Monday, February 14, 2011

My Story: From Fear To Awareness

Nicole-"My story: From fear to awareness"-TRI-STATE DEFENDER

(Nicole is a 37-year-old Memphis native and self-employed businesswoman who has lived with HIV for the past 14 years.)

I’m HIV-positive and I’m sharing my story with everyone who will listen. National Black HIV Awareness Day is Monday, Feb. 7, and to recognize the day, I’m focusing on the keyword “awareness” by helping inform Memphians about the disease that disproportionately affects our community. I hope my story will encourage others to learn about HIV, how to prevent it, and about the free medical care and support available to those affected.

I share a common history with many other women living with HIV in the Memphis area. I was sexually assaulted at the age of 21 and was later diagnosed with HIV. My first reaction to the doctor’s diagnosis was denial because I naively thought that my life would be dramatically different. I was paralyzed by fear and by of a lack of knowledge about the disease. It was six months after my diagnosis that I finally sought HIV treatment.

An HIV-positive friend introduced me to the Ryan White Program and the support services it provides to people like me. This is how I learned to cope with my diagnosis. Through the Ryan White Program, I learned about the importance of proper care and maintenance of the disease. It also helps me with my HIV medication costs and regular doctor and counselor visits.

Today, 14 years after my diagnosis, I’m living a healthy and dynamic life. The Ryan White Program empowered me to take care of myself both physically and spiritually. Being HIV-positive doesn’t limit my activity level in any way or define who I am. I’m an active woman pursuing many passions: I’m a small-business owner, an ordained minister, a peer mentor through Friends For Life, and a Know Now. Live Longer. campaign champion for the Memphis TGA Ryan White Program HIV awareness effort.

Lending my story to the Know Now. Live Longer. campaign was an easy decision for me. I advocate for HIV awareness and want every HIV-positive individual in our community to know about the Ryan White Program services available so they can live longer, healthier and more productive lives, like I am. The first step is to know your status – Know Now. If you are HIV-positive, seeking treatment is the next important step to Live Longer. Ryan White can help.

The Ryan White Program is a federally funded initiative that provides free primary medical and support services to people living with HIV/AIDS. It is dedicated to getting HIV-positive Memphis-area residents who cannot afford them the ongoing treatment and care they need and deserve.

The program recognizes the need for greater awareness about the disease and, as a result, created the Know Now. Live Longer. campaign to educate Memphis-area residents about the free HIV/AIDS medical and support services available to them. The campaign goal is to educate the community about services such as dental care, HIV prescription assistance, medical care and health education workshops.

Since 81 percent of the more than 7,000 HIV-positive individuals in the Memphis TGA are African-American, a number five times that of non-Hispanic whites, it’s especially important that the black community understand the causes of HIV, how to prevent it and where to seek treatment, which helps to reduce transmission rates. National Black HIV Awareness Day really is a natural time to learn about the disease yourself, get tested if you don’t know your status, and share information with friends and family about HIV.

To recognize National Black HIV Awareness Day and educate Memphians about the disease, the Ryan White Program is partnering with community groups to offer a testing opportunity and an educational dinner. Both events are free and open to the public.

The HIV testing will be conducted on Friday, Feb. 4, at St. Andrew African Methodist Episcopal Church Community Life Center (867 South Parkway East) to raise awareness about the importance of treatment.

Dinner and Discussion: It Takes a Village To Fight HIV/AIDS will be hosted by the Le Bonheur Community HIV Network and Christ Missionary Baptist Church on Monday, Feb. 7, beginning at 5:30 p.m. at Christ Missionary Baptist Church (494 South Parkway East).

For more information on the services available through the Ryan White Program, call the HIV Care Hotline at 877-HIV-KNOW (877-448-5669) to connect with resources for HIV testing, information about the disease and treatment. The hotline is staffed by Memphis-area residents living with HIV as well as HIV-knowledgeable nurses.

Additional information is also online at, including area testing centers, contact information for service providers and treatment, and personal stories from HIV-positive Memphians. The services are available to residents of Fayette, Shelby, Tipton, Crittenden, DeSoto, Marshall, Tate and Tunica counties.

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