Surviving and strength are two words that give meaning to the five guests that spoke at the Slice of Life event hosted by Durham College and UOIT’s Rotaract club on March 19. The goal of the event was to share stories of people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.
Joanne Ashley, chair of the Rotary Club of Whitby’s AIDS Action group, spoke to students about prevention and how the virus spreads. She played a video, Just the Facts, that encouraged students to use protection during all types of sex, and not to share needles and razors.
. She advised students to get regular blood tests. “Blood tests save lives,” she said.
Ashley lost her brother during the AIDS epidemic in the 1990s, so she takes this disease seriously. “It’s a big concern,” she said about prevention.
“Snow birds,” or older people, she said, are the most susceptible to contracting the disease. She said women past menopause feel they are safe from pregnancy. “No protection and all kinds of sexual transmissions of things,” she said.
Mark Hammann, manager of education services and M2M Outreach Coordinator, is HIV positive.
Since his diagnosis, he’s spoken about AIDS.
“It was very therapeutic for me,” he said. “We educate people through the fear.”
Doug, who did not want to be named, also volunteers. He has been HIV positive for twenty years.
Doug married but then had an affair with a gay man. His church minister “outed” him. At the time, his family was held in high regard in the church. He was told to never come back.
Later, he discovered he was HIV positive. Since then, he has experienced major weight loss, lost sight in his left eye and suffers from many side effects. He takes about a dozen drugs in the morning, four in the afternoon and five at bedtime.
“Make sure you always protect yourself, always, always, always,” he advised the students. “Get treatment early, be careful who you talk to about it.”
Jay Lewis is 63-years-old. “I’m here because I’m HIV positive. I’m positive about it, because I’ve been dealing with it for so long,” he explained with a smile.
He’s not sure how he became infected.
“Whether you have it or don’t, it’s not the end of the world,” he said. “It’s about the attitude.”
Michell, who also does not want to use her last name, lives in Oshawa but is originally from Guyana. She has been positive for six years now. She was infected by her husband, who has since died.
“He’s gone, and I’m left dealing with concerns,” she said. “I’m going through a bunch of crap,” she said. – fix indent on this paragraph to align with others
Michell draws strength from family members who live in Oshawa.
Michell said even though her mother is aware of her disease, she can’t face it.
“She likes pretending that’s nothing going on,” she said. “She lives in her own world, and everything is going to be fine.”
Michell finds it incredibly difficult living as a victim to this disease.
“It’s hard, to know this is my life,” she said. “My memory is shot to hell, because of the disease and things that happen.”
Michell ended her story with hope. “I’m not a hundred percent me, but I’m getting there,” she said.
The event was a huge success, according to Hayley McNamara, president of Rotaract. “Overall, I’m really pleased with the turnout and interest,” she said. “AIDS isn’t always something we talk about, so it’s great to see students participate in an event that talks about AIDS education and prevention.”