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My Word

The Blog for the HIV/AIDS RESOURCES & COMMUNITY HEALTH


  • Agressive Self Love

     

    Introducing our newest youth blogger Dylan Scribbles!

    A while ago I stumbled upon the concept of "aggressive self love". I think people as a whole tend to forget that our bodies are truly ours. We are constantly dealing with many kinds of media telling us how to look, dress and act. We are also constantly told to ignore these messages and live our own lives. But that's it. We are not led into deeper discussion as to what it means to live our own lives and own our own bodies.


    You have to realize, everyone has been brought up the same. We are all taught to judge people's worth by how they dress and how they spend their time. Aggressive self love isn't about stopping these judgments or calling people on them, it's living above them, around them.


    You alone appreciate the memories your scars and bruises hold. You alone feel the way your body moves through the space around you. You alone appreciate why you are introverted or extroverted. Your worth is not based upon the love you receive from others, but the love you receive from yourself.
    I struggled to find the difference between aggressive self love and just being an egotistical asshole. When I figured it out, I was relieved. A.S.L. (aggressive self love) isn't about thinking you're the shit. You're not proving to the world how awesome you think you are, you're simply not thinking or caring about the judgments other people put on you.


    You're not perfect; you're not the smartest, the prettiest or the strongest. Not everyone wants to be your friend or have sex with you. You will continually fail and succeed in your life. You will gain and lose weight; your hair will change colour and length over the years. You are going to age and grow weaker. You're going to love and be loved, be broken hearted and break hearts. And that's all GREAT. A.S.L. isn't about thinking you’re the best, it's not about shoving your self love in other people's faces, it's about the joy that comes from knowing and loving yourself for who you really are. It's not about not caring what people think of you, simply saying "I don't care what people think of me" doesn't do anything, it's a search and it's hard, but when you come out on the other side there's a peace that goes straight to your core.

    I still care what people think about me, but in the sense that I want them to see that I'm smart and ambitious, I'm articulate and I'm friendly. I care that people see me as I am, but when they don't or can't I don't get caught up in what I can do to prove to them who I am. I have proved to myself who I am and I live every single day the way I want to. The difference being, I don't get worked up about a comment or a glance. I don't compare myself to someone who might be prettier, stronger, skinnier, more manly or more womanly.


    I am me, this is my body and I love myself.

  • A Shattered Dream

    Part 4 


    Written by: John Henry Rombough-Davie - aka “The Dreamer”

    I eventually moved from my hometown to Kitchener, Ontario and found myself at the doorstep of the local AIDS Service Organization, and over the course of 17 years I obtained support from this agency. Support was strongly needed to help me overcome the stigma that came with an HIV diagnosis. ACCKWA (AIDS Committee of Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo and Area) became my second home. As the blood started to flow through my veins again, so did my desire to connect with the outside world. While I was, and continue to be, unable to physically hold a full-time job, I found volunteering was a good fit. Volunteering supported my need to be active in the community, and it gave me the flexibility to manage my physical ailments when necessary. Most importantly I felt valuable to the agency; I felt my skills were put to good use and I was appreciated for my time and energy. As such, I volunteered as often as my health permitted.


    As my confidence grew so did my desire to share my own personal story. I signed up for the Speakers Bureau and began public speaking. In the beginning I was terrified to talk in public about being HIV+. However, with time it grew easier for me and even became somewhat therapeutic. Sharing my story allowed me to speak out against stigma and bullying which had a strong presence during those important years of growing up.


    I’ll never forget the speaking engagement I agreed to do in front of an audience of 450 students. I felt as if a load was lifted off my shoulders when I walked in the front doors of that school. The walls were filled with painted murals of various forms of artistry. It was then that I become aware that this was an Arts School. Feeling a connection with my own love of the Arts I was able to hold my head high in preparation for my speech.


    After delivering my presentation one young man came to me afterwards in tears. He expressed his gratitude for me sharing my story so openly. He disclosed that his Uncle was also HIV+ and was not able to talk about his status so freely. He shared that he lacked education about HIV so was unable to fully understand the challenges of living with it. After listening to my story he now felt empowered, more knowledgeable and better able to connect with his Uncle.


    On another occasion I and another HIV+ gentleman were invited to share our story at a high school. While I was a gay man whose background was in dance, the other speaker was a heterosexual man with a background in hockey. Initially I didn’t recognize this difference and the significance it had to my audience. However watching the reactions of some audience members it was like night and day. While there were stark difference between us in respect to career choice, sexuality and personalities, our decisions brought us to a very similar ground.


    I am very thankful that I grew up with a love for dance. I feel this passion kept me focused and steered my life in the right direction. I can truly say I have no regrets. I feel I treated others around me with utmost respect, provided they showed me the same. Looking back however I am saddened at how fast I had to mature in order to achieve my goals. I am also thankful for the AIDS Service Organizations in my community that opened their doors to me. They not only helped me mourn the loss of my career, but helped me to create new meaning in my life as an HIV positive individual. I once acknowledged my dream as being ‘shattered’. However with the support of local AIDS Service Organizations I have found the strength and courage to build a new dream. This new direction will be reflected in my upcoming blog series titled “A Once Shattered Dream”.



    On that note, I wish to thank the many AIDS Service Organizations that have helped me during this transition, without their support I don’t know where, or who, I would be today.

  • A Shattered Dream

    Part 3

    John Henry Rombough-Davie aka “The Dreamer”


    After 10 years of training to become a Classical Ballet Dancer, it was now time to venture away from the nest to start performing professionally. I left Ontario to settle in Halifax Nova Scotia, joining a very young dance company. The first year came and went by so quickly. And then came the news that funding would not allow the company to exist the following season. It was devastating. However, I was young and full of energy and my career soon took me to the other side of the country to Edmonton, Alberta.

    After two and half years with this company I experienced another shattering blow when I was fired. I became an empty shell as I fought to understand why this had just happened. I realized that while devotion and compassion caused me to give 110% I was also stubborn. In the midst of my frustration I had to accept that the news of my being fired made front page in the Entertainment Section of the local newspaper. I was to have played the lead role in a full-length ballet being performed that evening, but instead I was gathering up my belongings.

    When I got home I was surrounded by a stir of emotions and a sense of emptiness. I did not know where my life would now take me. I also felt horrible that I was not able to say goodbye to other dancers in the company. We were all like one big happy family; touring, rehearsing, performing, eating meals together on tour and sharing hotel rooms. I chose to go to the theatre that evening to see the production and sat in the audience in tears. Afterwards I chose to go backstage to say my goodbyes to everyone. Everyone was as shocked as I was that I was fired and with respect to the article that was published that afternoon.

    ”John Davie who was to perform as Franz in this evenings production of COPPELIA was fired due to obnoxious behavior”.


    Franz was an obnoxious character indeed and rehearsing for the part for weeks likely played a part. Nonetheless, I was forced to pick up the pieces and move on. I was very fortunate to have the resident choreographer looking out for my best interests and he found two job opportunities elsewhere; one was in Canada and the other in the United States. I chose to stay in Canada as I did not want to apply for my Green Card to work in the States. So once again I relocated back to the other side of the country to dance in Montreal, Quebec.

    The training was truly intense as the Artistic Director came from Armenia and was fully Russian trained. This company was also very young in existence. And sadly after a year with the company I found myself moving to Toronto Ontario after it closed due to financial difficulty. Fortunately I found employment again and toured with a group for the Board of Education. We performed for public schools dancing sometimes with our own touring floor taped to the gymnasium floor. At this point in my career I had come full circle. I was no longer that 10 year old boy watching in awe as I watched my first ballet performance in the school gymnasium. I was now the performer inspiring a young audience.

    Reflecting on my career and training there were some joyful moments. I believe that every artist strives for that perfect moment in their career, or in my case a perfect performance. My moment was performing a lead role in Cinderella in Edmonton Alberta. I am so grateful for my partner in the performance. Our performance was so beautiful that the article written about us simply stated that we both drew the audience in through the 4th wall.
    And yes this was that perfect performance.

    I now recognize that my being diagnosed as HIV+ in early 1993 played an important role in my decision to retire. I was struggling physically for quite some time, but never imagined these struggles were from having been infected with the virus. At the time I was not aware that HIV/AIDS even existed. I suppose I had further dreams to become either a dance teacher or choreographer. My diagnosis however was a barrier to these dreams which severely tore my life apart in every aspect.

    After suffering from chronic fatigue my partner at the time suggested I get an HIV test. I assumed my symptoms were due to years of dancing and believed retiring from my beloved career was the solution. I did as he suggested however and had the test done. My Doctor said he would be in touch if there were any concerns. So when the office called me at home requesting I come in I instantly went numb.

    I’ll never forget that day I walked alone into my Family Doctor’s office.


    I sat in his office waiting for him to arrive with emotions stirring endlessly inside of me. Shortly after I had been delivered the news that I had diagnosed positive for HIV and my heart sank. He then stressed to me that I would be unable to continue being his patient. He explained that I would need to follow up with an HIV Specialist as my CD4 counts required that I start medications.

    I left his office in an utter whirlwind of emotions. As I walked home I was overwhelmed thinking of how I would break the news to my parents. I struggled to understand what this would mean for me, as I knew little of the disease. What I did know however was that people were dying from it, and it was considered a ‘gay disease’.

    That evening I called my partner to break the news to him. At the time he was in the States on a delivery for work. Shortly thereafter I began seeing an HIV Specialist, and the two of us began receiving counseling.There really are no words to express the sheer emptiness I felt inside me, as I tried to move forward with some kind of dignity. Not only had I just been delivered (what at the time was considered a) death sentence, but I was struggling to manage this news within a relationship.

  • A Shattered Dream


    Part Two

    by John Henry Rombough-Davie aka The Dreamer

    I had only been dancing for 2 or 3 years when I decided to attend Vorp’s Summer School Dance Program in Toronto. I had the privilege of being taught by the Artistic Director of Dance Detroit who offered me an opportunity of a lifetime. He pulled me aside one day and asked if I would consider dancing in his production of The Nutcracker that winter!

    Wow, wow, wow, is all I can say! The Artistic Director saw potential in my dancing! I was selected as the only Canadian citizen to perform in Dance Detroit’s full length version of The Nutcracker! Being so young at the time I had to get permission from both my parents and dance teachers. Arrangements were made for me to travel to Detroit to begin rehearsals. And soon I was preparing for my role as Fritz, Clara’s rotten younger brother in The Nutcracker.

    Even though I returned to Detroit every Christmas Season for the next five years my first year was the most memorable. I still remember a quote from one of the articles I was featured in.

    “John Davie tossed off pirouettes like kids his age tossed snowballs”.

    Over that five year period I not only grew older and matured, but my career truly began to take shape. I began dancing other roles and was truly grateful for the opportunities being given to me. One thing grew more and more evident, I felt I was growing up too fast. Questions plagued me, like whether I was missing out on my youth, or what experiences were my friends having? I felt different in many ways; after all I was not only choosing but building my career at a young age.

    I was also quickly growing accustom to discouragement and comments about my chosen career path. I learned to turn a deaf ear to it, and in other cases I persevered to change their mind. One such case was my eldest brother; a Naval Officer. He expressed some disappointment in my career choice and in response to this I also joined the Navy League Cadets. With a great amount of effort and determination I eventually won him over.

    The constant bullying I experienced during my childhood started to take its toll on me. It began to shape how I saw myself and others. I would often get angry with myself as I was always striving for perfection. I found that people in general made me angry at times for simply being who they were. And I was quick to judge if I felt threatened in any way. The constant fighting for acceptance was damaging to my character. All I could do was to persevere with what I ultimately wanted to do.

    In hindsight, this constant fighting for approval and acceptance, however damaging, was valuable in my journey living with HIV. It was through these early experiences that I was able to withstand the stigma, discrimination and loss that would soon overwhelm me.

  • A Shattered Dream

    Part One

    John Henry Rombough-Davie aka The Dreamer


    It seems like yesterday when my Mother sat at the kitchen table across from me and told me that I was adopted.

    “Whatever you decide to do, know that we love you very much and will not hold you back,”is what she said to me.

    Of course I felt that I had to say something in return. The first thing that came to mind was simply that they are my parents. And there is no need to be concerned that I will want to search out my biological parents.

    I was only 10 years old and heading off to what I thought would be another normal day at school. We had assembly that afternoon with a guest appearance by a touring group with the National Ballet of Canada. I sat in amazement through the entire performance and felt an inner sense of excitement.

    That evening when I got home I rushed into the house and told my Mother about it. I said to her that I wanted to become a ballet dancer. Without any hesitation on her part she handed me the phone book. She told me to look up a few places and call around, which I promptly starting doing.

    The first place I called was Dorothy Carter’s School of Dance Arts. I soon found find myself attending evening classes after school and all day on Saturdays. This was surely a dream come true and I never looked back for a moment… until the time came when I started to get bullied at school for making this decision.

    Being so young and naïve I could not understand why my peers were doing this to me. This went on for the duration of my grade school years until my teachers intervened one day with a proposal. I was dumbfounded when they asked if I wanted to perform a dance piece at my grade 8 graduation. At first I hesitated. They explained to me that the students may gain a respect towards my decision to want to become a dancer. Despite my nervousness and anticipation my dance teachers helped me to choreograph a piece to perform.

    I have to confess that my teachers were right. Not only did the students congratulate me, but most even apologized for their behavior towards me over the years! Many even signed a program stating their feelings, something I have kept even to this day. Thanks to these classmates and teachers I developed a new found confidence and sense of empowerment. This was an invaluable experience as it helped me when I entered high school and was exposed once again to bullying and teasing. I also carried this experience with me throughout my career in ballet which would have me in the public eye. And finally, the strength I gained from these experiences helped me endure the greatest challenge of my life - an HIV diagnosis.


  • STI Awareness Month

    By: Cassandra Sheppard, Hepatitis C Outreach Coordinator

    April is STI Awareness Month. Here are some facts about STIs that you may not have already known.

    • Some people develop symptoms of Syphilis while others do not. The only way to know is to get tested.
    • Syphilis makes you more likely to transmit HIV
    • Syphilis can be very dangerous if left untreated
    • You can live with HIV for years without knowing it, or even feeling sick
    • HIV is not curable, but if a person is HIV positive and knows their status they can get on medications and live a fairly long healthy life
    • The main ways HIV can get passed between people are by unprotected sex (anal and vaginal), unprotected oral sex, sharing needles, ink (for tattoos), piercing equipment, to a fetus during pregnancy (if mother is unaware of her status or not on HIV medication) and through breast milk
    • Giving and getting oral sex without protection can put you at risk for STIs like Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Herpes, HPV, HIV, Syphilis and Hepatitis A and B
    • Testing for Chlamydia and Gonorrhea can now be done with a urine sample
    • Chlamydia may or may not have any symptoms, and can cause serious problems if left untreated. If you have had intercourse get tested to avoid further complications
    • Herpes can sometimes be mistaken for razor burn, jock itch or other skin irritations. The best way to know is to make an appointment to have it swabbed 
    • Herpes can be passed from person to person even without an outbreak
    • HPV can cause cervical, anal and/or throat cancer if left untreated. To help avoid this have anal and vaginal pap smears as often as possible if you are having anal and/or vaginal sex, and have your throat swabbed if you are having unprotected oral sex
    • Dental dams can be used for safer vaginal and anal oral sex. These are available at ARCH

     

    It's always best to get tested on a regualr basis if you are sexually active. If you would like to get tested you can call Public Health at 1-800-265-7293 ext 4715 to make an appointment. Do it today in honour of STI Awareness Month!

  • Gordon


    By Church Mouse

    blog 47 Gordon March 25/14

    As I turned 56 at the beginningof the month I am reminded of my late husband ,who's
    birthday was three days before. But one year younger.This poem is for him. 

