The Rookie: Brenda Chambers, 41
Salt Lake City

Diagnosed 2003

Q: “How do you keep yourself from thinking about dying every day?”

Mostdays, I’m in good spirits and don’t think about HIV, but others I justlay on the couch and won’t talk to anyone. I used to tell myself: “Ifyou close your eyes, it will go away.” But I’m realizing this diseaseisn’t going away: My T cells dropped to 319, and I’m just startingmeds. I’m terrified of side effects, but my biggest fear is that medswill remind me of the disease and dying.

I was diagnosed twodays before my 40th birthday, during a five-and-a-half- month jailsentence for drug charges. I’d finally found peace—alcohol- and drug-free—then was told I was going to die. I was angry at my ex-boyfriendfor betraying and infecting me. I’d never been an injecting user nordid I sleep around. He had been living with AIDS for 15 years, but Inever discussed STDs or used protection—we were in an exclusiverelationship. I blamed myself for the choices I made to put me in thisposition. Because I dealt drugs for 10 years and drank and used since Iwas 13, I have a lot of guilt. I thought God was removing me from thisworld so I wouldn’t hurt anyone else.

Staying busy recycles mynegative emotions into positivity, by helping others. I attended HIVsupport groups, but my work and school were too demanding to continue.I’m on a community committee for HIV prevention, and I attend AAmeetings, a drug-treatment program and therapy. I’m also onantidepressants. I can confide in friends in my treatment program whosupport and understand me—but sometimes, it gets to be too much, and Ican’t help focusing on the disease.

The Veteran: Michelle Lopez, 38
Bronx, NY

Diagnosed 1990

A: “I focus on the things I can control and learn how to stay healthy.”

Itisn’t easy. It took me two years to stop thinking of HIV as a deathsentence. I focus on what I can control—like being a good mother. HIVhelped me get informed about my health, because I wanted to live. Now,I’m rich with friends I wouldn’t have met if not infected.

Aftermy diagnosis in 1990, I confronted my daughter’s father, thinking Iinfected him. Turns out, he’d known he was positive since my fourthmonth of pregnancy and infected me. Once I learned that my daughter waspositive, I took action. I flushed my cocaine. I had to be around forher. I was raising her alone and felt guilty. I thought the governmentwould take my kids away for being an undocumented immigrant.

WhenI was diagnosed, AZT was the only medicine available and it causedviolent reactions—hair loss, black spots and severe anemia. Today, medsaren’t as toxic and more information is available about sideeffects.  Starting meds doesn’t mean you’re sick. Taking meds is adaily reminder of HIV for me, but I see the pills as keeping me healthyso I can watch my children grow. My T cells are soaring at 827, withundetectable virus, and I feel great right now.

I’ve made achoice each morning: to live, to help and learn from each other. Themore I got involved in activism and learning about the disease, themore time I bought for my daughter and me.

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