POZ Exclusives : The Mother of All Battles - by James Wortman

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May 14, 2008

The Mother of All Battles

by James Wortman

Marj Dusay

POZ: You’ve had a very successful film and TV career—from Clambake, with Elvis Presley, to soap operas All My Children and Guiding Light.

Marj Dusay: Well, I’ve been very lucky; I’ve worked very hard…

Your son died in 1993. When did you first become involved in AIDS activism?

After his diagnosis, in late 1986. At that time, there was certainly the news about it and everything, but there wasn’t the massive amount of information. So it was pretty scary.

And after the shock of Randy’s diagnosis, what did you do?

Soap star and AIDS advocate Marj Dusay

I just started to listen to people, went to as many of the seminars as they had at that time, read as much as I could, asked doctors about it. Nobody really had that many answers, and there weren’t that many specialists in Los Angeles. I tried to find women’s and mothers’ support groups. Again, there weren’t that many.  The ones I did find were floundering and had no leadership.  You’d go and you’d find that you wanted information, you wanted someone to talk to, you wanted consoling. And really the only thing to do was seek it elsewhere. What continues to make me an activist is the attitude people have, the negativity and the rejection that they have for some of their sons or daughters. That, I think, is based on outlandish fear and sometimes embarrassment, and not being able to face it. And the denial and the duplicity of some people really made me angry. It doesn’t do any good to duck your head and say, “It’ll go away.” Although, as a mother, that’s exactly what you wish.

I was working right in Hollywood at that time, and it’s amazing how many people in that liberal community were fearful. The parents who turned away their children I thought were abominable. Still do.

Describe your work with Project Angel Food, which provides daily meals for people living with HIV/AIDS and other illnesses.

It was a great place for me to go to be able to do something hands-on. Not a PR thing. This was something where I had to go down there and mingle with the people and chop the food and package the food and be right there. It was a very cheerful group. These people wanted to do that. It meant a lot to me.

It is a way for somebody like me who’d been on television and done soaps and movies; it is a way for me to get down there and get lost in what’s real.

How has AIDS activism and advocacy changed your life?

Well, it made me face some reality. I know the last year was very difficult with Randy. Fortunately, he didn’t really become hospitalized until about the last three and a half weeks of his life. And unfortunately, combination therapy for him at that time just didn’t work. I think if you’re that caring person that stays close to it, you go through hell. But then, my God, I gave him such beautiful support. And other friends and relatives were so supportive. And I was very happy and proud that they were those kinds of people.

What advice could you give our readers?

 You have to have the strength to live through it and say, at the end, at least you made it as good as it could be. And try to make it as good as it could be. And also, stay close to people in support groups. I think they’re much more sophisticated these days. There’s more information now; I think there are more choices.

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