    The flame of the candle dances with my every word.
    Are my prayers and hopes ever heard?
    One more birthday,one more year,
    Each one lonely without you here.
    What am I to do, now that you've gone away?
    I think of you each and everyday.
    You were my life my friend and soul mate,
    Not many people can relate.
    They seem to think with time I'll heal,
    My heartache for you is still so real.
    How can they expect me to forget you existed.
    When deaths claws you calmly resisted.
    Only for me you stayed as long as you could,
    You didn't give in when others thought you would.
    You bared the pain until the end,
    I had to let go of my very best friend.
    The battle fought and gaulently won,
    I prayed for you under a setting sun.
    May you rest in peace my beloved mate,
    I know you wait for me at the final gate.
    Love and thoughts of you tucked away,
    Waiting patiently for that special day.
    love Church Mouse


  • Our Camp


    by Church Mouse

    Even though others have shared this sacred space,
    For one week we enjoyed our special place.
    Tradition is what this place is all about....
    Native,spiritual,acceptence there's no doubt.
    Friendships made and compassion shared.....
    Life's pain and frustrations sometimes bared.
    The tears we shed are accepted here,
    From year to year and peer to peer.
    An expression of how much we care,
    To let them flow if we dare.
    This place is where we feel understood,
    By campers ,staff ,we knew they would.
    The trees show signs of change on the way,
    While we enjoy a beautiful day.
    A dip in the morning in the lake,
    Or a prayer for a friend ,or your own sake.
    We are a community linked by a touch of fate,
    We've experienced love or even hate.
    Stigma is a challenge we share,
    Alone it can be hard to bare.
    Here we can help each other to cope,
    Support and encouragement and lots of hope.
    So as we prepare to get on our way,
    We wish we could have one more day.
    We take with us memories of happy faces,
    Buried treasures in unique places.
    The flame of friendships ignited,
    Promises to keep in touch until reunited.
    Hugs and goodbyes passed all around,
    As we are homeward bound.
    The week has ended much too quick,
    From the sandy beach to the burnt candle wick.
    So watch for those Wendake moments throughout the year,
    Of wonderful moments and people you met here.
    Until we meet again at a place set apart,
    A place dear to my own heart.

  • missing you valentines day


    By Church Mouse

    Missing You Valentines Day 2014,

    The sky is grey and my heart is blue.....

    The day doesn't mean much without you!It's been seventeen years since the last Valentines day we shared,I always knew how much you cared.Our marriage to short to say,all that should have been said.We were never sure what laid ahead.That day we joined our hearts as one...Family and friends and a setting sun.My love for you will never die...I'v e said this with a heavy sigh.There are no easy answers why you had to go,God is the only one to know.For me life goes on to my dismay,As I think of you each and everyday."I love you more than you will know."Those words you said in a voice so low. Kindred spirit and soulmate....I know you wait for me at heavens gate.Until then memories are all I have of you Len my dear...On yet another Valentines day, another year.Love always your loving wife


  • Mo-Mondays


    Blog#45 Mo-Monday

    By Church Mouse

    "Hey, where did everybody go I am wondering to myself?" "I didn't do anything wrong! So, why am I being blinded by megawattage of lightsglaring mein the face?" I felt like a deer in headlights with nowhere to run......

    This is my first time speaking at Mo -Mondays. Apparently this is a regularoccurrenceat this bar. A chance for individuals to get up and motivate people by sharing their stories of survival whether it is cancer, abuse, trauma, overcoming adversity or, like myself, surviving and thriving with HIV. Everyone is welcome here. The host and audience are very supportive and non-judgmental.

    So on this night I am patiently waiting with my sis Beth and my best bud (who have come for moral support) for my cue to get on stage. I have seen the previous speakers struggling and commenting on the intense stage lights and my fears haveescalated ten- fold. No podium- I am not comfortable having tojostlemy notes, water, and microphone as well, "Oh dear!"

    Palms are sweaty, knees are knocking, heart is pounding, "Please, please don't let me trip on the way up the couple of steps to the stage!" I would be mortified! "Okay I have counted down the speakers, made a few nervous trips to the bathroom, tweaked my hair several times, checked forspinachin my teeth, then remembered I never had spinach after all! I see the hosts lips are moving and I vaguelyremember hearing my name. Cautiously I make my way up onto the stage, set my notes on the bar stool provided and I turn to face the audience ......and it happens! They're nowhere to be found!!!! "Now what?" I try to look up and over the glaring lights, I try to look under, "Oh no!" How do I talk to an audience that seems to have disappeared into thin air? I know they're there because I can hear a slight murmuring.

    Deep breath......as I reminded myself why I am here. I had been asked by the AIDS Committee of Guelph to address the issue of stigma as a part of AIDS Awareness week 2013. I have been given a unique opportunity to share my experiences about this ever present affliction called stigma.

    Sharing a bit about myself, who I am and who I have become since HIV entered my life. I then launched into stories of how I experienced stigma, discrimination and even rejection. So when I heard theinvisiblecrowd chuckle in the appropriate spots and gentle laughter at my cocky attitude I felt my whole body suddenly relax. So much so that Beth said you couldliterallyhear it in my voice. I shared with my audience......how people have made assumptions about who infected who in my relationship, when I don't even know the answer myself! When I had aulcerin my mouth and went to the emergency and tried to convince the Dr. that I was positive and inexcruciatingpain, he in turn thought that I was a drug addict because of my extreme weight loss- weighing only 89 lbs.

    Iexplainedhaving lost friendships on disclosing our status, about discrimination and ignorance, about how a HIV positive friend and I wereconfrontedat aConferencein Toronto. As we are returning to our room in the elevator we came upon an elderly couple. The woman, on noticing our badges and red ribbons, commented, "You’re not with those people, are you?" “What people?” my friend asks- "Those AIDS people!",the woman blurts out. "Well yes we are” my friend says with no shame! "And they put you up in here?", asks the woman. She isobviouslyshocked! OMG! Did she actually think we werecontagious?

    I went on to enlighten my audience on dating dilemmas. For example, how one time after leaving a bar from a blind date I noticed aplacardin the back window of his truck that read...."Beware my pit bull has AIDS!”. Looks like I dodged a bullet on that one. So after all is said and done Idescendthe steps to open arms of support. My heart is over- joyed. All I kept thinking was, "Wow what anincredible experience!” in this setting much like Yuk Yuks or the comedy club. After many hugs I am finally able to take a deep breath and relax. Even though there are many stories of stigma and adversity, I hope that I have been able to at least shed a little light on this hindering issue that is still rampant in 2013.Thanks to the folks at Mo Mondays and A.C.G. for letting me vent, share and shine.CM

  • Addiction, Mental Health and a Society That Fails to Understand

     By: Cassandra Sheppard, Hepatitis C Outreach Coordinator

    Below is a link to a blog that was written after the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. It is said that he died of an overdose after recently coming out of rehab. The risk of overdose is at its highest when someone has taken a break from use. This could be rehab, jail time or just a break in general.

     This blog talks about the stigma that people who use drugs face and the problematic way that society views addiction.

     http://debiehive.blogspot.ca/2014/02/addiction-mental-health-and-society.html

     

  • The Camp we Love


    By Church Mouse

    Tucked away among the trees on the shore of lake Huron there resides a camp known to many of us campers as the camp with a heart. A place where each summer HIV positive individuals, their partners, and their families can relax and be pampered for a week. My first year as a camper I was shocked to find out such a great place existed. I was so impressed that the second year I invited my biggest supporter (my sister Beth) to join me. Last year was my third year and I wanted to give back in any way I could. So when I got that phone call asking me if I would co-facilitate the children's program I jumped at the chance to be on staff. Immediately I was on the hunt perusing stores for prizes and game ideas.

    When June came around it was time to meet up with the other staff and make the annual video that would be available on the camp website as aglimpseof what the campers could expect. I was pleased to see that the staff was going to be made up of half newbies and half dedicated long term volunteers. I was thrilled to be part of this amazing group who make the running of the camp look effortless.

    Arriving the day before the campers at the end of August, I was able to unpack and meet myco- facilitator and try and get a good night’s sleep. So when the campers arrived the next day we were ready and waiting inanticipationwith our ten foot welcome banner.

    In the first full day Ilearnedthat you need to beflexiblewhen it comes to camp. Because plans can change at the last minute and might not always go as you’d imagined. I had gone with an idea of how I thought I wanted the program to look. Sometimes things are beyond your control. I wasdisappointedto find out that some of thefamilieswith children hadcancelled, leaving us with only two boys 7 and 9 and a teen who was 16. Oh well!

    Our program allowed the kids to go to the beach after breakfast and after lunch it was on to crafts. We tie dyed t-shirts, had a treasure hunt and played mini golf. There was also a splash pad just off to the side of the dining hall. The campers were also kept busy with preparing forThursdaynight’stalent show. One day they went into a play in a nearby theatre. There were also lots of crafts to create and a bingo night. By the end of my days I was so tired out from all the fresh air and exercise.

    The best part was how excited, involved and competitive the kids became in the treasure hunt. Our candy apple making had a few flaws, but we will know for next time. All and all I think they enjoyed their week.

    Beforehand I had wondered how I was going to handle my role as staff but at the same time enjoy time with the campers I had met in previous yrs. Both staff and campers made my new role easy.
    Many, many campers have strolled thegroundsof this camp; enjoying the beauty, peace and quietatmosphere. It is a place where you can breathe easy knowing others understand what you are going through; where no one is judging you or making you feel stigmatized. You can be yourself.

    Camp ....... what can I say?! Here I found compassion, friends, and smiling faces each and every day. I was inspired, challenged, loved, rewarded and teased. I felt excepted for who I am with my idiosyncrasies and naive personality. Back home I am a loving aunt and a widow who loves coming to a place set apart. cm


  • Reflections for AIDS Awareness Week

    By Olivia Kijewski

    originally written for and published on PositiveLite.com

    Reflections for AIDS Awareness Week 2013
    As many of you are well aware, AIDS Awareness week (AAW) is fast approaching. For those of you who don’t know, AIDS Awareness Week is celebrated each year in the lead up to World AIDS Day, December 1st. During this time, we commemorate those we have lost, recognize the resilience of those living with HIV, appreciate what we have achieved, and consider what work still needs to be done globally, nationally, and locally.
    As we gear up for AAW, I get a lot of opportunity to reflect on the past, present, and future of HIV. While I know we have come a long way since AIDS first made its mark on the map in the early 80’s, I find myself spending the most amount of time still considering what needs to done (in most aspects of my life actually). While we have made huge strides, some days it feels like it is still 1985. This certainly seems to be the theme that has come up over and over again in the lead to AAW.

    Recently at our agency, myself and some of our clients/participants/peer workers have been working with the college radio to produce a documentary for AIDS Awareness Week. It may as well be called, “Didn’t we leave the 80s years ago?” as the common thread between most of the stories was that the general public seems to know as much about HIV as they did in the 80s. There was a similar ethos among the people I talked to at the Ontario HIV Treatment Network Research Conference this year. Sure, people who have access to adequate health care and can adhere to proper medications are no longer dying. Sure, a tone of research has been done and we have made huge leaps and bounds in our understanding of HIV on many fronts. But the question I am left with is: Why does so little of this transpire to the general public?

    The stories in the news tend to either falsely inform the public that we have a cure and/or vaccine for HIV, or that everyone with HIV is actively trying to infect “innocent victims”. This of course is interesting because, why are people being charged with infecting others with something that is supposedly curable and you can just take a pill for? I know I’m preaching to the frustrated choir, but in light of AAW, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the key themes I hear from our clients and other people living with HIV or in the field, as a reminder that we still have a long way to go.
    As usual, stigma plays a huge role. Not much of a surprise there that people who are living with HIV experience stigma, but sometimes we forget what an intimate relationship stigma can have with so many aspects of our lives. The common frustrations of people living with HIV both stem from stigma, but contribute to it at the same time.

    1) People living with HIV are so tired of having to educate people about HIV. Why, why, why do people not know about HIV is something I hear regularly? I’m not even talking about viral load and CD4 counts and treatment as prevention, although I know that explaining this gets tiring for many people living with HIV. I’m talking about an alarming amount of the general public still believing you can contract HIV from mosquitoes or sharing utensils with people living with HIV or kissing, etc. I am talking about things that an adult who has any level of primary school education should know, not to mention adults who have had sex. And they are not entirely to blame. Our education system is doing us a great disservice if we have full grown adults that are still afraid to use the same toilet as someone living with HIV.
    2) Another frustration that has surfaced is with the lack of people who know their status. This has come up a couple of times in the past few weeks. The general thought being that if you are sexually active, particularly if you are engaging in unprotected sex, you have a responsibility to get tested for HIV. While it is certainly understood why people might be afraid to know their status, not knowing yours and telling people you are negative, and potentially infecting others, is frustrating for people who are taking precautions to protect others but also taking the brunt of the stigma.
    3) You also have a responsibility to protect yourself in sexual encounters. Despite what the law says, all parties involved in sexual encounters have a responsibility to protect themselves and others against STIs. The message has been pretty clear: People living with HIV who know their status and are on medications, generally have a much lower risk of transmission than someone who does not know their status. Although again, very little of the general population knows this. Discriminating against people living with HIV makes no sense, since two seconds before they told you their HIV status, you were willing to have unprotected sex with them, now you’re not? Not everyone knows they are living with HIV. Something like 25% of people living with HIV in Ontario, don’t know it. Therefore, don’t count on someone to tell you they have HIV. Take personal responsibility in protecting yourself and think twice before reporting someone for not disclosing. There are a myriad of reasons why someone may not be able to disclose. Maybe ask yourself why you had unprotected sex in the first place. I heard today that if you look at a text while driving and cause an accident, the person who sent you the text can be held liable. This is based on the same values that inform our criminalization laws- no one is to be held responsible for their own actions in this society. Remember: you’re the one that decided to take the risk by driving the car. You’re the one who decides to put your seat belt on for protection. And you’re the one who decided to check the text. But somehow someone else is liable for the accident you caused?
    While this seems to have turned into a rant, I can only imagine the frustration of people who have to deal with this stigma and ignorance day in and day out. It’s infuriating and exhausting. That’s not to say that we don’t have things to look forward to in the future. I hope that sex education is becoming more inclusive for LGBTQ populations and that HIV education is moving from a 5 min piece in sex ed, to numerous full length discussions over time. Also, as more research begins to support treatment as prevention, perhaps if it can make its way to the general public in the place of sensationalist criminalization pieces, people will begin to understand how low HIV transmission risk can be, which will hopefully in turn help reduce fear and stigma.

    So, as we approach AAW, we should continue to reflect on how far we have come, how far we have left to go, and what promise the future holds. And if you are not living with HIV or work alongside it, but want to do something in honour AAW this year (besides support some of our amazing events http://www.aidsguelph.org/aids-awareness-week-2013) you can begin by taking steps to help reduce HIV stigma by educating yourself, getting tested regularly, and taking personal responsibility in your own sexual health.



  • I am Meth

     Introducing our newest youth blogger Tina!

    You'll regret that you tried me, they always do,
    But you came to me, not I to you.
    You knew this would happen, many times you were told,
    But you challenged my power, and chose to be bold.

    You could have said no, and just walked away,
    If you could live that day over, now what would you say?
    I'll be your master, you will be my slave,
    I'll even go with you, when you go to your grave.

    I can bring you more misery than words can tell,
    Come take my hand, let me lead you to hell.

    - Sincerely Tina

  • How Do You Say Goodbye?


    HOW DO YOU SAY GOODBYE?
    This blog about the loss of my mom has been the hardest to write and a long time coming.


    It was October of 1998.I was suddenly jarred awake by the frantic whispering of the two nurses standing at the side of my mother's hospital bed, "What's going, what's wrong?” I ask groggily. They proceed to explain that the tube that was draining fluid from her lungs had come out. I had been sitting in the arm chair writing her a letter that she would never read......


