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June 7, 2007 – No. 10
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Two tales of living with HIV/AIDS

When it comes to HIV/AIDS, Catherine duBois Gaynes doesn’t mince words.

“Sex is fantastic,” she says, “especially when it’s done with that right loving feeling. But please, please, please protect yourself.”

Gaynes was 51 years old when she learned that her HIV test came back positive. She is now 61, and, the Good Lord willing, she will talk and preach about the disease until the day she dies.

“I found out on a Monday,” she said. “And it’s a good thing I didn’t get paid until that Friday, because I know I would have tried to kill myself. But it made me stop and take a real hard look at how I was living my life.”

Gaynes said she thought she was too old to contract the disease, but given the way she lived her life — drinking and drugging and having unsafe sex — she said she now knows that it was just a matter of time.

“I don’t regret my life,” she said. I mean, it wasn’t terrible. I had a good time. And if I could, I’d wish that HIV/AIDS wasn’t in the world. But this is reality, and we must deal with reality.”

Reality has changed a lot for those still living.

Gaynes recalls her first regimen of medications — 22 pills in all, some of which were as large as her thumbnail. “It was horrible,” she said.

These days, Gaynes is taking just two pills a day. The most bothersome side effect is that, for whatever reason, her hip size has shrunk and her stomach has grown. “Let me tell you, for a black woman not to have any hips is a problem,” she joked. “I’m very uncomfortable with my body shape right now.”

One thing is clear. She has become much more comfortable accepting the fact that she has a disease that carries a stigma.

“It can be emotionally devastating,” she said. “It hasn’t become less difficult on that level. But there are a lot of services to help deal with the devastation. Because of them, I am a HIV success story.”

greg-eugene is another.

An entertainer by profession, he volunteers his spare time with the Boston Living Center, AIDS Action Committee, and Multicultural AIDS Coalition, to name a few. He holds educational workshops and gives advice on positive thinking and how to live with HIV/AIDS.

“You ain’t through until you’re through,” is one of his mantras.

He too knows of the emotional turmoil associated with having AIDS. He also knows the value of protection.

“It is the responsibility of the positive person to tell a partner that he or she has HIV disease,” he said. “[It’s also up to] the non-infected person to take responsibility and protect him or herself regardless of who the partner is. That includes married people.”

As a gay man, greg-eugene readily admits he was in denial. His partner had contracted AIDS and eventually died. greg-eugene didn’t get tested until he experienced a sharp pain in his leg. He went to a doctor and a biopsy was taken. He was diagnosed with Kaposi’s sarcoma, an opportunistic disease that is common in AIDS.

Shortly after learning that he tested positive, greg-eugene became depressed and began living a reckless lifestyle. The good news is that behavior was short-lived. Instead of living in denial, he has taken control of his life. He now goes in for testing every three months. So far, his numbers are good.

“It’s about immediacy and the now,” he said. “It’s about being true to self and friends.” That’s what keeps him going.

Catherine duBois Gaynes learned that there is no age limit for HIV. She lived a fast life and became infected at the age of 51. Gaynes is pictured at the AIDS Action Committee’s AIDS Walk last year.

greg-eugene has lived with AIDS for 11 years. He remains centered by focusing on the positive and being true to himself and friends. He volunteers with several organizations, including the Boston Living Center and the AIDS Action Committee.

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