I am a 28-year-old female who was raped and diagnosed with HIV at 16. My diagnosis was surrounded by a lot of questions.
Firstly, at the time of my diagnosis, I was a drug addict trying to deal with the rape trauma.
Secondly, I have never fallen sick from the virus. In 2009 I spent a couple of months in India, where I had a stomach bug from drinking the dirty water there. I came back home and did a CD4 count test and was informed that I needed to take ARVs immediately as my CD4 had dropped to 172. This was after I had been living with the virus for 10 years.
I started the medication and had no side effects. I was pleased with this, as I had anticipated a lot of pain from them.
After a year, I started losing weight dramatically, my gums were bleeding all the time, my legs were swollen and my body always bruised, my hands were shaking. I didn’t have an appetite, I couldn’t hold my pee in, and I was losing my hair. My doctor did a full blood count and told me that the ARVs were working and that my viral load was ‘undetectable’ – he seemed pleased, but I was in pain. What broke the camel’s back was when he said I was showing signs of early liver failure! I didn’t understand how that was possible and started doing research about the medication. I was on Lamivudine, Nevirapine and Tenofovir.
For the first time in March 2012, I decided to read the package inserts of the pills I was on and I was horrified at what was written there. I then decided to find alternative treatment for my weak immune system, and that has lead me to decide to be a vegetarian, also to be conscious of my body and the changes it goes through.
I am now on my 6th month without the pills and I feel great! My appetite is back and I have gained back the weight, so basically some of the things I had before have been reversed. Although I still battle with a few things, I am well on my way to a better, longer life. I haven’t told my doctor that I have quit the drugs, and they keep piling up at my house, because if I tell him he will blame every single little illness I have on the HIV instead of looking for the real reason for my illness.
I knew that there were some numbers not adding up regarding this disease. What makes me mad is that I feel that these people have stolen 12 years of my life! I lived in fear of dying. Although I had never been sick, it was always in the back of my mind.
Fezisa, South Africa
You can send me an email.