    The year had started out good pretty good for me. I had jumped back into sharing my experiences about being HIV positive, I was putting weight back on and I was turning the big four- O! Although this was all very exciting and I was moving forward.......a dark cloud was about to envelop our entire family as mother was losing her battle to cancer; melanoma to be exact. I really don't know how long she had it, because it seemed to take forever to diagnose. I just remember quit clearly making a call to see how her doctor’s appointment went......carefully choosing her words she informed me of the results of the tests that confirmed her disease. She quickly followed the results with, "It's not hereditary”. I remember feeling numb as my husband Gordon took the phone from my hand. Asking me what was wrong? He held me as I took in this devastating news. In the following months mom was given chemo pills, but the doctors ruled out the possibility of a bone marrow transplant because she was just shy of 70.


    It was fall and I was invited to a co-ed HIV positive retreat in Bolton Ontario. I was to meet my friend Karen from Toronto. Saturday morning I confided to her that I had had a dream that night that the police were looking for me, that I needed to go home. She assured me that it was probably because I had forgotten to leave a contact number. I didn't think too much more about it and Karen and I enjoyed our beautiful surroundings of the changing leaves, meeting new people, and great food. Only regretting having to leave so soon.

    I arrived home the next night to several messages from Beth informing me that Mom had been taken to Stratford hospital. The doctor had put in a chest tube to drain the fluid which in turn caused her to have a heart attack. Apparently it wasn't the first. Arriving at the hospital I almost walked right past her bed. I barely recognized her amongst the piles of pillows and the starched white sheets that fought with her complexion. She appeared small and fragile. The skin on her hands was very thin and transparent. She appeared to be in good spirits and chatted with all the family. When they had first brought her in the doctor did not expect her to live the first five hours and Dad was advised to gather the family. The following days Dad and I stayed at the hospital. She was put on morphine and they drained a pint and a half of fluid from her from her lungs. She seemed a bit better, although by night fall she was restless and kept repeating the same words over and over again: "Just give me a minute". The nurses were nice enough to give us the adjoining room, but I chose a chair instead in which to finish my letter, which is where I feel asleep until those nurses woke me up. I anxiously scanned the parking lot at dawn for a familiar face. My sisters Beth and Val had children and my brother had cattle to take care of. I worried that they may be too late as Mom’s breathing was getting labored. Dad was exhausted so I let him sleep until family came.

    With the arrival of the doctor we were told that he was afraid to insert another chest tube in fear of causing another heart attack. He shared with us that the first one had been sewn in, but that mom had to have pulled it out. For us this was a clear indication that she had had enough. Luckily, we were all present when she took her final breath on that miserable rainy day in October.

    Thinking back now on a story Mom's sister had shared with us about one of Mom's hospital stays. My aunt said the doctor looking at my mom’s chart commented “looks like you need a blood transfusion young lady". Without hesitating Mom said to him, “I don't think so!" As my aunt stood there flabbergasted the doctor said, “Suit yourself” and strolled out into the corridor. Followed by my Mom yelling after him, "I changed my mind, maybe you’re right" I wonder if this was stubbornness or denial?


    Our mom was a hardworking, very thoughtful, caring mom. But I felt there was always something missing in her life. She came from a large family with 11 siblings. Being the oldest girl she quickly became care-giver to the younger ones. She told me more than once of how she had to stand on a stool to do dishes at the age of five. Many yrs later she gave up her career as an R.N. to assist my dad on our two farms. As she settled into her role as wife, mother, and grandmother she never had much time to enjoy life. She was there for school projects, to help with homework and bake for church functions, She taught us girls to knit, crochet, and embroidery. She worked endlessly to help bring in the crops. She probably handled more bales of hay than a guy half her age. We always had a huge garden where the dog was always instructed to stay out! It is sad to say that she never got to do the traveling that she craved. And there are now four great grandchildren that never got to meet her. In closing I would like to share this poem in her honor.

    Isn't it strange that those we need.......
    are those we love the best,

    and just the ones that God needs too,
    and takes them home to rest.
    unknown
    Rest in peace Mom,
    love the church mouse

  • A Girl with HIV

     By: Cassandra Sheppard, Hepatitis C Outreach Coordinator

    Here is the link to a great blog by a woman living with HIV in the UK. It's her story of diagnosis, to HIV non disclosure and criminalization, to having babies. It is difficult to read at times, but very inspiring and empowering to women that are living with HIV. I applaud her courage! Please click the link below

    A Girl With HIV

  • World Hepatitis Day in Guelph-2013

     By: Cassandra Sheppard, Hepatitis C Outreach Coordinator

    Did you know that 1 in 12 people are living with some form of Hepatitis B or C?

    Did you know that Hepatitis C can be cured?

    Did you know that Hepatitis C is spread through blood to blood contact only?

    Did you know that the Hepatitis C virus can live outside of the body for days?

    Did you know that Hepatitis A B and C are all viruses that effect the liver?

    Did you know that you can live with Hepatitis C for decades without any symptoms and therefore not even know that you have it?

    Did you know that Hepatitis C could have been spread through blood transfusions or organ donations before 1992?

    Did you know that there is NO vaccine for Hepatitis C?

     All of the information above are facts about viral Hepatitis that some people are unaware of. World Hepatitis Day is meant to bring awareness to these issues, and so much more. The AIDS Committee of Guelph and Sanguen Health Centre collaborated for the second annual World Hepatitis Day event downtown Guelph.

    We had so many amazing volunteers that worked so very hard to make this day wonderful. We seriously could not have done it without them. Every time I looked around they were working so hard. I could feel the passion for the cause radiating from them. I was truly amazed by watching the way our community pulled together for WHD.

    We had some fabulous activities this year: face painting, red and yellow hair extensions, hair braiding and beading, a photo blog where members of our community wrote on a piece of paper about why Hep C awareness and harm reduction is important to them, and an area where people could paint.

    We had tons of snacks and drinks; some of which were graciously donated by Walmart and Zehrs, as well as beautiful flowers donated by sweet violets, 15 coupons for free coffees from Planet Bean and a HUGE donation of 20 pizzas from Dominoes. I can’t even begin to explain how grateful we are to the wonderful businesses that donated. Without them the event would not have been the success that it was.

    Wow what a day! Such an amazing way to raise awareness within our community. When I look back at last year’s World Hep Day and how happy I was about the success of the event, it seems so far away. This year’s event beat out last year’s event by a million! The community came together to spread awareness about Hepatitis. I can’t wait until next year!

  • New Promising Hep C Treatments

     By: Cassandra Sheppard, Hepatitis C Outreach Coordinator

    It looks like we may have interferon free Hep C treatments as soon as 2014. This will change the face of Hep C treatment as we know it. Interferon is a very invasive part of Hep C treatment, usually with severe side effects. These new treatments will not only be interferon free, but have higher and faster success rates. Sounds like great news! The only downfall seems to be that these new meds seem to be quite expensive and we have no idea weather or not we will have provincial coverage. Fingers crossed!! Check out the link below to read on about the new up and coming Hep C treatments.

     http://www.catie.ca/en/news/easier-to-take-and-more-cures

  • A Career Come and Gone VII

    The Dreamer on How to Deal with Conflict

    I have been struggling this past while with such things as rejection…………..an example of this is having been denied a spot at camp this year. I applied to go as a staff volunteer and found myself sending the camp an apology letter for my abruptness when I initially got the news. Others were seeing this behavioral change and suggested the following:

    Conflict Check In
    Point 1
    Take five deep, slow, long breaths
    John’s take on it - Helps to relax, withdraw momentarily from the situation, and helps keep composure

    Point 2
    Sleep on it! Do not respond at least until tomorrow
    John’s take on it – Allows for time to analyze what just happened and provide the necessary time to refocus

    Point 3
    What did I just hear/read?
    John’s take on it - Simply being human and involvement with other people can influence our judgment; misinterpretation could prevent the delivery of the true message

    Point 4
    Why am I feeling prickly?

    John’s take on it – Something has just occurred and it’s making me feel a little uneasy. Would it have been a choice of words I used, or was I feeling too strong about something that I’m not allowing for changes to be considered?

    Point 5
    Does it really mean what I think it means?
    John’s take on it – Am I so focused on believing in a certain way, that it’s preventing me from seeing things from another perspective?

    Point 6
    Maybe I need to say it out loud to myself before responding…
    John’s take on it – Re-analyze in your own head what was just said, explain it out loud to yourself and look for any signs that might trigger a negative response and act accordingly

    Point 7
    Maybe I have to talk this through with someone else before responding…
    John’s take on it – Requesting additional feedback will help to understand another person’s reasoning

    Point 8
    Is there anything negative in this scenario that I may have caused?
    John’s take on it – Did I just attack someone’s theory or belief on something?

    Point 9
    If I blast the person, what will that solve?
    John’s take on it – Do I honestly feel things will stay the same between us and allow for constructive dialogue afterwards?

    Point 10
    If I blast the person, what will that harm?
    John - Any future interactions will likely be negative with that person, it will create friction and inhibit any further growth in our relationship

    Point 11
    How could I improve the situation for myself?
    John’s take on it – Be open to suggestions, provide the space for changes and remain diligent

    I’d like to say that having put myself through the above process has helped me to be able to apologize for certain events that have unfolded in my life lately. Again, I realized that I have a hard time with accepting rejection, even when it is specified in a caring manner. I suppose this is due to a variety of circumstances that have unfolded throughout my life. I’ve always felt that because I was trying my hardest to always achieve my goals, I was safe to assume.


  • Macklemore Supports Equalilty!

    Way to go Macklemore! What an inspiration he is to write a song about equality and homophobia.

    Macklemore's newest hit "Same Love" is an amazing song. This song explains why he believes that the LGBTQ community deserves all of the same rights as any other human.

    Macklemore is one of today’s biggest artists. All of the kids, teens and young adults listen to his music. I have heard this song numerous times on the radio. This morning they said the song was HUGE and getting requested constantly.

    What a great way to spread awareness about a serious issue!

    So I’ll say it again… Way to go Macklemore!

    Click the link below to watch the video for this touching, heart wrenching song about the challenges and issues surrounding homophobia that people face in today’s world

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlVBg7_08n0

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  • A Shattered Dream

    Part 4 


    Written by: John Henry Rombough-Davie - aka “The Dreamer”

    I eventually moved from my hometown to Kitchener, Ontario and found myself at the doorstep of the local AIDS Service Organization, and over the course of 17 years I obtained support from this agency. Support was strongly needed to help me overcome the stigma that came with an HIV diagnosis. ACCKWA (AIDS Committee of Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo and Area) became my second home. As the blood started to flow through my veins again, so did my desire to connect with the outside world. While I was, and continue to be, unable to physically hold a full-time job, I found volunteering was a good fit. Volunteering supported my need to be active in the community, and it gave me the flexibility to manage my physical ailments when necessary. Most importantly I felt valuable to the agency; I felt my skills were put to good use and I was appreciated for my time and energy. As such, I volunteered as often as my health permitted.


    As my confidence grew so did my desire to share my own personal story. I signed up for the Speakers Bureau and began public speaking. In the beginning I was terrified to talk in public about being HIV+. However, with time it grew easier for me and even became somewhat therapeutic. Sharing my story allowed me to speak out against stigma and bullying which had a strong presence during those important years of growing up.


    I’ll never forget the speaking engagement I agreed to do in front of an audience of 450 students. I felt as if a load was lifted off my shoulders when I walked in the front doors of that school. The walls were filled with painted murals of various forms of artistry. It was then that I become aware that this was an Arts School. Feeling a connection with my own love of the Arts I was able to hold my head high in preparation for my speech.


    After delivering my presentation one young man came to me afterwards in tears. He expressed his gratitude for me sharing my story so openly. He disclosed that his Uncle was also HIV+ and was not able to talk about his status so freely. He shared that he lacked education about HIV so was unable to fully understand the challenges of living with it. After listening to my story he now felt empowered, more knowledgeable and better able to connect with his Uncle.


    On another occasion I and another HIV+ gentleman were invited to share our story at a high school. While I was a gay man whose background was in dance, the other speaker was a heterosexual man with a background in hockey. Initially I didn’t recognize this difference and the significance it had to my audience. However watching the reactions of some audience members it was like night and day. While there were stark difference between us in respect to career choice, sexuality and personalities, our decisions brought us to a very similar ground.


    I am very thankful that I grew up with a love for dance. I feel this passion kept me focused and steered my life in the right direction. I can truly say I have no regrets. I feel I treated others around me with utmost respect, provided they showed me the same. Looking back however I am saddened at how fast I had to mature in order to achieve my goals. I am also thankful for the AIDS Service Organizations in my community that opened their doors to me. They not only helped me mourn the loss of my career, but helped me to create new meaning in my life as an HIV positive individual. I once acknowledged my dream as being ‘shattered’. However with the support of local AIDS Service Organizations I have found the strength and courage to build a new dream. This new direction will be reflected in my upcoming blog series titled “A Once Shattered Dream”.



    On that note, I wish to thank the many AIDS Service Organizations that have helped me during this transition, without their support I don’t know where, or who, I would be today.

  • A Shattered Dream

    Part 3

    John Henry Rombough-Davie aka “The Dreamer”


    After 10 years of training to become a Classical Ballet Dancer, it was now time to venture away from the nest to start performing professionally. I left Ontario to settle in Halifax Nova Scotia, joining a very young dance company. The first year came and went by so quickly. And then came the news that funding would not allow the company to exist the following season. It was devastating. However, I was young and full of energy and my career soon took me to the other side of the country to Edmonton, Alberta.

    After two and half years with this company I experienced another shattering blow when I was fired. I became an empty shell as I fought to understand why this had just happened. I realized that while devotion and compassion caused me to give 110% I was also stubborn. In the midst of my frustration I had to accept that the news of my being fired made front page in the Entertainment Section of the local newspaper. I was to have played the lead role in a full-length ballet being performed that evening, but instead I was gathering up my belongings.

    When I got home I was surrounded by a stir of emotions and a sense of emptiness. I did not know where my life would now take me. I also felt horrible that I was not able to say goodbye to other dancers in the company. We were all like one big happy family; touring, rehearsing, performing, eating meals together on tour and sharing hotel rooms. I chose to go to the theatre that evening to see the production and sat in the audience in tears. Afterwards I chose to go backstage to say my goodbyes to everyone. Everyone was as shocked as I was that I was fired and with respect to the article that was published that afternoon.

    ”John Davie who was to perform as Franz in this evenings production of COPPELIA was fired due to obnoxious behavior”.


    Franz was an obnoxious character indeed and rehearsing for the part for weeks likely played a part. Nonetheless, I was forced to pick up the pieces and move on. I was very fortunate to have the resident choreographer looking out for my best interests and he found two job opportunities elsewhere; one was in Canada and the other in the United States. I chose to stay in Canada as I did not want to apply for my Green Card to work in the States. So once again I relocated back to the other side of the country to dance in Montreal, Quebec.

    The training was truly intense as the Artistic Director came from Armenia and was fully Russian trained. This company was also very young in existence. And sadly after a year with the company I found myself moving to Toronto Ontario after it closed due to financial difficulty. Fortunately I found employment again and toured with a group for the Board of Education. We performed for public schools dancing sometimes with our own touring floor taped to the gymnasium floor. At this point in my career I had come full circle. I was no longer that 10 year old boy watching in awe as I watched my first ballet performance in the school gymnasium. I was now the performer inspiring a young audience.

    Reflecting on my career and training there were some joyful moments. I believe that every artist strives for that perfect moment in their career, or in my case a perfect performance. My moment was performing a lead role in Cinderella in Edmonton Alberta. I am so grateful for my partner in the performance. Our performance was so beautiful that the article written about us simply stated that we both drew the audience in through the 4th wall.
    And yes this was that perfect performance.

    I now recognize that my being diagnosed as HIV+ in early 1993 played an important role in my decision to retire. I was struggling physically for quite some time, but never imagined these struggles were from having been infected with the virus. At the time I was not aware that HIV/AIDS even existed. I suppose I had further dreams to become either a dance teacher or choreographer. My diagnosis however was a barrier to these dreams which severely tore my life apart in every aspect.

    After suffering from chronic fatigue my partner at the time suggested I get an HIV test. I assumed my symptoms were due to years of dancing and believed retiring from my beloved career was the solution. I did as he suggested however and had the test done. My Doctor said he would be in touch if there were any concerns. So when the office called me at home requesting I come in I instantly went numb.

