National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is an annual observance to recognize the impact of HIV on women and girls. It's observed today, March 10th , 2017. This years's theme is 'The Best Defense Is a Good Offense.' AIDS Services Foundation Orange County (ASF) is a nonprofit AIDS service organization that helps women with HIV. Below is one story, her name is withheld to protect her identity.
"I have been HIV-positive for 25 years. Prior to my diagnosis, I felt that I was on the traditional path to success and happiness in life. I was raised in a happy family, swam competitively, attended private schools and while attending college on a scholarship, I fell in love. My marriage changed everything. After a short time, my husband became addicted to controlled substances and our relationship crumbled. There was nothing I could do to save it. He became very abusive and would lash out at me and our young son. It was two years after we had divorced that I discovered I had contracted HIV. It was the early 1990s, people were dying and a positive diagnosis felt like the end of the world.
Initially, I was taking 42 pills a day, my weight was fluctuating rapidly and I was told that I needed to reduce my stress levels. Yet, the hardest part of my diagnosis was telling my family. My parents were devastated—my mother screaming, my father crying—as I tried to explain, to defend myself. I felt the need to justify my actions and analyze how this could have happened to me. The only thing I had done “wrong” was fall in love. At the time, it seemed as though my relationship had led to the detriment of the bright future I had created for myself, and worse, for that of my son.
I discovered AIDS Services Foundation Orange County shortly after moving to Fullerton in 1992, at the recommendation of my doctors. At ASF, I found a way to socialize comfortably—in this community, I found people to relate to, even established close relationships. Here, I have never felt that I need to hide this most vulnerable part of my life—which I kept veiled from others. There are individuals here who need access to services that are hard to access without help, but the staff and the community at ASF does everything in their power to ensure that those needs are met. This includes a nutritional program, housing assistance, transportation and mental health services. People with HIV struggle with maintaining stable jobs, preserving a healthy weight and even attending the many doctor’s appointments required by this condition. As a single mother of a young child at the time of my diagnosis, I was relieved by the quantity and quality of services that were available to me through ASF.
Now, I am actively engaged in the ASF community and have been contributing as a volunteer for the last 14 years. I am proud to share my story with those it may benefit through public speaking. I cannot express enough how rewarding it is to receive a response from someone who was able to connect with my experience. I have heard that hearing my story changed someone’s life; I have inspired individuals to get tested. It is incredibly important to educate the public on the reality of HIV. In this way, we are able to change the negative stigma associated with it. There is still work to be done, but I feel optimistic about the future.
Today, I am a grandmother to one perfect grandchild with another on the way. I am a Navy mom. I am a cancer survivor. Thanks to ASF, I am a woman who found her voice. I am a supporter, an advocate, a friend. I am HIV-positive, but I have learned that this is not the end of the world."
AIDS Services Foundation Orange County is a nonprofit AIDS service organization that has helped more than 7,000 people living with HIV in Orange County since 1985. ASF serves the local community impacted by HIV by providing food, transportation, housing, emergency financial assistance, counseling, education and preventative services. You can learn more about the organization by visiting www.ocasf.org. Follow ASF on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.