Diagnosed with HIV in 1999, a time when letters equated denunciation and death. At a time when there was limited knowledge of HIV/AIDS, no support, no pre- and post-counselling. 18 years later, she leads a life has changed that has changed other people’s lives.
I was married at the time and suffered a few untreated STIs and my ex-husband was refusing to go for STI treatment as he would say 'are you saying I make you sick?’ I could say that all the signs were there, but I still did not expect the diagnosis. I was angry and confused because I couldn't understand why me? I was a faithful wife and a very spiritual person, so why would God allow this to happen to me.
I had all these questions and no one could answer them since I had no one I could turn to for answers, there was no material I could go through to understand what I was dealing with.
HIV came to light when I was being treated from cervical cancer. At that time HIV was still a 'new' thing and quite frankly thought the doctors were also confused as I got 3 different results – positive, negative and inconclusive so it was kind of easy to just ignore them and focus on the cervical cancer. It was very emotionally and physically draining as I had to go for chemotherapy but ultimately underwent hysterectomy as the cancer had spread through to the uterus. It was also a very confusing time of my life as I was only 26, married with small children and no proper support from my in laws let alone my husband. It was a cold, lonely and difficult time in my life, because I wasn't even allowed to tell my own family what was happening.
The cancer went into remission, but HIV was with me for life. I was in denial, blocked it out of mind since no one could give information on HIV, so it made sense for me to try and concentrate at the fact that I was going through a divorce. My ex-husband walked out on us when I came back from the hospital after the hysterectomy, saying he can't live with another man. So I tried to lead a normal life but the pain was unbearable, I was in and out of hospital suffering from depression & bipolar mood disorder. I was taking all sorts of medication and started consuming too much alcohol to just make the pain go away so I thought even attempted suicide, twice.
I had managed to block HIV out for seven years; in 2006 it reminded me that being in denial doesn’t mean it’s not there. I was hospitalized and told that I now had full-blown AIDS. I eventually received counselling, which helped me fight this battle in my mind. I started ARV’s, which helped my body fight back and my health improved.
It was only after my hospitalization in 2006 that my sister took a bold step and helped me understand what was actually going on. I had full blown AIDS with a CD4 count of 56. My family stood by me firmly like a rock and educated me more about my condition more than what I got from health facilities, so I had the courage to stand up and also equip myself with any information I could lay my hands on. I guess the mayor thing I did was to finally accept that my status is a reality, forgave myself completely and focused on getting better.
I work for a company that administers Trusts & Beneficiary Funds for different pension and provident funds, so we go on road shows to educate guardians, widows, beneficiaries to educate them about their funds and even though I wasn't living openly with HIV, but for some unknown reason, when we do our one on one consultations, people will just disclose to me and I would sometimes not know what to say but share own personal experiences. I could empathise and help them.
It was if HIV had opened a new path for me. My extended family often ask me to educate the adolescents in our family, so between 2011 and 2013 I completed a course in HIV Care and Counselling through UNISA. I felt I needed to know more and give my support to clients based on facts and not only my own experiences.
- 1. The biggest thing I learned is that you can't go through this alone – support is key.
- 2. There’s so much ignorance around HIV/ADIDS, which feeds the stigma. Stigma is real and we still have a long, long way to go to have an HIV free society. A society where people are not rejected by the people they love.
- 3. We have to educate ourselves, and our families about all aspects of HIV/AIDS – from prevention to how to live with it and challenge the incorrect perceptions in our communities.
- 4. In my experience people relate better with someone who is in the same situation than someone who is not. For instance counsellors at health care facilities do counselling because they studied for it and people relate to real emotions and or empathy.
- 5. People can live life to the fullest with HIV, just like I have.