    I’ll never forget that day I walked alone into my Family Doctor’s office.


    I sat in his office waiting for him to arrive with emotions stirring endlessly inside of me. Shortly after I had been delivered the news that I had diagnosed positive for HIV and my heart sank. He then stressed to me that I would be unable to continue being his patient. He explained that I would need to follow up with an HIV Specialist as my CD4 counts required that I start medications.

    I left his office in an utter whirlwind of emotions. As I walked home I was overwhelmed thinking of how I would break the news to my parents. I struggled to understand what this would mean for me, as I knew little of the disease. What I did know however was that people were dying from it, and it was considered a ‘gay disease’.

    That evening I called my partner to break the news to him. At the time he was in the States on a delivery for work. Shortly thereafter I began seeing an HIV Specialist, and the two of us began receiving counseling.There really are no words to express the sheer emptiness I felt inside me, as I tried to move forward with some kind of dignity. Not only had I just been delivered (what at the time was considered a) death sentence, but I was struggling to manage this news within a relationship.

  • A Shattered Dream


    Part Two

    by John Henry Rombough-Davie aka The Dreamer

    I had only been dancing for 2 or 3 years when I decided to attend Vorp’s Summer School Dance Program in Toronto. I had the privilege of being taught by the Artistic Director of Dance Detroit who offered me an opportunity of a lifetime. He pulled me aside one day and asked if I would consider dancing in his production of The Nutcracker that winter!

    Wow, wow, wow, is all I can say! The Artistic Director saw potential in my dancing! I was selected as the only Canadian citizen to perform in Dance Detroit’s full length version of The Nutcracker! Being so young at the time I had to get permission from both my parents and dance teachers. Arrangements were made for me to travel to Detroit to begin rehearsals. And soon I was preparing for my role as Fritz, Clara’s rotten younger brother in The Nutcracker.

    Even though I returned to Detroit every Christmas Season for the next five years my first year was the most memorable. I still remember a quote from one of the articles I was featured in.

    “John Davie tossed off pirouettes like kids his age tossed snowballs”.

    Over that five year period I not only grew older and matured, but my career truly began to take shape. I began dancing other roles and was truly grateful for the opportunities being given to me. One thing grew more and more evident, I felt I was growing up too fast. Questions plagued me, like whether I was missing out on my youth, or what experiences were my friends having? I felt different in many ways; after all I was not only choosing but building my career at a young age.

    I was also quickly growing accustom to discouragement and comments about my chosen career path. I learned to turn a deaf ear to it, and in other cases I persevered to change their mind. One such case was my eldest brother; a Naval Officer. He expressed some disappointment in my career choice and in response to this I also joined the Navy League Cadets. With a great amount of effort and determination I eventually won him over.

    The constant bullying I experienced during my childhood started to take its toll on me. It began to shape how I saw myself and others. I would often get angry with myself as I was always striving for perfection. I found that people in general made me angry at times for simply being who they were. And I was quick to judge if I felt threatened in any way. The constant fighting for acceptance was damaging to my character. All I could do was to persevere with what I ultimately wanted to do.

    In hindsight, this constant fighting for approval and acceptance, however damaging, was valuable in my journey living with HIV. It was through these early experiences that I was able to withstand the stigma, discrimination and loss that would soon overwhelm me.

  • A Shattered Dream

    Part One

    John Henry Rombough-Davie aka The Dreamer


    It seems like yesterday when my Mother sat at the kitchen table across from me and told me that I was adopted.

    “Whatever you decide to do, know that we love you very much and will not hold you back,”is what she said to me.

    Of course I felt that I had to say something in return. The first thing that came to mind was simply that they are my parents. And there is no need to be concerned that I will want to search out my biological parents.

    I was only 10 years old and heading off to what I thought would be another normal day at school. We had assembly that afternoon with a guest appearance by a touring group with the National Ballet of Canada. I sat in amazement through the entire performance and felt an inner sense of excitement.

    That evening when I got home I rushed into the house and told my Mother about it. I said to her that I wanted to become a ballet dancer. Without any hesitation on her part she handed me the phone book. She told me to look up a few places and call around, which I promptly starting doing.

    The first place I called was Dorothy Carter’s School of Dance Arts. I soon found find myself attending evening classes after school and all day on Saturdays. This was surely a dream come true and I never looked back for a moment… until the time came when I started to get bullied at school for making this decision.

    Being so young and naïve I could not understand why my peers were doing this to me. This went on for the duration of my grade school years until my teachers intervened one day with a proposal. I was dumbfounded when they asked if I wanted to perform a dance piece at my grade 8 graduation. At first I hesitated. They explained to me that the students may gain a respect towards my decision to want to become a dancer. Despite my nervousness and anticipation my dance teachers helped me to choreograph a piece to perform.

    I have to confess that my teachers were right. Not only did the students congratulate me, but most even apologized for their behavior towards me over the years! Many even signed a program stating their feelings, something I have kept even to this day. Thanks to these classmates and teachers I developed a new found confidence and sense of empowerment. This was an invaluable experience as it helped me when I entered high school and was exposed once again to bullying and teasing. I also carried this experience with me throughout my career in ballet which would have me in the public eye. And finally, the strength I gained from these experiences helped me endure the greatest challenge of my life - an HIV diagnosis.


  • Gordon


    By Church Mouse

    blog 47 Gordon March 25/14

    As I turned 56 at the beginningof the month I am reminded of my late husband ,who's
    birthday was three days before. But one year younger.This poem is for him. 

    The flame of the candle dances with my every word.
    Are my prayers and hopes ever heard?
    One more birthday,one more year,
    Each one lonely without you here.
    What am I to do, now that you've gone away?
    I think of you each and everyday.
    You were my life my friend and soul mate,
    Not many people can relate.
    They seem to think with time I'll heal,
    My heartache for you is still so real.
    How can they expect me to forget you existed.
    When deaths claws you calmly resisted.
    Only for me you stayed as long as you could,
    You didn't give in when others thought you would.
    You bared the pain until the end,
    I had to let go of my very best friend.
    The battle fought and gaulently won,
    I prayed for you under a setting sun.
    May you rest in peace my beloved mate,
    I know you wait for me at the final gate.
    Love and thoughts of you tucked away,
    Waiting patiently for that special day.
    love Church Mouse


  • Our Camp


    by Church Mouse

    Even though others have shared this sacred space,
    For one week we enjoyed our special place.
    Tradition is what this place is all about....
    Native,spiritual,acceptence there's no doubt.
    Friendships made and compassion shared.....
    Life's pain and frustrations sometimes bared.
    The tears we shed are accepted here,
    From year to year and peer to peer.
    An expression of how much we care,
    To let them flow if we dare.
    This place is where we feel understood,
    By campers ,staff ,we knew they would.
    The trees show signs of change on the way,
    While we enjoy a beautiful day.
    A dip in the morning in the lake,
    Or a prayer for a friend ,or your own sake.
    We are a community linked by a touch of fate,
    We've experienced love or even hate.
    Stigma is a challenge we share,
    Alone it can be hard to bare.
    Here we can help each other to cope,
    Support and encouragement and lots of hope.
    So as we prepare to get on our way,
    We wish we could have one more day.
    We take with us memories of happy faces,
    Buried treasures in unique places.
    The flame of friendships ignited,
    Promises to keep in touch until reunited.
    Hugs and goodbyes passed all around,
    As we are homeward bound.
    The week has ended much too quick,
    From the sandy beach to the burnt candle wick.
    So watch for those Wendake moments throughout the year,
    Of wonderful moments and people you met here.
    Until we meet again at a place set apart,
    A place dear to my own heart.

  • missing you valentines day


    By Church Mouse

    Missing You Valentines Day 2014,

    The sky is grey and my heart is blue.....

    The day doesn't mean much without you!It's been seventeen years since the last Valentines day we shared,I always knew how much you cared.Our marriage to short to say,all that should have been said.We were never sure what laid ahead.That day we joined our hearts as one...Family and friends and a setting sun.My love for you will never die...I'v e said this with a heavy sigh.There are no easy answers why you had to go,God is the only one to know.For me life goes on to my dismay,As I think of you each and everyday."I love you more than you will know."Those words you said in a voice so low. Kindred spirit and soulmate....I know you wait for me at heavens gate.Until then memories are all I have of you Len my dear...On yet another Valentines day, another year.Love always your loving wife


  • Mo-Mondays


    Blog#45 Mo-Monday

    By Church Mouse

    "Hey, where did everybody go I am wondering to myself?" "I didn't do anything wrong! So, why am I being blinded by megawattage of lightsglaring mein the face?" I felt like a deer in headlights with nowhere to run......

    This is my first time speaking at Mo -Mondays. Apparently this is a regularoccurrenceat this bar. A chance for individuals to get up and motivate people by sharing their stories of survival whether it is cancer, abuse, trauma, overcoming adversity or, like myself, surviving and thriving with HIV. Everyone is welcome here. The host and audience are very supportive and non-judgmental.

    So on this night I am patiently waiting with my sis Beth and my best bud (who have come for moral support) for my cue to get on stage. I have seen the previous speakers struggling and commenting on the intense stage lights and my fears haveescalated ten- fold. No podium- I am not comfortable having tojostlemy notes, water, and microphone as well, "Oh dear!"

    Palms are sweaty, knees are knocking, heart is pounding, "Please, please don't let me trip on the way up the couple of steps to the stage!" I would be mortified! "Okay I have counted down the speakers, made a few nervous trips to the bathroom, tweaked my hair several times, checked forspinachin my teeth, then remembered I never had spinach after all! I see the hosts lips are moving and I vaguelyremember hearing my name. Cautiously I make my way up onto the stage, set my notes on the bar stool provided and I turn to face the audience ......and it happens! They're nowhere to be found!!!! "Now what?" I try to look up and over the glaring lights, I try to look under, "Oh no!" How do I talk to an audience that seems to have disappeared into thin air? I know they're there because I can hear a slight murmuring.

    Deep breath......as I reminded myself why I am here. I had been asked by the AIDS Committee of Guelph to address the issue of stigma as a part of AIDS Awareness week 2013. I have been given a unique opportunity to share my experiences about this ever present affliction called stigma.

    Sharing a bit about myself, who I am and who I have become since HIV entered my life. I then launched into stories of how I experienced stigma, discrimination and even rejection. So when I heard theinvisiblecrowd chuckle in the appropriate spots and gentle laughter at my cocky attitude I felt my whole body suddenly relax. So much so that Beth said you couldliterallyhear it in my voice. I shared with my audience......how people have made assumptions about who infected who in my relationship, when I don't even know the answer myself! When I had aulcerin my mouth and went to the emergency and tried to convince the Dr. that I was positive and inexcruciatingpain, he in turn thought that I was a drug addict because of my extreme weight loss- weighing only 89 lbs.

    Iexplainedhaving lost friendships on disclosing our status, about discrimination and ignorance, about how a HIV positive friend and I wereconfrontedat aConferencein Toronto. As we are returning to our room in the elevator we came upon an elderly couple. The woman, on noticing our badges and red ribbons, commented, "You’re not with those people, are you?" “What people?” my friend asks- "Those AIDS people!",the woman blurts out. "Well yes we are” my friend says with no shame! "And they put you up in here?", asks the woman. She isobviouslyshocked! OMG! Did she actually think we werecontagious?

    I went on to enlighten my audience on dating dilemmas. For example, how one time after leaving a bar from a blind date I noticed aplacardin the back window of his truck that read...."Beware my pit bull has AIDS!”. Looks like I dodged a bullet on that one. So after all is said and done Idescendthe steps to open arms of support. My heart is over- joyed. All I kept thinking was, "Wow what anincredible experience!” in this setting much like Yuk Yuks or the comedy club. After many hugs I am finally able to take a deep breath and relax. Even though there are many stories of stigma and adversity, I hope that I have been able to at least shed a little light on this hindering issue that is still rampant in 2013.Thanks to the folks at Mo Mondays and A.C.G. for letting me vent, share and shine.CM

  • The Camp we Love


    By Church Mouse

    Tucked away among the trees on the shore of lake Huron there resides a camp known to many of us campers as the camp with a heart. A place where each summer HIV positive individuals, their partners, and their families can relax and be pampered for a week. My first year as a camper I was shocked to find out such a great place existed. I was so impressed that the second year I invited my biggest supporter (my sister Beth) to join me. Last year was my third year and I wanted to give back in any way I could. So when I got that phone call asking me if I would co-facilitate the children's program I jumped at the chance to be on staff. Immediately I was on the hunt perusing stores for prizes and game ideas.

    When June came around it was time to meet up with the other staff and make the annual video that would be available on the camp website as aglimpseof what the campers could expect. I was pleased to see that the staff was going to be made up of half newbies and half dedicated long term volunteers. I was thrilled to be part of this amazing group who make the running of the camp look effortless.

    Arriving the day before the campers at the end of August, I was able to unpack and meet myco- facilitator and try and get a good night’s sleep. So when the campers arrived the next day we were ready and waiting inanticipationwith our ten foot welcome banner.

    In the first full day Ilearnedthat you need to beflexiblewhen it comes to camp. Because plans can change at the last minute and might not always go as you’d imagined. I had gone with an idea of how I thought I wanted the program to look. Sometimes things are beyond your control. I wasdisappointedto find out that some of thefamilieswith children hadcancelled, leaving us with only two boys 7 and 9 and a teen who was 16. Oh well!

    Our program allowed the kids to go to the beach after breakfast and after lunch it was on to crafts. We tie dyed t-shirts, had a treasure hunt and played mini golf. There was also a splash pad just off to the side of the dining hall. The campers were also kept busy with preparing forThursdaynight’stalent show. One day they went into a play in a nearby theatre. There were also lots of crafts to create and a bingo night. By the end of my days I was so tired out from all the fresh air and exercise.

    The best part was how excited, involved and competitive the kids became in the treasure hunt. Our candy apple making had a few flaws, but we will know for next time. All and all I think they enjoyed their week.

    Beforehand I had wondered how I was going to handle my role as staff but at the same time enjoy time with the campers I had met in previous yrs. Both staff and campers made my new role easy.
    Many, many campers have strolled thegroundsof this camp; enjoying the beauty, peace and quietatmosphere. It is a place where you can breathe easy knowing others understand what you are going through; where no one is judging you or making you feel stigmatized. You can be yourself.

    Camp ....... what can I say?! Here I found compassion, friends, and smiling faces each and every day. I was inspired, challenged, loved, rewarded and teased. I felt excepted for who I am with my idiosyncrasies and naive personality. Back home I am a loving aunt and a widow who loves coming to a place set apart. cm


  • Reflections for AIDS Awareness Week

    By Olivia Kijewski

    originally written for and published on PositiveLite.com

    Reflections for AIDS Awareness Week 2013
    As many of you are well aware, AIDS Awareness week (AAW) is fast approaching. For those of you who don’t know, AIDS Awareness Week is celebrated each year in the lead up to World AIDS Day, December 1st. During this time, we commemorate those we have lost, recognize the resilience of those living with HIV, appreciate what we have achieved, and consider what work still needs to be done globally, nationally, and locally.
    As we gear up for AAW, I get a lot of opportunity to reflect on the past, present, and future of HIV. While I know we have come a long way since AIDS first made its mark on the map in the early 80’s, I find myself spending the most amount of time still considering what needs to done (in most aspects of my life actually). While we have made huge strides, some days it feels like it is still 1985. This certainly seems to be the theme that has come up over and over again in the lead to AAW.

    Recently at our agency, myself and some of our clients/participants/peer workers have been working with the college radio to produce a documentary for AIDS Awareness Week. It may as well be called, “Didn’t we leave the 80s years ago?” as the common thread between most of the stories was that the general public seems to know as much about HIV as they did in the 80s. There was a similar ethos among the people I talked to at the Ontario HIV Treatment Network Research Conference this year. Sure, people who have access to adequate health care and can adhere to proper medications are no longer dying. Sure, a tone of research has been done and we have made huge leaps and bounds in our understanding of HIV on many fronts. But the question I am left with is: Why does so little of this transpire to the general public?

