Like so many other people with HIV, DeAndre Roberts remembers the exact date he tested positive for the virus: August 6, 2003.
“I went to the clinic because I was afraid I had an STD,” DeAndre said. “They asked me if I wanted an HIV test as well, and I said, ‘sure.’ Two weeks later the results came back positive. I felt kind of hurt. I felt I had let myself down.”
The clinic put DeAndre in touch with Piedmont Care, Inc. a well-known AIDS Service Organization in South Carolina, and his case manager set him up with a doctor in Spartanburg.
“They called it an ‘early stage’ case of HIV,” DeAndre says. “But my Mom passed away in November, 2003, and that really took a toll on me. I went into a depression, and my viral load went up while my T-cells went down. I started on medication then - Viramune and Combivir - and they’ve been working for me very well. I haven’t had any problems from the medication at all.”
DeAndre is one of very few HIV-positive people in the Spartanburg area who is open about his status and willing to speak out. “People in South Carolina are not in the know,” DeAndre says. “Piedmont Care asked me to speak at two colleges on World AIDS Day. I told them any time they needed me, I would be there. They had been great. They’ve always been there for me, even when I just needed somebody to talk to.”
“When I spoke at the colleges, I told them to get tested, get educated, get in the know. I have good days and bad days. I told them I have days I just want to lie in bed and cry - but I can’t. I surround myself with positive friends. My friends are my support - that’s what keeps me going. And I want to live to see the next generation beat this.”
DeAndre works at the Bass Store in the Farm Outlet Mall, and his employers and fellow employees have been totally supportive. In fact, they just held a fund raiser there, with all proceeds going to Piedmont Care, Inc.
DeAndre says that although most of his friends with HIV do not disclose their status, coming out about it has not caused him any problems.
“I was scared at first about how people would react,” DeAndre says. “But it hasn’t been a problem at all. I feel that it is much healthier to be open about it. I felt terrible hiding it all the time at work. People would ask me if I had it before I came out, and I would feel sick when I told them ‘no.’ Now I walk around with my head held high. It gives you your freedom back.”
“If people can go on TV and say, ‘I have cancer and I’m a survivor,’ I can go on TV and say, ‘I have HIV and I’m a survivor,’ DeAndre says. “Somebody has to. I’m not doing it for money, fame or fortune. I’m doing it to help the next person.”
“There’s a girl who works with me - she doesn’t have HIV,” DeAndre says. “Before she met me, she knew you could get it from sex, but that’s about the only thing she knew. She didn’t know anything about safe sex. I tell everyone, ‘If you’re going to do it, be safe with it.’”
DeAndre’s advice for someone newly diagnosed with HIV?
“It’s not the end of the world,” DeAndre says. “Keep yourself in the know. You’ve got to continue living your life.”
DeAndre asked us to be sure to recognize the support he gets from his ASO, Piedmont Care, Inc. “That’s one group of people that keeps me going,” DeAndre says. “They work so hard to help so many people. Some look down on them because of what they do, but that’s not right. Their name is perfect because they ‘care’ about everybody who comes in. Even those who don’t care about themselves.”
Copyright 2015, Positive Health Publications, Inc.
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