30 Faces of HIV – Three

By Shayne Woodsmith, Faces of Edmonton

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“I was diagnosed with HIV in 1991 and one of the first places I called, because my doctor suggested it, was HIV Edmonton—back then it was called the AIDS Network. They provided me with support and then I started doing speaking engagements for them, talking to groups of people and training their new volunteers about what the issues are for someone living with HIV, and in particular what some of the issues are for someone living with HIV who has children because at the time I had two children who were very young; my son was a just a baby and my daughter was three when I was diagnosed. I had a community of people around me who were very supportive and lots of friends and family who were all very supportive. I’m very fortunate. I think a lot of people viewed me as a victim because I got it from my husband and so I had a lot of support I think because of that. I know a lot of people don’t get that kind of support so I’m very fortunate to have had that kind of support. But you know, here I am twenty-five years later. At the time, there weren’t many women living with HIV and it was a huge risk for women, and heterosexual people didn’t see themselves as at risk because they bought into the myth that this is a homosexual disease, not a heterosexual disease, which is a myth that persists, surprisingly. But anyway, I managed.”

“The lowest point for me was when I was diagnosed because at the time there were no medications and no hope, so people were dying. Lots of people died who were friends of mine—that I got to know through the work that I did. From back when I first got involved, there’s only two people left alive.”

“I was basically told by my doctor that I would have six months to a year maybe and that I should get my affairs in order—that I should get a will, have guardians for my children, because I was a single mom, I had divorced their father. I was diagnosed after the divorce because I went for life insurance. That’s how I found out. If I hadn’t gone for life insurance, my doctor told me she would never have tested me for HIV. She was a pretty switched on doctor and she had tested me for HIV when I was pregnant with my son, and it was negative, so she had no reason to believe I would be positive. I was in a monogamous relationship, so I thought. So I would say that was a real low point for me. Then over the years I was really sick. I progressed to AIDS in 1994 and I was very very ill, again this was before medications were available so I nearly died a number of times. So yeah, there’s been some low points since then.”

“The high point was seeing my children graduate from high school, seeing them go to university, and my daughter’s graduated from university and she’s going for her masters this fall, and it’s just … I never thought I’d see then grow up. I thought I would be dead before they would grow up at all. So the fact that I made it through when many didn’t and I’ve been able to see that is a gift. I am very blessed.”

“I have two great kids. My son’s going back to school this fall. He’s studying to be a documentary filmmaker. That’s what he wants. My daughter went into the same path as I did. She is working for the Alberta government as a social worker looking after at risk aboriginal youth. It’s a special new program in Calgary. I’m very proud and I’m very lucky that I’ve been able to see all that happen.”

Photography Credit: Shayne Woodsmith
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