    The stories in the news tend to either falsely inform the public that we have a cure and/or vaccine for HIV, or that everyone with HIV is actively trying to infect “innocent victims”. This of course is interesting because, why are people being charged with infecting others with something that is supposedly curable and you can just take a pill for? I know I’m preaching to the frustrated choir, but in light of AAW, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the key themes I hear from our clients and other people living with HIV or in the field, as a reminder that we still have a long way to go.
    As usual, stigma plays a huge role. Not much of a surprise there that people who are living with HIV experience stigma, but sometimes we forget what an intimate relationship stigma can have with so many aspects of our lives. The common frustrations of people living with HIV both stem from stigma, but contribute to it at the same time.

    1) People living with HIV are so tired of having to educate people about HIV. Why, why, why do people not know about HIV is something I hear regularly? I’m not even talking about viral load and CD4 counts and treatment as prevention, although I know that explaining this gets tiring for many people living with HIV. I’m talking about an alarming amount of the general public still believing you can contract HIV from mosquitoes or sharing utensils with people living with HIV or kissing, etc. I am talking about things that an adult who has any level of primary school education should know, not to mention adults who have had sex. And they are not entirely to blame. Our education system is doing us a great disservice if we have full grown adults that are still afraid to use the same toilet as someone living with HIV.
    2) Another frustration that has surfaced is with the lack of people who know their status. This has come up a couple of times in the past few weeks. The general thought being that if you are sexually active, particularly if you are engaging in unprotected sex, you have a responsibility to get tested for HIV. While it is certainly understood why people might be afraid to know their status, not knowing yours and telling people you are negative, and potentially infecting others, is frustrating for people who are taking precautions to protect others but also taking the brunt of the stigma.
    3) You also have a responsibility to protect yourself in sexual encounters. Despite what the law says, all parties involved in sexual encounters have a responsibility to protect themselves and others against STIs. The message has been pretty clear: People living with HIV who know their status and are on medications, generally have a much lower risk of transmission than someone who does not know their status. Although again, very little of the general population knows this. Discriminating against people living with HIV makes no sense, since two seconds before they told you their HIV status, you were willing to have unprotected sex with them, now you’re not? Not everyone knows they are living with HIV. Something like 25% of people living with HIV in Ontario, don’t know it. Therefore, don’t count on someone to tell you they have HIV. Take personal responsibility in protecting yourself and think twice before reporting someone for not disclosing. There are a myriad of reasons why someone may not be able to disclose. Maybe ask yourself why you had unprotected sex in the first place. I heard today that if you look at a text while driving and cause an accident, the person who sent you the text can be held liable. This is based on the same values that inform our criminalization laws- no one is to be held responsible for their own actions in this society. Remember: you’re the one that decided to take the risk by driving the car. You’re the one who decides to put your seat belt on for protection. And you’re the one who decided to check the text. But somehow someone else is liable for the accident you caused?
    While this seems to have turned into a rant, I can only imagine the frustration of people who have to deal with this stigma and ignorance day in and day out. It’s infuriating and exhausting. That’s not to say that we don’t have things to look forward to in the future. I hope that sex education is becoming more inclusive for LGBTQ populations and that HIV education is moving from a 5 min piece in sex ed, to numerous full length discussions over time. Also, as more research begins to support treatment as prevention, perhaps if it can make its way to the general public in the place of sensationalist criminalization pieces, people will begin to understand how low HIV transmission risk can be, which will hopefully in turn help reduce fear and stigma.

    So, as we approach AAW, we should continue to reflect on how far we have come, how far we have left to go, and what promise the future holds. And if you are not living with HIV or work alongside it, but want to do something in honour AAW this year (besides support some of our amazing events http://www.aidsguelph.org/aids-awareness-week-2013) you can begin by taking steps to help reduce HIV stigma by educating yourself, getting tested regularly, and taking personal responsibility in your own sexual health.



  • How Do You Say Goodbye?


    HOW DO YOU SAY GOODBYE?
    This blog about the loss of my mom has been the hardest to write and a long time coming.


    It was October of 1998.I was suddenly jarred awake by the frantic whispering of the two nurses standing at the side of my mother's hospital bed, "What's going, what's wrong?” I ask groggily. They proceed to explain that the tube that was draining fluid from her lungs had come out. I had been sitting in the arm chair writing her a letter that she would never read......


    The year had started out good pretty good for me. I had jumped back into sharing my experiences about being HIV positive, I was putting weight back on and I was turning the big four- O! Although this was all very exciting and I was moving forward.......a dark cloud was about to envelop our entire family as mother was losing her battle to cancer; melanoma to be exact. I really don't know how long she had it, because it seemed to take forever to diagnose. I just remember quit clearly making a call to see how her doctor’s appointment went......carefully choosing her words she informed me of the results of the tests that confirmed her disease. She quickly followed the results with, "It's not hereditary”. I remember feeling numb as my husband Gordon took the phone from my hand. Asking me what was wrong? He held me as I took in this devastating news. In the following months mom was given chemo pills, but the doctors ruled out the possibility of a bone marrow transplant because she was just shy of 70.


    It was fall and I was invited to a co-ed HIV positive retreat in Bolton Ontario. I was to meet my friend Karen from Toronto. Saturday morning I confided to her that I had had a dream that night that the police were looking for me, that I needed to go home. She assured me that it was probably because I had forgotten to leave a contact number. I didn't think too much more about it and Karen and I enjoyed our beautiful surroundings of the changing leaves, meeting new people, and great food. Only regretting having to leave so soon.

    I arrived home the next night to several messages from Beth informing me that Mom had been taken to Stratford hospital. The doctor had put in a chest tube to drain the fluid which in turn caused her to have a heart attack. Apparently it wasn't the first. Arriving at the hospital I almost walked right past her bed. I barely recognized her amongst the piles of pillows and the starched white sheets that fought with her complexion. She appeared small and fragile. The skin on her hands was very thin and transparent. She appeared to be in good spirits and chatted with all the family. When they had first brought her in the doctor did not expect her to live the first five hours and Dad was advised to gather the family. The following days Dad and I stayed at the hospital. She was put on morphine and they drained a pint and a half of fluid from her from her lungs. She seemed a bit better, although by night fall she was restless and kept repeating the same words over and over again: "Just give me a minute". The nurses were nice enough to give us the adjoining room, but I chose a chair instead in which to finish my letter, which is where I feel asleep until those nurses woke me up. I anxiously scanned the parking lot at dawn for a familiar face. My sisters Beth and Val had children and my brother had cattle to take care of. I worried that they may be too late as Mom’s breathing was getting labored. Dad was exhausted so I let him sleep until family came.

    With the arrival of the doctor we were told that he was afraid to insert another chest tube in fear of causing another heart attack. He shared with us that the first one had been sewn in, but that mom had to have pulled it out. For us this was a clear indication that she had had enough. Luckily, we were all present when she took her final breath on that miserable rainy day in October.

    Thinking back now on a story Mom's sister had shared with us about one of Mom's hospital stays. My aunt said the doctor looking at my mom’s chart commented “looks like you need a blood transfusion young lady". Without hesitating Mom said to him, “I don't think so!" As my aunt stood there flabbergasted the doctor said, “Suit yourself” and strolled out into the corridor. Followed by my Mom yelling after him, "I changed my mind, maybe you’re right" I wonder if this was stubbornness or denial?


    Our mom was a hardworking, very thoughtful, caring mom. But I felt there was always something missing in her life. She came from a large family with 11 siblings. Being the oldest girl she quickly became care-giver to the younger ones. She told me more than once of how she had to stand on a stool to do dishes at the age of five. Many yrs later she gave up her career as an R.N. to assist my dad on our two farms. As she settled into her role as wife, mother, and grandmother she never had much time to enjoy life. She was there for school projects, to help with homework and bake for church functions, She taught us girls to knit, crochet, and embroidery. She worked endlessly to help bring in the crops. She probably handled more bales of hay than a guy half her age. We always had a huge garden where the dog was always instructed to stay out! It is sad to say that she never got to do the traveling that she craved. And there are now four great grandchildren that never got to meet her. In closing I would like to share this poem in her honor.

    Isn't it strange that those we need.......
    are those we love the best,

    and just the ones that God needs too,
    and takes them home to rest.
    unknown
    Rest in peace Mom,
    love the church mouse

  • A Career Come and Gone VII

    The Dreamer on How to Deal with Conflict

    I have been struggling this past while with such things as rejection…………..an example of this is having been denied a spot at camp this year. I applied to go as a staff volunteer and found myself sending the camp an apology letter for my abruptness when I initially got the news. Others were seeing this behavioral change and suggested the following:

    Conflict Check In
    Point 1
    Take five deep, slow, long breaths
    John’s take on it - Helps to relax, withdraw momentarily from the situation, and helps keep composure

    Point 2
    Sleep on it! Do not respond at least until tomorrow
    John’s take on it – Allows for time to analyze what just happened and provide the necessary time to refocus

    Point 3
    What did I just hear/read?
    John’s take on it - Simply being human and involvement with other people can influence our judgment; misinterpretation could prevent the delivery of the true message

    Point 4
    Why am I feeling prickly?

    John’s take on it – Something has just occurred and it’s making me feel a little uneasy. Would it have been a choice of words I used, or was I feeling too strong about something that I’m not allowing for changes to be considered?

    Point 5
    Does it really mean what I think it means?
    John’s take on it – Am I so focused on believing in a certain way, that it’s preventing me from seeing things from another perspective?

    Point 6
    Maybe I need to say it out loud to myself before responding…
    John’s take on it – Re-analyze in your own head what was just said, explain it out loud to yourself and look for any signs that might trigger a negative response and act accordingly

    Point 7
    Maybe I have to talk this through with someone else before responding…
    John’s take on it – Requesting additional feedback will help to understand another person’s reasoning

    Point 8
    Is there anything negative in this scenario that I may have caused?
    John’s take on it – Did I just attack someone’s theory or belief on something?

    Point 9
    If I blast the person, what will that solve?
    John’s take on it – Do I honestly feel things will stay the same between us and allow for constructive dialogue afterwards?

    Point 10
    If I blast the person, what will that harm?
    John - Any future interactions will likely be negative with that person, it will create friction and inhibit any further growth in our relationship

    Point 11
    How could I improve the situation for myself?
    John’s take on it – Be open to suggestions, provide the space for changes and remain diligent

    I’d like to say that having put myself through the above process has helped me to be able to apologize for certain events that have unfolded in my life lately. Again, I realized that I have a hard time with accepting rejection, even when it is specified in a caring manner. I suppose this is due to a variety of circumstances that have unfolded throughout my life. I’ve always felt that because I was trying my hardest to always achieve my goals, I was safe to assume.


  • Using HIV to Treat Cancer: Emma's Success Story

    Wow. A great video to start the day. Fighting Fire with Fire
  • A Career Come and Gone Part V



    By The Dreamer

    My first memory was that of the woman whom I idolized – Evelyn Hart stirred emotions that I had never experienced whenever I saw her dancing on stage. When her and her partner won the gold medal in Varna, Bulgaria, it was a pas de deux created especially for them called “Belong”. This was approximately 14 minutes in length I believe and Evelyn was suspended in the air by her partner for the entire duration. The costumes were simply light blue full body leotards, the lighting was blue, no props were used and the music was a piece that in its entirety was simple whale cries and the sound of the ocean………..a memory I’ll never forget. I was so beside myself when Evelyn offered me to live with her for a period of time. I found myself being chased around the apartment as she threatened to spray me with shaving cream. She would simply grab a spoon and eat peanut butter out of the jar. And I’ll always remember the health food cookies she baked for energy and protein, seeing as she always seemed on the vurge of, and had at one point in her life dealt with anorexia……..what a role model, and for those of you that have seen her dance, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Our mutual dance instructor in London – Dorothy Carter I’m sure shared the same words with Evelyn – “Don’t let your wishbone be where your backbone should be”.
    “Belong pas de deux”

    In 1980, Hart became the first Canadian to be awarded a gold medal at the International Ballet Competition in Varna, Bulgaria, as well as the rarely awarded Certificate of Exceptional Artistic Achievement.
    Hart was inducted to the Order of Canada in 1983, and was promoted to Companion in 1994. She has been named Manitoba’s Woman of the Year (1987), received honorary doctorates from several universities, and two ACTRA awards for her television performances in Belong and Romeo & Juliet. In 2000, Hart received the Chalmers Award for her contribution to dance and was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame. In 2001, she received a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award.
    Evelyn Hart has been a Guest Artist with, among others, The National Ballet of Canada and the Royal Ballet of Britan, and remains the Resident Guest Artist with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

  • A Career Come and Gone Part IV

    By The Dreamer

    Last year I received my 15 year Ontario Service Award for Volunteers, as well as, the Gretchen Sangster Award for Education presented by Gretchen and ACCKWA. Here are the speeches:

    Many Reasons Why Volunteering Is Important

    I would like to share a couple of scenarios that keep me moving forward through words of respect and appreciation:
    June 9, 2012 – Kitchener Record – Manulife Financial – Applauding our community volunteers
    Volunteer Action Centre – John Davie’s courage, giving nature, and sense of humour comes through in every word when he talks about volunteering with ACCKWA. He’s volunteered with the organization for fifteen years, and sees it as “a way to help those in the community who aren’t ready to believe in themselves. By working together, we can keep the cycle going”. Volunteering has made him more compassionate, and helped him to see the value of giving back. Drawn to the organization as a way to gain purpose and strength after he was diagnosed as HIV positive, John wanted to encourage others to live in a safe environment and provide them with up-to-date and balanced information.
    ACCKWA is also a safe space for discussing challenges and moments of triumph. Volunteer roles at ACCKWA can be flexible, he says, and it’s often possible to follow your interests and support special events, social media, speaking or fundraising. John’s volunteer responsibilities largely focus on reception at ACCKWA’s office in Kitchener, but he’s hoping to support a men’s group in the future, and has started sharing his story as a public speaker in the Speaker’s Bureau. A moment that’s stayed with him was when, after speaking to a group of high school students, one young man came up afterwards in tears. The student thanked John for speaking, and told him that his Uncle is HIV positive, after John’s presentation, he felt he might be able to communicate better with his Uncle.

