May 19 is National Asian & Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and World Hepatitis Day. This blog post is one of a series on the impact of HIV and Hepatitis B in Asian & Pacific Islander communities. As A&PIs, you may not believe that you are at risk for these diseases, but you are. Follow our posts throughout the week for different perspectives and stories from our community.
May 29th will forever be engrained in my heart forever; it’s the day I lost a great friend to HIV. Every year on May 19th we stop and raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis, but this year it was more than that. It was a reminder that in 10 days will mark the 1 year anniversary of my friends passing.
It was April last year that my career took a new direction. I started a new job at Life Foundation as an HIV Prevention Counselor/Educator. At that time I saw it as a job opportunity but soon the real reason for me finding my way into the HIV/AIDS Prevention field was made clear.
Over the past year my friend was fighting Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Cancer and the chemotherapy wasn’t working, doctors made the decision to start treating her with radiation therapy, unfortunately it made her condition worse and gave her skin cancer. She was admitted to the hospital because her condition deteriorated and eventually the doctors gave her only a few weeks left to live. Her left arm had swollen to double the size and no longer had movement and a trail of dead and rotting skin showing signs of the cancers progression.
Each day we visited her and saw how fast the cancer was spreading across her body and every day we knew the cancer was one step closer to winning but yet something inside me was telling me there was a piece to the puzzle missing and that she needed to tell us something…she did, a few days later she admitted she was HIV positive and that’s the reason for her contracting cancer in the first place. She was ashamed for the longest time to tell anyone but mostly shame because it could have been prevented. As the days passed her condition worsened but was fortunately allowed to go home to peacefully pass away knowing that she was loved and we didn’t care about what she had.
Up until now I never knew anyone who has passed away with direct link to HIV. My eyes opened and made me relook at the things I’ve done in my past and try and change things for the future. The reason for me finding my way into Life Foundation were revealed and it was to make a difference in our community by raising awareness but most of all help destigmatize the shame associated with having HIV. I hope every May 19th we all stop and remember those who have been affected, infected, and most important have passed away from this virus.