Henderson, Nevada
Positive since 2005

Where to start? I wouldn’t say I’m a POZ hero, as I know of many other people who are more heroic, but I would say I’m the "POZ next door." I’m just me, living my life and reaching for dreams that I set for myself.

I contracted HIV seven years ago, when I was 20. I thought that nothing could touch me and that HIV wasn’t as big a thing as people said it was. Then, on a monthly routine to get checked with my best friend, my world flipped upside down. I had the mouth swab test, and the results were "unclear." It scared the crap out of me. I didn’t know what to do! Was I going to die? Was my life over? Am I going to be sick forever? What will happen now?

I am actually glad I found out that way. While I waited for the results, I told my close friends what happened and they reassured me with not only the hope that I was fine, but also with the hope that I would be fine whether I had HIV or not. I had a week to think about it and told myself, "I can’t do anything now to change it, so it’s time to live with it." I went back and found out the results, and my caseworkers pointed me in the right direction.

It was hard adjusting my life. I had just turned 20; I couldn’t even drink alcohol legally yet or get into clubs. I now had a crazy responsibility to myself. I had doctor appointments to keep track of and new medical bills coming my way. If it hadn’t been for the Ryan White program, I probably would have been very bad off.

I was a little scared at first. I missed doctor appointments, and didn’t reschedule them. And then I realized that I was only hurting myself. I went back to my doctor after a year, and we had lots to catch up on. I did lots of tests and found out that my viral load was spiking fast, and my CD4 counts were dropping as well. My doc immediately put me on Atripla. I was startled that I had to take meds at only 21 years old. I thought only people who had HIV for years took meds.

I asked about the side effects. I barely had any HIV knowledge, so I thought I would get frail, maybe get lesions, physical signs that I had HIV. I was scared. More scared than when I was diagnosed. I could keep it a secret from strangers if I needed to, but if it showed physically, how would I be treated?

My doc told me that the side effects were minimal and I would probably have some nausea and vivid dreams. That didn’t seem too bad. "So when do I stop taking them?" I asked. That’s when I found out I would probably be on meds for the rest of my life. Whoa. That’s a hard pill to swallow. (No pun intended LOL).

I decided I needed a life change. I would reduce my drinking (remember I was only 21 at the time, just newly going out) and take my pill everyday. It was hard to get used to, and I definitely had my ups and downs with it. But being healthy now at 27, with a full life ahead of me, HIV is definitely not a death sentence!

If you have read my story and gotten this far, thank you first for reading it. And second, if you do have HIV, whether newly contracted, or just having a hard time, remember this: You are stronger than you give yourself credit for. There are tons of ways to find help—through friends, family or the community.

Just recently I have started displaying my HIV status on a few websites. I wrote on a forum to help new HIV positive people. The response was crazy, so many people had questions about situations that I have already lived through. It made me feel awesome to help them on their way. I have made more HIV friends as of late and am thinking of more ways to help.

Don’t let HIV define who you are. It’s just something you have. In fact, it’s on the bottom of my list of defining characteristics. It can be on the bottom of your list too!!

What three adjectives best describe you?
Fun, adventurous, out-going

What is your greatest achievement?
Pursuing my career as a pastry chef! Whoa!

What is your greatest regret?
LOL. I try not to have regrets, but I would say, not living enough at first.

What keeps you up at night?
The Internet…LOL... and worrying. I worry about friends and loved ones a lot.

If you could change one thing about living with HIV, what would it be?
To show HIV-negative people that it’s livable, and that we are still people. We don’t want you to contract it just as much as you don’t want to contract it.

What is the best advice you ever received?
You are your biggest opponent

What person in the HIV/AIDS community do you most admire?
Jack Mackenroth

What drives you to do what you do?
Life. I want to experience as much as I can.

What is your motto?
Shoot for the moon, for even if you miss, you will land among the stars.

If you had to evacuate your house immediately, what is the one thing you would grab on the way out?
My cat, my laptop and my meds

If you could be any animal, what would you be? And why?
ELEPHANT! LOL, they are the true kings! No one will mess with them!

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