    Presenter of her own award – 2012 Recipient of the Gretchen Sangster Award for Outstanding Contributions by a Volunteer in Education – in assistance with Lynn Cashubec – PHA Capacity Development Co-ordinator – ACCKWA
    It is my pleasure and honour to present the Award for Outstanding Contributions by a Volunteer in Education. The recipient of this year’s award goes to John Davie.
    John has been involved at ACCKWA since 1997! Over the past 15 years, John has provided assistance in just about every aspect of what we do at our agency!
    Lynn tells me that John was nominated 3 times this year. I think this speaks volumes about the contributions that John has made to our community and our agency.
    This year, John was nominated:
    - Once for advocacy by another PHA who felt that “John jumps in and helps wherever he is needed”!
    - Secondly, by a PHA staff member
    - Thirdly by a staff member for Education
    Some of the comments that were written on the various nomination forms for John included:
    “He has incredible energy for 2011 AIDS Vigil planning group of 2; The Wrap It Up fundraising Event at Sizzle World AIDS Day 2011” and
    John assisted with planning “Survive To Thrive” event with AIDS Bereavement and Resiliency Project of Ontario and ACCKWA’s PHA Cooking Circle”.
    In addition of these project focused contributions, John does reception at ACCKWA two days a week and one day per week at Sanguen Health Centre. John is the first person people see when they come into these agencies and he greets them in a positive, professional and welcoming way!
    For the purposes of this award presentation tonight, we will be highlighting the area in which ACCKWA feels John has grown the most over the last year or so.
    John has taken Speakers Bureau very seriously and has crafted his story about living with HIV and being part of the GLBTQ community into an awareness model. This past year he has blossomed into an engaging speaker who encourages feedback which he uses to continually hone his skills.
    He has presented to many groups from a variety of places, including students in high school, universities and medical residents. Education and awareness of ACCKWA, HIV, and stigma of both HIV and gay individuals are definitely on the menu of each of his encounters.
    John is a force to be reckoned with! He strives to make acceptance of all, a societal norm! His role in the Laramie Project: 10 Years Later and the Rainbow Chorus presentation was another avenue for him to share his passion and of course provided him with great material for his blogging initiatives as John Henry – The Dreamer on positivelite.com.
    John has found endless ways to continue to educate and share with his community and will never let things be forgotten that could potentially create an opportunity to enhance people’s understanding of issues faced by PHA’s, as well as, the support needs of those who experience stigma and discrimination. He will stand in the “hot spot” as long as he needs to, in order to develop an understanding about these issues in others. He expresses a real sense of accomplishment and purpose if he impacts even one person with his message through his presentations. This is the true meaning of an educator!
    Thank you John for your energy, bravery and support of ACCKWA and everyone involved. We appreciate the courage you exude while advocating for the rights of others through your awareness and education efforts.
    We are very proud of you and very grateful of the time, energy and passion you put into the volunteering work you do for ACCKWA.
    John, on behalf of ACCKWA and all the people who have benefited from your volunteer efforts, we thank you for your dedication to ACCKWA and the services you provide on our behalf.
    Please join me in congratulating John in receiving this award.
    Gretchen Sangster
    ACCKWA Volunteer and Lynn Cashubec – PHA Capacity Development Co-ordinator - ACCKWA

    Well, I have to say I was numb from head to toe when this speech was delivered. This is not just about the volunteering, but doing so in conjunction with living with HIV/AIDS. I’ve stated at various public speaks that if you told me I would be standing here today around the time I was diagnosed, I would have laughed through the tears……………….. (to be continued)

    John Henry Rombough-Davie – The Dreamer - with much love and thanks

    Also available on ACCKWA's speakers bureau

  • A Career Come and Gone Part III

    By The Dreamer

    What a life lesson…………………my Mother tells me to check in with seniors living in our neighborhood to assist with any chores they needed to be done. These were not just complete strangers however, although it wouldn’t have mattered anyhow. These were customers of my Mother’s, as she was a Leading Avon Representative, not only in London but for Southwestern Ontario. Prizes that she obtained for top sales included a new car. Certainly not the kind of prizes they give nowadays that I know of.

    This experience during my youth provided me with the urge to volunteer in later life. ACCKWA (AIDS Committee of Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo and Area), has become a significant part of my life. In 1993, I was diagnosed HIV+ by my family Physician in London, but this relationship was abruptly ended. When choosing to become tested due to severe fatigue. Not having any knowledge of HIV/AIDS, I was in denial that upon having just recently retired from my career of 17 years, that my body was simply burnt out from extensive training, performing and touring the country. My doctor informed me that the office would call if I tested positive. Being home alone, the doctor’s office called for me to come in for an appointment. Obviously, I knew already that I tested positive but still found the courage to go. During this visit my Doctor informed me that he would not be able to provide me with treatment, as he was only a general practitioner.

    I walked home numb from head to toe as I simply analyzed in my own head, that I was just served a death sentence. In 1995, I left my hometown and moved to Kitchener. I had been receiving care in London for the past couple of years, but the impact this had on both myself and my partner’s life, was the feeling of complete and utter nothingness. Upon moving to Kitchener, it still wasn’t until 1997 that we walked in the front door of ACCKWA. Not only was I a client, but began volunteering with the agency. I was slowly beginning to feel the blood flowing through my body again since my diagnosis. Last year I received my 15 year Ontario Service Award for Volunteers, as well as, the Gretchen Sangster Award for Education presented by Gretchen and ACCKWA………….(to be continued)

  • Great Documentary Now Available Online for Free

     

    The Canadian documentary: Positive Women: Exposing Injustice is now available to watch online. This documentary was updated after the Supreme Court ruling last October. It is very powerful and includes the story of the woman in the recent Supreme Court Case (Rv.DC).

    Be sure and share this with your friends and loved ones.

  • Dr. Jeffrey Klausner Discusses Connection Between Throat Cancer, HPV And Oral Sex

    A good article by Michelangelo Signorile on HuffingtonPost about HPV and oral cancer.

    Oral sex isn't as safe as we once thought. With the reduction in smoking, many thought we would see a decrease in mouth/throat cancers, but we now know that HPV is a major factor in these cancers.

    We need to figure out a way to screen for these cancers as we do cervical cancer (we also need to screen certain populations for HPV-related anal cancer.

    Something to think about.

  • A Career Come and Gone Part II

    photo taken from online photo’s of bullying victims


    By The Dreamer

    You must be gay…………….I lived with this statement for years growing up………………..the answer is YES. Some would then suggest that you must be gay because you were labeled as such? The thought crossed my mind different times, till such time as I became attracted to the same sex. I was around girls endlessly, to say the least. Some guys were even jealous, but you still must be gay. There was no evidence to me that hockey players considered the possibility that dance lessons could enhance their own skills in the 60’s and 70’s. I like to think I helped pave the road to a less judgmental way of thinking.

    I felt different alright……………..I seemed to be the only one that made a career choice at such a young age. Sure, kids are put into dance lessons, piano lessons, hockey lessons, etc……………but I truly made this choice on my own with very little need for guidance. My parents were so proud of me all along the way, never judged me or even prevented me from making my own decisions within reason. I truly don’t remember how old I was when I was informed I was adopted as an infant. I just remember that when I found out, I told my adoptive parents that they’ve been my parents and nothing would ever change that. I was 16 when I met my 2 biological sisters, and this happened on my youngest siblings 18th birthday. The best present she ever received she said……………however, we never remained in touch for very long. I was fine with this, as we really had nothing much in common, due to not having grown up together.

    Already I was feeling the struggles of life…………….asking myself WHY! Am I doing the right thing, as many of my peers are creating questions in my own mind? Have I made a wrong choice to simply do in life what was making me happy? To this very day I wonder whom I would have become, had it not been for the support of my Elementary School Teacher’s pulling together to enable changes. Later in life I would find myself becoming a public speaker and an advocate towards fighting bullying in society.

  • SURVIVE TO THRIVE (blog # 42)

     

    By Church Mouse

    Grief can have a quality of profound healing, because we are forced to a depth of feelings that is usually below the threshold of awareness.-Stephen Levine
    Taken from the Colour of Light.

    In March 2013, I attended a Survive to Thrive workshop. I want to share my thoughts and experiences with you. Survive to Thrive was formed and led by AIDS Bereavement and Resiliency Program of Ontario (ABRPO). The purpose was to help long term survivors, ASO staff, HIV positive individuals by giving us tools to deal effectively with multiple losses in our lives and our community. It has also grown to include the loss of self.

    The ABRPO developed a project initiative in 2009, to work with 13 pilot site ASOs in Ontario to develop new processes and resources, called Turning to One Another (TTOA). Recently, ACCKWA (AIDS Committee of Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo and area) has developed a TTOA group. It is a community based group that consists of A.S.O. staff and HIV positive clients. The focus is to recognize and bring forth skills, knowledge, expertise and experiences of people living with HIV/AIDS, whether is be as a board member, advocate, facilitator, public speaker, blogger, or committee member. This is a great concept thanks to Lynn our PHA Capacity Development Coordinator. It gives us as PHA'S the opportunity to excel, give back and to be involved in our community at a much higher level than in the past.

    This year’s Survive to Thrive was taken on by/hosted, by this just said group. Having been before, I was well aware of the work we, as a group and individually were about to embark upon. I personally had reservations about attending. I believe that my sub-conscience mind knew there were issues and emotions percolating below the surface that I was not ready to have reveal themselves, especially in front of my peers. I would have let them simmer and fester until it would surface as depression, anxiety or withdrawal. So with gentle nudging I was persuaded to go.

    On the very first day we were divided into two groups. In my group we were asked the question, “What are you able to let go of/ Or what am I saying good bye to?” For me three issues were vying for my attention: not having grieved the loss of my mother, having missed the opportunity to have children and grandchildren, and the loss of my identity (HIV was who I became). Every time someone shared, it triggered more emotions for me, my head was spinning. I had a headache, my chest was tight. Other issues wanted to be addressed. I needed a break.

    Back in the large group we did an exercise where a canvass banner was placed on the floor. It outlined the journey of grief, with dips and valleys with the labels numbness, shock, depression ,denial, fear, despair, acceptance and coping . We were asked to stand at the spot where we saw our self that day. I saw that I had progressed a long way over the years to some sort of acceptance on some levels but I have tendencies to slide back at times. Grief, I feel, is like trying to walk up a slight incline of sand in your bare feet slipping back and feeling that you’re not making any head way.

    Returning to our little group we are now asked to make a collage; “I am saying hello to the new me as …” This was very hard for me to do. After many attempts my collage ended up being a clothesline with the pins holding the things I would like the new me to do. I need to speak up, be open to love, embrace the nurturing part of me, play, share the responsibilities of helping my parent, let go and let god, nurturing the kid in me! The pictures included flowers growing, hearts, a woman with a microphone, kids having fun and mother cat with her kitten.

    Again emotions are rearing their ugly heads I am overcome. Envy of those who have in their life what I want, sadness for those things that may not be obtainable for me and anger these things that are poking me couldn't stay buried.
    For the final wrap up we return to the main group where we were to share and explain our collages. As I sat watching others share their work I was becoming more and more agitated. Anger that my hopes and dreams of a future with childrenandgrand'swas dim. Although everyone there was supportive and welcoming, I was fighting my own demons.

    I could not sit and endure anymore feelings. I fought back the tears so long that my head ached. So I quietly left the room to shed those pent up tears and get a breath of air. Somewhere in my life I got the idea that crying was a sign of weakness. Maybe it was when I heard adults say, "Stop crying or I will give you something to really cry about!" Today I know better but I still hate for others to see me shed my tears.

    Gazing out the window I was looking down a snow covered hill that stopped short at a roadway and beyond that there were some out buildings perhaps belonging to the conference centre. When out of the corner of my eye I caught a flash of red. That cardinal that had been hanging around for the past two days, was silently perched on a nearby tree branch taking in the weather that alternated between sunshine and snow. Thinking about how overwhelmed I was feeling all I wanted was to go home and hibernate!

    Seems to me with grief and depression, if we talk about one we put a dent in the other; enabling us to understand the link between the two. Being a long termsurvivorof HIV/AIDS I have had my share of losses. In one of my earlierblogs, I talked about how I was trying to avoid grief like the plague. Doesn't do any good. It will eventually catch up with you at the least expected moments. For me, one moment I thought I was fine until a song or phrase or the way Jake (my husband’s brother) would light up a smoke would have me reeling back in time when my late husband was a robust man full of love and support, with a smile that never failed to reach my heart. My grief may not seemdifferentfrom others, but this is my journey, that only I can take. Kicking and screaming if need be. No one wants to endure those dank days of loss. Perhaps if we can unlock the vault where pain is kept and acknowledge our sorrow ....even through our tears we may find closure. Others there had their own issues I'm sure and might have been percolating themselves. There was much more to this workshop that I haven't covered. I can only tell you my experience. This blog arose out of theneedto look at my journey. Those thoughts and emotions that were shifting and bidding for my attention have now beenidentified. They’restill there, but after sharing with a fellow peer and Beth (my sister) I have clarification of my underlying issues. Now I can deal with them one at a time, one day at a time, hopefully not giving them room to fester. By dealing with these issues I will be able to open my heart to love and acceptance and become a whole person again. CM


  • A Career Come and Gone Part I


    By The Dreamer 


    Living a life of a normal child, till the age of 10 that is…………………..my life course changed before my eyes. I came home from school one day after seeing a production performed by a touring group with the National Ballet of Canada at our Elementary School. I announced to my Parents (adoptive Parents), that I wanted to become a ballet dancer. My Mother passed me the phone book and said, look up some dance schools and give some a call. I grew up in London, ON and the first place I called was Dorothy Carter’s School of Dance Arts, later to become known as Victoria Carter’s London Dance Centre. Before I knew it I was attending evening classes 2 to 3 nights a week and all day on Saturday’s. I was accepted under full scholarship, as at that time, I was the only male dancer in the dance school. In time, we began performing recitals every other year, mostly at H.B. Beal S.S., later to become the secondary school I would be attending. At the age of 13, I became a suitable candidate to perform Fritz in the Nutcracker Ballet. This came about from attending summer school at Vorp’s Summer School of Dance in Toronto, ON where I met the Artistic Director of Dance Detroit, with whom I performed in this production. I took part as the only Canadian citizen in this production for the next 5 years.

    As time progressed I continued my studies in dance along with getting my education…………the bullying became so intense, that my grade school teachers suggested I perform at my grade 8 graduation. I accepted and gained some respect from many who teased me over the years. Unfortunately, this all began again once I entered into secondary school. Just prior to this however, I also was a Navy League Cadet, through the encouragement of my eldest brother (step brother). In time I had to make a decision to carry on with being in the Navy, or choose to carry on with my chosen career as a classical ballet dancer. Of course I chose the latter, which created some friction in my relationship with my brother. I eventually won him over when he came to see me perform in Toronto once I began my career professionally.

    Just before my professional career began, I had gone back to school to complete my grade 12, after dropping out at one point. My training for dance lasted 10 years, at which point I began accepting contracts with various Canadian Dance Companies, which lasted another 7 years. The four companies I was with during this time was; Atlantic Ballet Company, Halifax, NS, Alberta Ballet Company, Edmonton, AB, Les Ballet Classiques de Montreal, Montreal, Que and the Ontario Ballet Theatre, Toronto, ON., performing lead roles with all four companies.
    My Idol was naturally not a prominent male dancer, but rather a female. Evelyn Hart grew up in Dorchester, ON and attended her dance training with Dorothy Carter’s School of Dance Arts. Evelyn eventually became the Prima Ballerina for several years with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Winnipeg, Man. I eventually met Evelyn during my attendance with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Summer School Programme. Evelyn put me up at her home during part of my stay so we naturally became like brother and sister…………..(to be continued)


  • Searching for Closure

    SEARCHING FOR CLOSURE
    In January of 1998 I had a regular visit with Patricia (the Chaplin at the hospital). She was the easiest outsider to talk to about my grief issues. On this particular visit I told her "I don't know if I've come to some sort of acceptance around the death of my husband or if it is the calm before the storm. I am having a hard time functioning, When Gordon was ill I was like the proverbial energizer bunny rabbit. Now I am......... just lost."

    He was always there for me his loving smile and an approving wink that said" I love you more than you'll ever know". He must have wondered where I went to that last night at the hospital when they whisked him away and told me to" take a seat in the waiting room!" So unfair I should have been with him to the end! I should have been able to say goodbye but circumstances did not allow it. I guess we did say goodbye in one way or another in the weeks leading up or maybe it began when he first showed signs of the illness know as AIDS. Along the way he was so brave, trying to protect me from things he had no control over. It hurt him to see what affect his battle was having on me.

    I felt like I was grasping at straws trying to cope. I wanted immensely to blame someone for this script that was being played out as my life, so I told Patricia, "I think I 'm ready to hear the truth about what really happened to the man I loved, my best friend.” She agreed to try and arrange an appointment for her and I to sit down with Gordon's pain management doctor to see if it would give me some closure.

    A week later I sat across from this woman I had very mixed feelings about. She told me she had no idea that I had questions until Patricia approached her. She informed me that Gordon did not have pneumonia like she had originally suspected but rather respiratory failure. His chest x-rays showed nothing and his lungs were clear.

    Between sobs I told her that I had always felt that Gordon's HIV doctor had given up on him. She assured me this wasn't true, that it was much easier for her to come and attend to Gordon's pain management issues and that she consulted with his doctor regularly. She told me she wished she could have been there for me the night he passed. She shared with me that Gordon told the emergency room doctor that he wanted to die. This was so hard for me to hear, but I understood no one would expect him to stay when he had no quality of life left. She assured me that I did everything I could have for him. She then told Patricia how close Gordon and I had been. Patricia commented, "Sounds to me like it was Gordon's decision; he was the one steering the ship. He was tired and ready to go!" Through more tears I told them both, "If only I had known that we didn't have much time I wouldn't have been out speaking about my experiences living with this disease. Instead I would have been home with him.” The doctor told me "Gordon was very proud of you and what you are trying to accomplish.”

    So I continue to tell my story. All and all, I feel it’s the what ifs, the couldas, wouldas ,shouldas, that do us no good, and only trip us up. I believe to this day my sister in-laws words that Gordon's grandmother looked down from heaven and said "I can fix this” and then took him home to rest. CM

     

  • Len Tooley on PrEP

    Len Tooley is an HIV-negative gay guy on pre-exposure prophylaxis (PREP) who works in Toronto as a gay men’s health promoter, HIV educator, tester and counsellor. In the first of three interviews about being on prep, he discusses his decision to go on it.

    Check it out:

    http://posititvelite.com/component/zoo/item/len-tooley-on-prep-part-one

  • There's an App for That

    By Olivia Kijewski (previously published on positivelite.com)


    As you may recall from a recent posting of mine, I have been quite surprised by the strength and resilience among our community to challenge homophobia. After delivering a series of workshops on homophobia to youth, I was shocked at how willing these youth were to engage with issues surrounding homophobia and how able they were to understand the connections between experiencing homophobia and HIV risk.

    At AIDS Service Organizations, we are now seeing this connection more and more in our line of work and we are really beginning to understand the consequences that experiencing homophobia can have on LGBTQ individual’s health. Particularly, experiencing homophobia can significantly increase one’s risk to HIV infection, as well as increase the burden of disease for those living with HIV. Research is now showing that those who experience homophobia in forms such as isolation, bullying, exclusion, and violence, may have experienced “shame-based trauma”, which can lead to an increase in the likeliness of partaking in “risky behaviours”, which can ultimately lead to an increased risk of HIV transmission.

    Realizing this connection, the agency I work for (ACG) wanted to develop a resource targeting youth that would help prevent HIV transmission by increasing capacity to address homophobia, help resolve internalized homophobia, and increase knowledge on HIV transmission. But how could we do this in a way that would be fun and accessible? Knowing that something like 90% of youth use cell phones, 60% of which use smart phones, what better way to disseminate this info but through an iPhone app? I have to hand it both to my predecessor and Executive Director- what a fabulous way to allow youth to access information in a confidential and fast way, using a tool that they spend the majority of their day on anyway!

    This app functions to provide witty comebacks to homophobic slurs or phrases, as well as to answer questions and help dispel myths about HIV transmission that you may be too shy to ask your teacher, parent, or health care provider. It even has a quiz that rates your homophobia. Our aim is to provide accurate information that youth may feel too uncomfortable to find elsewhere, as well as to open up discussion and help build capacity to challenge homophobia.

    As I mentioned in a previous post, Guelph is a relatively progressive town and may be more accepting of people’s sexual orientation in general than other regions, but that is not to say that people here do not still experience homophobia. It is also important to remember that homophobia can take on more subtle forms such as the derogatory use of the word “gay”, or even as constant heteronormative images that infiltrate our daily lives. That is why it is important to recognize the effect all these different forms of homophobia can have on our lives and to be able to challenge them together, regardless of sexual orientation. We hope this is precisely what our app, and the launch party we are having for it, will begin to do. Our app launch party takes place this Thursday January 31st, 2013 upstairs at the Albion Hotel (49 Norfolk, Guelph, ON) at 8:30 pm and is a chance to try out the app if you haven’t downloaded it already (www.aidsguelph.org/app), to mingle, dance, maybe win some prizes, and to simply open up much needed discussion around homophobia and HIV. It is our hope that this app is another step toward challenging homophobia, increasing knowledge, and decreasing stigma and HIV transmission. Come celebrate the release of this great app with us. See you at the party!


  • Wrapping Up 1997 With Random Thoughts and Letters To Gordon ( #40)

    By Church Mouse, January 10th, 2013

    I once asked Beth, "Who do you write a journal for and who would want to read it? " I don't remember her answer .......But I soon found out in times of stress, it helped me to put my feelings down on paper. Writing letters to my husband was my coping skill that helped me get through the worst days of my life.

    Dear Gordon,

    September has arrived and so did an invitation for me to share my story at St. David’s High School. For two hours I was there, not aware of how I felt physically but very aware of how I felt emotionally. Murray made his AIDS 101 presentation and shared it about himself. Then with legs like Jello, I launched into why I got tested, how the news of my diagnosis was delivered and how we got through those dreadful days when there was no hope of a cure. After we finished the students thanked us with handshakes and hugs. Somewhere along the way these students got the message that you cannot contact the virus this way.

    Again I am given the opportunity to speak at U.O.W...................all I can say is “bring it on!” I was very near tears when one of the young female students enquired, "How do you make it through each day?" She herself was having trouble asking the question. Without hesitation I replied, "I live one day at a time or one hour if need be." My friend Katie joined me at this presentation. Her feedback is invaluable to help me know how I am being perceived by my audience. I am thinking about taking condoms with my pills to my next presentation. I plan on writing on the board "The choice is yours" while I hold a bag of each in each hand.

    Dear Gordon,

    Tonight I got a phone call from Beth's youngest son. He wanted to thank me for his birthday gift. Being only four it was comical when he said, "I'm going to have a birthday for you”. Uh,huh........ the cat's out of the bag, as my 40th was a whole seven months away.

    Dear Babe,

    I had an appointment with my HIV specialist in Toronto today. I asked her if I had an AIDS diagnosis because my CD4 count is only 16 and I had previously had shingles. She assured me I didn't that I had not progressed and was still HIV positive and that my viral load was undetectable.

    Beth ,Val and I went out to the cemetery today. The little tree watching over your grave is changing colour and has grown quite a bit in the past year. On the ride home the girls were talking about what they were doing a year ago. With a sigh and a quiet voice not sure anyone heard I said "Gordon was still here."Val gave me a knowing look.

    Weeks after you passed, our support worker told me about a night she had decided to visit you while I was out making a presentation. You always supported my efforts to educate. She told me that you were telling her your life story and when you finished you asked her, “what do you think?" She said, "I think you’re a good man Charlie Brown!” You inquired whether she was making fun of you. She said, “no I just think you’re a good man." She told me you drifted off with a smile.

    Around that time changes were taking place which I couldn't understand until later. First you were edgy and tired of everything .Who could blame you? You were confined to bed, you had no energy, and thrush was invading your mouth. And these were only the visible signs. Then there seemed to be a sense of acceptance. Maybe you knew it was okay to stop fighting and that your grandmother was waiting to take your hand and walk you to the other side together.

    For five years you and I were the only two HIV positive members in ourfamilies .NowI have to go it alone. Even though my family tries to help me have a normal life. I don't know what normal is any more. I feel jaded ! That is only my perception of myself. No one could have prepared me for what this disease would do to me. The medications have destroyed my self image and not being able to work has worn away my self-worth.

    Back to see my HIV specialist- she tells me it is the best I have looked in a year. She called me her miracle patient.108 lbs and on AZT. It sometimes takes longer to get to Toronto on the bus than it does for my appointment. Returning home and talking to Beth on the phone she told me that she had pulled her full length coat out of the closet that day. Ben her son asked why there was a red ribbon on her coat? Being only 7 she told him it reminded her of Gordon. He replied it has been almost a year. She was surprised at his concept of time. She also told me that the day of Gordon’s funeral she caught Ben staring at Gordon’s picture. Because I was leaving to go to Toronto the next day. Pookie my cat was staying with Beth. She said he asked the cat, "are you going to miss Gordon too?"

    Dec 31 /97
    Well Gordon, it is the last day of the year and I don't know how I made it this far! I had asked God for one more Christmas with my nieces and nephews and thank god he did! My next goal is to reach my 40th Birthday in March. My second goal is to write the story of our lives together .So I continue to journal and write letters to you babe. CM


  • My Blogging Update


    By Chat Junkie

    It must be time to slow down because I just notice I missed the second anniversary of my first blog debuting on ACG's site way back on August 9th 2010. So this means my second year at PositiveLite.com is coming up March 30th as well. This entry will be my 29th blog posting for ACG and I have written 82 for PositiveLite, I didn't realize I had this much to say.

    When I started I was as green as you can get, I had no idea what I was doing. I remember there was a book I had read, "If you can talk, you can write" by a guy named Joel Saltzman. I read it, many years ago. I did try to write a few times but gave up. I still don't think I will write a next great novel, but blogging is a form of writing that I can do. It is a lot like talking, so why not write it.

    The incentive for me to start was knowing that I had two great mentors/editors in Megan DePutter at ACG and Bob Leahy at PositiveLite. They cleaned up my articles so that they read better. I don't know how true it is but they have told me they have had to do less editing as time went by. So if my English in some blogs sounds a little too refined to be me, that’s because it’s Bob's work. I have warned him to be careful doing it because people will expect me to talk like that.

    Something else that motivated me to get involved in blogging was having my HIV status go public on the internet. Once it was out there I couldn't hide from it, but I could get involved in helping people better understand HIV and to help end the stigma that I was subjected to that day. I wanted to share my story and put a face to this disease and hopefully reach someone else who could relate. I read many blogs by other writers and I can relate to some of their stories or find out new things I should watch for to live a better and healthier life.

    I have been able to move away from just writing about myself and offer my opinion on other subjects, like homophobia, stigma, or I write about my photography, a movie or television shows I watch. I am aware that I'm living with HIV 24 hours a day but it isn't something I have to worry about every hour of the day. Life goes on, normally! I work, I play and I still do most of the things I use to, just a little slower now.

    Now, thanks to social media I am communicating and sharing information with people across the country and around the world. To hear from a young American living in Japan, that he was following my blog and was inspired to go on and tell his story, or an older gentleman in Toronto who wanted to talk to me about going public with his real name; these are some of the best rewards I could receive. The older gentleman in Toronto, he is now the Publisher for PositiveLite.com.

    I have tried to do my own blog site, several times. It was frustrating to see that no one was reading it. This is where social media came in. You have to be on Facebook and twitter and a few other places where you can post links to your blog. I like to make fun of learning to use programs on the internet; once I learn how to use them, I tell people, "it is so easy, even I can do it." There are easier ways of doing social media than I was use to. I was introduced to another program recently that makes much of the social media jobs easier. I was told about it ages ago but fought off having to learn something new. With this new program, I can schedule all the posts to social media and take off for the day.

    Now I am doing the Facebook page for PositiveLite.com, plus I'm writing and scheduling the tweets to go up on Twitter. I haven't mastered the "Smart Phone", so I'm not doing any of that while on the run and it helps that I don't have one..........yet! I believe I am being smart in telling myself I don't need one. Once someone has one of those phones, they really do stop communicating in a human way, and become “app-dicted” as well; an app for this, an app for that. Look around you, you don't even have to leave your home, someone around you right now is clutching their phone and paying little attention to you.

    I use social media, social media doesn't use me. I find I spend a lot of time online and less time with the people around me. I do need to work on this part. If I'm out with people, most of the time, I have my phone off or on vibrate and I am present in the moment.

    Part of the inspiration to write yet another blog about blogging is because ACG has a call out to anyone who might be interested in getting started. Now that some of us have our feet in the door there is plenty of experience to learn from. Megan Deputter, Olivia Kijewski and myself are all blogging on PositiveLite.com as well as ACG's site. We haven't been able to sit down for our first meeting yet so there is still time to get in on this workshop.

    To make one suggestion that was given to me, "it might be a good thing for you". It was for me and it seems I'm well into my third year of blogging, I didn't get bored with it. I didn't stop. I do get writers block from time to time but a detour out in the real world can be all that I need to get back on track.

    Tag: Social Media, Blogging, HIV, PositiveLite.com, AIDSGuelph


  • To Disclose or Not to Disclose- That is the Question



    By Olivia Kijewski, Positive Prevention Coordinator

    Call me naïve. Perhaps it is because I live in Guelph, a relatively socially conscious and progressive town or perhaps it is because so many people in my life are so open-minded, but I continue to be shocked by the ignorance and stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS in our society. After making the mistake of reading the general comments on CBC’s coverage of the October Supreme Court ruling on HIV disclosure, followed by a heated intellectual battle with an unarmed man at a local pub, I had been left feeling overwhelmed and outraged. It is for this reason that I would like to take a moment, if I may, to talk about the October court ruling on HIV disclosure and what it reflects about the misunderstandings of HIV and HIV transmission, as well as the stigma surrounding HIV that still exists in our communities.

    In 1998, in the court case of R. versus Cuerrier, the Supreme Court ruled that people living with HIV/AIDS (PHA) must legally inform their sexual partner(s) of their HIV status before engaging in sexual acts that pose a “significant risk” of transmitting HIV. However, the court has yet to define what specific sexual acts, and under what circumstances, pose a “significant risk” (Mykhalovskiy, Betterridge, & McLay, 2010). This lack of clear definition has lead to people living with HIV/AIDS being uncertain about their legal obligations of disclosure under the Criminal Code, as well as to a misunderstanding of PHA and HIV transmission among the general public. According to the HIV Legal Network, court rulings in the past had predominately established that if someone with HIV used a condom during sexual acts, the risk of HIV transmission was not considered significant (http://www.aidslaw.ca/EN/index.htm). However, the recent Supreme Court ruling asserts that if someone with HIV has a low to undetectable viral load AND uses a condom, they are not considered to be putting their partner at “realistic risk” and are therefore not legally obligated to disclose their HIV status. Failing to disclose HIV status outside of these circumstances can result in being criminally charged with aggravated sexual assault and jail sentences of up to twenty-five years. Afterwards those charged risk being labeled as sex offenders and must register as such wherever they live. What constitutes “realistic risk” can be confusing and can leave people wondering when and if they need to disclose and what the possible consequences of non-disclosure are. This is precisely why ACG is putting on a workshop on HIV and non-disclosure. This workshop run by Ryan Peck from HALCO will provide a legal review and interpretation of the October 5th Supreme Court Ruling. This workshop will “offer PHAs a safe community space for discussion and support where together we can increase our understanding, clarify the confusing and conflicting media reports, and begin to create a community understanding” (AIDS Committee of Windsor, 2012).

    Additionally, what concerns me about the Supreme Court ruling is what this ruling reflects about societal (mis)understandings of HIV transmission, as well as the overall stigma regarding HIV/AIDS. After reading the media coverage of the court ruling and people’s reactions to such, what becomes even more apparent is the amount of fear and stigma surrounding HIV in our society. In the past, the media has worked to exaggerate the risk of HIV transmission, and has repeatedly painted HIV positive people as “irresponsible, dishonest and criminally dangerous” (Mykhalovskiy, Betterridge, & McLay, 2010, p. 5). This recent court ruling will have the same effect. This ruling and attention in the media make it sound like HIV is an easily transmittable disease that everyone is in imminent danger of contracting and that PHAs are criminals out to harm people. This ultimately leads to increased misunderstanding, fear, and stigma, which not only further alienates PHAs and complicates issues of sexual intimacy, but could also decrease people’s likeliness of getting tested for fear of the results (even though HIV is no longer a death sentence). If we want to reduce these consequences, we need to take into account the barriers people may experience to HIV disclosure such as domestic violence, gender, and stigma and stop criminalizing non-disclosure, using it only as a last resort for extreme cases (where transmission actually occurs and where there is intentional transmission). We need to further educate the general public on HIV transmission and the fact that PHAs can live long and fulfilling lives. Furthermore, we need to recognize that some of the onus of responsibility needs to fall on HIV negative people in their sexual encounters as well. While I recognize that this is a tall order, I do believe that misunderstanding, fear, and stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS can be greatly reduced and hopefully one day eliminated. However, criminalization of non-disclosure merely contributes to their increase. In the meantime, I think I am going to have to stop reading the comments on news media cites.

