans women and also provides testing and education about HIV awareness and prevention. One of the peer advocates invited me to join a panel discussion about PrEP. The whole idea sounded amazing to me, yet almost seemed unreal; I guess kinda far-fetched.
I enjoyed the panel, but didn't do any of my own research. It never came across my mind that the medication might be something I'd be interested in taking myself. I did another panel for PrEP sometime later, yet still never considered the medication for personal use.
A few years later I was asked to come on board with PANGAEA to further discuss PrEP and how we might spread the word. We also discussed possible stigmas about the drug as well as reasons people may or may not want to, or be able to, start taking PrEP. I'm currently still active on that board.
A meeting or so into the service, I decided that PrEP seemed right for me. I found it to be beneficial for me because I had two sex partners and wanted to protect us all and improve my chances of remaining HIV negative. I am aware that PrEP doesn't prevent other STIs or pregnancy, but I think using it is a good choice for me to prevent HIV. I also thought that it would be helpful if I was on the medication myself to be more relatable when I discuss possible use with others.
My mother was diagnosed with HIV when I was about 11 or 12 years old and she takes Truvada [PrEP's brand name] as a part of her daily regime, so I asked her how it made her feel when she started taking it. She reported no serious side effects, which put me at ease.
I changed my health care over to Lifelong Medical Center in Oakland, where I was treated with so much love and respect! The staff there is always so good to me: they answer any questions I may ever have and make all my appointments around my schedule. Being a full time student, it can be hard to keep appointments so I would really appreciate that about them. I was actually the first person to sign up for their PrEP study when it launched in May of this year.
The only side effects I noticed were slight headaches and diarrhea while my body was getting used to the medication. Those side effects only lasted a few weeks, and weren't bad enough to make me want to stop taking the medication.
My alarm on my cell phone reminds me to take my medication, and as long as I have food in my stomach I don't get an upset stomach anymore. I'm now a POL (Popular Opinion Leader) for PrEP: I go into communities and on social media to educate and seek out people who may also benefit from the use of PrEP.
Christina Palacios is a 34-year-old full time student. She is from Oakland, California and has been on PrEP since May of 2016.