A Survivor’s Tale

Since being diagnosed as HIV-positive in 1990, I’ve managed to reinvent myself at least three times.

(Page 1 of 2)

I am 49-years-old, attending college full time to obtain my associate’s degree, working in fast-food, and HIV positive. I tested positive 18 years ago, and this is the third time since, that I’ve had to dramatically change my career goals in order to survive. Once again, I am back down to the basics; this time, that means being a student working a low-wage job.

Long-term HIV has a dramatic effect on the careers of individuals who live with it. In many instances, people with HIV have to adapt their professional lives to fit their condition. Change is an arduous journey and often a very scary one. Fitting in one’s passion, one’s health needs and the need to make a living is a challenging task for any person.

My daily life consists of a strong pharmaceutical regimen that includes five medications for HIV and three to four additional medications to deal with other conditions or side effects. By that I mean emphysema, peripheral neuropathy, skin cancer and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)–just to name a few– which all have been a direct result of either the HIV medications or a weakened immune system. But do not let this fool you; my life is vibrant, and I have long-term goals.

At one time, I did not believe that I would live long enough to achieve any goals beyond surviving today and tomorrow, or at most, the next year or so. Most people I knew in my situation were dying one by one. I was just waiting for my turn. The statistics were not on my side. But I am one of the fortunate ones, I responded well to therapy. One day I had an illuminating discovery: I was still alive, and there was no indication that I was going anywhere soon.

As exhilarating as this epiphany was to me, it was still difficult to look further into the future. I had become so accustomed to looking at only the short term. There are many things that have happened in my life that have helped me to reach out further and longer. Mostly, the people in my life have been the essence of my inspiration. They provide me with the will to live.

Watching my children grow up is something that I thought I would never see. But they’re all young adults now, and I’m thankful that I have been allowed the privilege to be here to witness it. And never in my wildest fantasies could I have imagined that I might see any grandchildren, but I have three of them now, and the last one is as precious as the first. Every moment that I spend with them takes my breath away.

But aside from all of these wonderful things, I was still having trouble getting my work life in order. Due to company downsizing, I became unemployed from a job in Internet advertising in the latter part of 2006. That meant having to find a job that would fit into my already complicated lifestyle. I had been through this before. After a 10-year stint in the Navy, I went directly to work as a dental-lab technician. I tested HIV-positive shortly afterward and began having severe problems with Reiter’s Syndrome (a disorder that causes inflammation throughout the body), which eventually placed me on disability. This was my first change.

The company I worked for rehired me from disability and created a position in administration and support that eventually led to management. But the stress from the job and the many toxic chemicals and powders I was surrounded by began to affect my health. My doctor advised me to find work better suited to my condition. I took his advice, and found my job at an Internet advertising firm, where I was eventually able to work almost completely from home. This was my second change.

My new job allowed me to meet my personal and financial needs, but I knew that I needed more education to help give me an edge. I was not too sure about going to school at my age; I knew that many had done so successfully before me, but I also understood the commitment and the financial sacrifices that had to be made. Being laid off gave me the push I needed.

So once again, I changed my long-term goals. I began going to school in the summer of 2007. Going back to school has not been an easy task, but it has been challenging and rewarding. My health is maintaining well and my immune system is much stronger, so I’ve missed very little class time due to sickness. Furthermore, my GPA is in the top 3 percent of the school, even though I’m working 20 to 25 hours a week at a fast-food restaurant.

In 2009, I will graduate and find appropriate work. Of this I have no doubt. But it does not end there. I have goals of continuing my education beyond this point, after this phase of change is completed. The support I’ve received from professors and teachers and my fellow students has been unlimited. These young students especially–the majority of who are younger than my children–have brought new and fresh ideas to my life, an experience I had long forgotten.

All of these people, and all of these events, are passions in my life. Personally, I believe that this is the highest component for survival. Passion for life and what you love has to be carried in your pocket every day. It is the one essential item you need for survival. I have many passions that I carry with me. My love of my family and friends, education, music and writing are some of the things that never leave my side. Passion has become my companion. Passion is the fuel for a survivor. When you lose your passion for life, you have lost the race. I know that I am not alone in this. There are many out there who are facing so much more than I. A survivor never stops running until he’s crossed the finish line. I challenge you to find your passion and run alongside me.

%d bloggers like this: