by Dorothy Crouch
The stereotype of HIV/AIDS as a gay man’s problem faded as people from all socio-economic classes, sexual orientations and genders became infected. Many HIV/AIDS patients are now afforded longer, healthier lives as medications, including antiretroviral drugs, are prescribed to stop the reproduction of the virus or maintain health. Under proper supervision of their doctor, HIV positive women are now even able to carry and bear HIV negative children without infecting the father.
The Broken Road
Education, career, marriage and motherhood are all options that every woman should be able to choose. In a world that still searches for an HIV/AIDS cure, infected women struggle to find normalcy in their lifestyle choices–women like Denise from New York City.
Like many of us, Denise made a few destructive and dangerous choices when she was younger. Twenty years of her life were dedicated to a drug addiction that entirely consumed her; it was so powerful that she would not leave her bedroom. Denise gathered the strength to become sober, then in 1994 she received the news she was HIV positive—and lost all hope.
Mentally accepting the diagnosis was almost as debilitating as Denise’s former lifestyle. For a long time she isolated herself, having no desire to see anyone or do anything. Once she reached a turning point, Denise moved out of state… and discovered a new version of herself along the way.
Eventually Denise returned to New York. Many of the people from her old neighborhood in the Bronx were pleasantly surprised by the changes she’d made. She became a peer counselor and, after accepting her own diagnosis, never had a problem discussing her life with HIV. “I wanted to help people find out about themselves,” reveals Denise, “I would stand on the corner in Brooklyn handing out literature and condoms to people.”
After discovering Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) Denise became increasingly optimistic about her life and role in the community. GMHC provides support services to clients who are infected with HIV/AIDS, including a starting point toward higher education. Working with local colleges, GMHC is able to offer classes to certain clients who are chosen by lottery. Denise’s inspiration grew after she received high grades on her exams in accounting and public speaking. This success drove her to apply to Long Island University, where she will begin taking courses this fall. “The more I keep my mind going and occupied, I will do well,” believes Denise.
Upon completion of her coursework toward an elementary education degree with a music and art minor, Denise hopes to help younger generations remain on a healthy path. “Going through CASAC (Certified Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counseling) training to visit schools and educate kids is what I would like to do,” she says.
Children are extremely important in her life. She has three children and five grandchildren, whom she spoils. The attention she provides to her grandchildren partially stems from her effort to compensate for the time she lost with her children during the many years that she lost to drugs. Denise is partcularly close to her 10-year-old granddaughter–“She does AIDS Walks and understands the virus, says Denise. “I help with homework and take her to the aquarium, zoo and Rye Playland.”
Though HIV/AIDS receives a fair amount of attention, Denise believes there could be a greater effort to make it a “…controllable disease…” “I am going to be 59 next month and never felt better than today. I still see. I still hear. I always went to the doctor and took my meds,” says Denise. She has friends who were also diagnosed, but were not dedicated to maintaining their health. “Some of my friends refused treatment,” Denise recalls. “They are now dead. I am the last one from our group.”
Denise believes that through openness, greater campaigning and community events, HIV/AIDS awareness will increase. She does not believe she will see a cure in her lifetime. However, her one wish is “…to live long enough to see my grandchildren grow and have children. I want to see my great-grandchildren.” Oh yes—and also that diploma.
The article was originally published in Moxy Magazine on July 26, 2011.