Lisa Corso, 45 • makeup consultant for Clinique • New York City • HIV diagnosis: 1988
I was diagnosed back in 1988, a few months after my son was born. I was having stomach problems. At the hospital they asked me if I wanted an HIV test, so I said why not. When the doctors phoned me to say that I was positive, I wasn’t really angry. I have von Willebrand’s disease, a type of hemophilia. I had to get blood transfusions my whole life in order to survive. But it did make me bitter sometimes knowing that over 10,000 people with hemophilia contracted HIV [before blood products were screened].
I had my children tested—my newborn son and my daughter who was already 2 years old. Luckily both were negative. It helped that I didn’t breast-feed and I had them both by caesarian section.
I told my husband right away, of course, and he tested negative, which was great. But I left him a year later. Now, having relationships is difficult, I’ve learned. I mean, what am I suppose to do, put a sign on my head that says, “I have AIDS”? It’s horrible—they can love everything about you, but when you mention HIV/AIDS, they’re like, “Oh this girl has got the cooties.” I try to move on from that because I can’t think every man is going to be that way. As a single parent, there is no way to go but forward, leaping over every obstacle you hit.
I’ve been a single parent for 20 years. All I wanted to do is provide for my children and be able to afford a roof over our heads and survive—that’s really the frustrating part, sometimes not being able to get the help I need. I work, so sometimes I’m told I make too much money to get help. That makes me more angry than having HIV itself. But I have children who are so supportive, and my sisters. My kids’ friends are an enormous support too. They don’t “Eek!” me, but the men I get involved with sometimes do.
There was a time when I was afraid of death. I thought I wouldn’t live to see my children graduate from high school. But it’s all in the head. Living with HIV/AIDS, your mind is the biggest tool—being able to focus and say to yourself, “I’m going to live.” Growing up, I had a mom who was physically abusive and an alcoholic. If I could live through that, I knew I could survive anything.
I have played Russian roulette—not taking my meds because everything else was more important: getting the kids to where they had to be. My doctor said, “You don’t have to come in here if you’re not taking care of yourself.” I just cringed. Now I line up my meds and gladly take them, because I love life.
It’s scary to know HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death for so many women around the world. Women are at high risk because of the choices they make. I know women who still have sex without protection to please a guy because they fear they’ll be rejected.
I would love positive women to come out more, no matter how they got HIV. I want to open my arms and give them a hug, let them know it’s going to be OK because we’re all going through the same things in different ways. For women who don’t know, I say, “Get tested. Start now, because you are the future.”
I want to be an example for people to put a face on this disease—so they can say, “Look at this girl! She’s out there.”