    Mykhalovskiy, E., Betteridge, G. and McLay, D. (2010) HIV non-disclosure and the criminal law: Establishing policy options for Ontario. Toronto. A report funded by a grant from the Ontario HIV Treatment Network.

  • Probing my anal phobia

     

    by B.J. Caldwell, Educator

    Be sure and check out this great post by Poz blogger Mark S. King ("Probing my anal phobia"). Within the larger piece, he also talks about the need for HIV+ gay men (and perhaps other HIV+ folks) to begin having colonoscopies at an earlier age due to the increased likelihood of colon polyp growths which need to be checked for cancer. But the whole article is a great read about the taboos our society has placed on anything anal and how this stigma can be a challenge for those who enjoy anal sex.

  • Toronto program focuses on pregnant HIV-positive women

    by Olivia Kijewski, Positive Prevention Coordinator

     

    Great article about a Toronto program that focuses on pregnant HIV-positive women

    "In an effort to counter negative attitudes toward HIV-positive pregnancy, Ms. MacGillivray and obstetrician Mark Yudin developed a unique program for HIV-positive women to meet their medical needs and support them through the pregnancy. The program at St. Michael’s Hospital couples basic maternal health care with a mix of social services, counselling and companionship" (Mackrael, 2013). 

    "Ms. MacGillivray says the motivation for the clinic came from her own experiences as a midwife, where she frequently saw health-care professionals treating HIV-positive pregnant women with contempt or fear. Some aren’t aware of how low the risk can be, and expectant mothers often face stigma from those who believe they’re taking an inappropriate chance with their child’s health.

    After a nurse told her not to touch a woman she was caring for because that woman was HIV-positive, Ms. MacGillivray decided she had had enough. She found Dr. Yudin, an obstetrician and gynecologist at the hospital, and asked him to start a new clinic with her" (Mackrael, 2013). 

    For the full article, click here

  • The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network - Their Story/Our Story

  • 'Cure' is a four-letter word: A great interview on the search for a cure

    In this one-on-one interview, Jacob P. Lalezari, M.D., the director of Quest Clinical Research and an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco/Mount Zion Hospital, talks with HIV advocate Jeff Taylor about the coupled optimism and cautiousness regarding the search for an HIV cure. He explains each of the primary paths currently being explored toward the development of a cure, describes the progress that has been made to date and discusses some of the challenges the field faces.

     

  • HIV in the news

    by B.J. Caldwell, Educator

    Here are a few HIV-relatd stories that have "made the news" in the past year:

    Δ Vicks Vapor Rub works as treatment for foot fungus in HIV+ individuals

    Δ Warren Tong looks at 6 new HIV drugs we can look forward to seeing soon

    Δ  Cancer drug flushes HIV out of hiding: another small step towards curing HIV

    Δ Warren Tong also provides an oveview of the search for a cure

    Δ The Global Frum on MSM and HIV (MSMGF) has released an online compendium detailing gloal HIV prevention and research strategies for Men who have sex with men.

    Δ The Gay Men's Sexual Health alliance (GMSH) has released a new online pamphlet for gay, bi and other MSM on "Undetectable Viral Loads and HIV Transmision" (pdf) (warning: frank language is used)

  • The Reasons Why We Have AIDS Service Organizations

    The Reasons Why We Have AIDS Service Organizations

    by The Dreamer

    I just returned from doing another talk to a small group of 13-15 yr olds. The questions they asked following certainly indicated to me that they were listening rather intently. This is exactly what I love to see, as it means it's become an educational tool for sure. They will undoubtedly take this information and apply it in a variety of ways to further educate themselves and others. They were just finishing up lunch when we arrived and it smelt like we walked into a restaurant not a church. They have their own form of a cooking group, and the minister strives to educate around all means of sexuality and sensuality as part of their curriculum. My hat is off to all of them that attended and showed such respect and interest in a non-judgmental way.

    I want to thank all of you who came out to Wrap It Up last
    night.............it was truly a success, or should I say yet another
    true success. I hope this event will flourish in years to come, and I
    want to say as both a PHA and staff member with the organization, I'm
    utterly in awe with respect to being part of this agency’s 25th
    anniversary. Everyone has worked above and beyond their expectations
    of organizing themselves to ensure developing success. Let us not
    lose compassion as we enter into what may appear as year 1 after such
    a high, but to remember the 25 years we have under our belt.

    I’d also like to take this time to wish everyone a very wonderful holiday!!!

    Many thanks to everyone:

    John Henry Rombough-Davie - The Dreamer

  • Toronto City hall to cut funds for global AIDS initiative

    by B.J. Caldwell, Educator

    Andrea Houston has a piece on xtra.ca about Toronto City Hall's plan to potentially end the funds for Global AIDS Initiative. An initiative that began after Toronto held the International AIDS Conference in 2006:

    On the eve of World AIDS Day, Toronto City Council is considering putting the Global AIDS Prevention Initiative on the chopping block.

    The proposed cut is included in the 2013 proposed budget summary, released Nov 29. The annual funding of $104,000 has been earmarked to Africa to assist local groups in HIV prevention, treatment and education. It was created as the city’s legacy to the 16th International AIDS Conference, held in Toronto in 2006.

    Ward 27 Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam plans to fight the cut. She says there should be no reduction in the city’s funding to any HIV/AIDS programs.

    “Any reduction to the AIDS prevention envelope should be fought with resistance,” she says. “I don’t believe we should be cutting this . . . We should all fight that. We need to take a stand. If we reduce this, what else is next?”

    She calls the proposed cut part of the city’s “war on the poor.”

    “This war on the disenfranchised needs to stop . . . People are hurting. This council needs to recalibrate its values.”

  • Who Inspires Me

    By Wayne Bristow (Chat Junkie)

    I'd like to say that the Positive Prevention Train the Trainer was the inspiration for me venturing into the world of social media and sharing my story but I can't. I can say that the course empowered me to do it. I've confessed several times, when I went into the course I had my mind made up that I wasn't going to do anything with it, I didn't have the confidence to do anything, my mind wasn't as open as it needed to be even for my own good. But I had the ability to change.

    I was already heavily involved with a couple social media sites, mostly for friendship and family communications. Then I saw how organizations and companies could get the word out as to what exactly they were doing. If you read something online or view a video on YouTube, all you had to do was copy the URL or address and plop it into your status box on facebook or twitter and click “send” and it could go around the world in seconds. This meant I wouldn’t have to stand up in front of a group all the time and speak about it all, it was the best way for me to get involved and do something.

    "I often thought, someone should do something about that and I realized, I am someone."

    So if you've been following along with me here and on PositiveLite.com you will see what I've been able to contribute. I have also inspired others to get into it. My belief is that we need to put our stories out there and if we are brave enough, put a face to this disease and try to end the stigma attached to HIV. The NEW publisher at PositiveLite had been following me and wrote under a psuedo-name for a couple blogs and then he asked to talk to me about going public. He's a great writer and a great addition to PositiveLite. Just knowing I have people reading my blogs is the greatest reward.

    So, just who did inspire ME. I'd have to say, hearing stories from the longterm survivors was the greatest inspiration. All of their stories of what it was like to live on the older medications, how they lost so many friends and acquaintances, and how they are still here. One of my favourite people to listen to is ACG's very own blogger Church Mouse. I encouraged her to write and man did she ever have a powerful debut, she really had me close to tears. I knew she had so much to share and people were listening to her when she talked. I'm so proud of her, she is so brave.

    I had the pleasure to tell Church Mouse that our efforts to promote her blog in the social media, someone far away had picked up her story to share with their followers. There is this site called paper.li , anyone can create their own newspaper page, they find stories on other sites and copy them to their paper. When I told her, she was so excited, she went online and told everyone that she had gone viral, she wasn't wrong. She wanted to know the numbers/the hits she was getting and I told her that when someone clicked to read her story, it brings them to the ACG site where the blog is posted.

    I am now a witness to how she has inspired others to do blogging as well, one person in particular is "The Dreamer" a.k.a. John Henry Rombough-Davie who thanked her in one his blogs here at ACG. John has since moved on to PositiveLite a few months ago. So it just keeps going.

    I had an opportunity to nominate persons for the awards at ACCKWA in Kitchener for their Annual General Meeting, I nominated Church Mouse for the Advocacy Award, I felt she deserved it for her blogging since it has become a very big part of the future of advocacy work. She is truely excelling at it and I believe she is a leader. She's contributed more blogs here at ACG than I have, or anyone for that matter. I look forward to each and every one of them. Thank you Church Mouse, thank you.....my friend!

    (I did a google search of Church Mouse and she is there, on the first page, its a link to a blog on ACG.)

    I would like to dedicate this entry in memory of Marg Starzynski who was also a big inspiration and mentor to me during my time on ACG’s Board of Directors. She encouraged me to move up to the treasurer’s position in my second year. She viewed my photography on my flickr.com page and described my photos as being artistic. Now that I’m about to venture into some sort of a business I will use what she said as a selling feature of my work. Thanks Marg.

  • Its Baaaaaaaaack! My take on the Scotiabank AIDS Walk 2012

    By Wayne (Chat Junkie)

    The AIDS Walk for Life was back in town on Sunday September 16, 2012 for the first time in fifteen years thanks to the efforts of Scotiabank and Masai Clinic's Coordinator Deana Clatworthy. With only 8 weeks to make it come together, it went off without a hitch, the weather was perfect, and all participants were raring to go.

    On hand for waking up and nourishment there was plenty of coffee donated by Starbucks at Stone Road Mall and from Tim Hortons who also supplied some Tim Bits and Cora's donated some fresh fruit cups.

    After a few short speeches from Deana, Dr. Anne Marie Zajdlik and Board President Andrea Wyshniowski, the staff of Goodlife Fitness lead everyone in some warm up and stretching exercises. At approximately 11 a.m. the ribbon cutting ceremony was performed by Executive Director Tom Hammond and City Councilor Ian Findlay and then the gang set out to complete the walk. Along the route was two check in points where people were encouraged to ask questions from the staff member. The first stop saw Masai Nurse, Sharon talking about the babies born to HIV clients of the centre. At the second check in, B. J. Caldwell took questions and spoke about stigma.

    By noon, everyone was back in time for Pizza donated by Dominos and a little entertainment, a run through of "Singing In The Rain" complete with dancers of all ages and umbrellas. And finally, winners with the highest donations were awarded and other marchers were rewarded with prizes for their participation.

    In conclusion, thanks to all the sponsors and volunteers from Scotiaband and ACG it was a total success. Now we have a whole year to plan for next year.

    Oh, I forgot to mention one thing, silly me, I took some pictures, they can be viewed on the ACG's facebook page.
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/aidsguelph/


  • Homophobia - Part II

    By Wayne Bristow (Chat Junkie)

    Homophobia is an illness; it can be prevented, it can be cured.

    As I mentioned in the previous blog, ("Homophobia Gets Me Angry") I believe I can get over the homophobia I've had directed my way from a family member but I failed to say how I know I will do it. I will because I am empowered now, I have learned the tools I will need to deal with all that happens in my life in my future. I still have a great support/care team and my future is looking pretty darn amazing.

    In the title I mentioned that homophobia can be cured. It's funny, they still try to claim that being gay is a choice, its a mental disease and you can be cured of or "Pray the Gay Away". Homophobia is not officially listed as a disease but it should be. No one is born with it, it’s spread by word of mouth by homophobic people.

    I also mentioned in the title that there is prevention and it is happening in another part of my family. It's so amazing. My son and his wife vowed to raise their children to be accepting of all people; they don’t point out the differences in people or if its something good or bad. You see, I’m not the only gay person in my family, my son's brother in law, the uncle to his children, is gay as well.

    On a visit to my son’s house he and I were playing the new version of the game of LIFE, with his two oldest girls. The game sure has changed since I was young. Anyway, as you play the game, there comes a time when you have to marry and have children. I was less than comfortable to choose a male partner when it came my time so I chose a woman. I thought I was out of the woods on that, nothing was said at the time, until it came time to put the game away. While picking up all the pieces that were spread all over the table, my 7 and 9 year old granddaughters asked, "how come you married a girl and not a boy"? I was speechless. I struggled for something to say but said, next time I will choose a boy.

    Last week was my son's birthday, the brother in law/uncle and his partner were invited and out came the game of LIFE again. I chose to sit this one out and watched. When the uncle and his partner each had to marry, they both chose a boy. Not a confused look, question or comment from either granddaughter. When it came a time they were to have a child, my 7 year old granddaughter informed them they would have to adopt because they couldn't have a child of their own. I almost teared up, I was so proud, she said it with so much knowledge. I really wasn't aware of how much they knew at this point. This was "homophobia prevention" at work and it was beautiful.

    Several times I've heard my son say he got “this or that” from me, now I can honestly say he did this time. Hiding in a closet, knowing all those years I was gay, when my kids asked those questions I never taught them that it was wrong, instead I told them that gay people were just as good everyone else, that people with a disability should not be made fun of and I tried to help them understand people of other cultures. I had many friends, good friends who were from a variety of other ethnic backgrounds. I grew up having racial barriers pointed out to me like "they should marry their own," “those people are like this or that”. I listened to it, I couldn't do much to change the thinking of those people at the time, I only knew that when it came to me, I had a choice, I can pick my own friends. I'm proud of myself to have made that choice and pass it on to my children because now there are two new generations making things better.

    There is someone out there that you know who is gay, a family member, a friend, it could be someone on your street. That person is struggling to come out, wanting and hoping for your acceptance. Your relationship doesn’t have to change, he or she will remain to be the same person you knew before they told you. Being gay isn’t something that happens in a bedroom, its not a sex act, it’s a human life.

    Make a Commitment to Change. Join the fight to end the homophobic illness. Speak up and speak out against homophobia. Prevent Homophobia, teach acceptance for every

  • Homophobia Gets Me Angry

     By Wayne (Chat Junkie)

    I "came out" to my family about 21 years ago and it all went well. I felt privileged that it went so well. I wished for everyone to be so accepted as I felt I was. I've met people who feel they can never tell their family or their friends, so they live double lives, for fear of rejection. So often I've asked myself, how can one person receive so much support and others are given none? I've never known how hard it is for them, what they felt. Sure living in a closet until your 37 can be confusing and emotional sometimes but I chose to do it.

    I've never known how those people felt until now. Recently, I got a very large dose of homophobia from one of my brothers, a brother I grew up to respect. We grew up in a fatherless home, my younger siblings and I looked up to our two older brothers. Just over 4 years ago, the oldest brother passed away from leukemia, this was a huge loss to my immediate family. My mother told me he often wondered what would happen to me and my youngest brother having to deal with the health issues we have. He didn't understand HIV, we never talked about it - well he never asked either. I always felt that sometimes they may have discussed certain things about me, without me, maybe they were uncomfortable, I have no idea.

    A couple weeks ago, I found myself in a very heated argument over the phone with the second oldest brother. He was angry at the care we were getting for our mother who isn't very well right now. He condemned everything we had done. He told me he had talked to our mother and from what he was hearing; she should be put in a home. I tried to assure him that we were working with her healthcare team and doing whatever we could to keep her in her home, she didn't want to go into a facility. He attacked me, said that I should know better, I worked with people like our mother, I should see what he sees, but I couldn't.

    The longer I listened to him, because I couldn't get a word in, he got more upset, and then the homophobic slurs came pouring out of him. I won't post all of them here, some are very graphic, but he used up the "list of slurs" that most haters will use. I just sat and listened for a time, and then I lost it. I shouted back, "I've heard all of those, come on, give me something original".

    I had made a choice last year to not get angry, there was never going to be a place for it in my life anymore, it never gets me anywhere. This day I became weak, I let down my guard and I got angry, very angry, I yelled, I yelled loud, I was shaking. For the first time I was feeling the effects of homophobia, it was being poured over me like a tsunami. If it had been from a stranger on the street, I can't say if it would be less of feeling but coming from a family member, one that I grew up respecting, it hurt, it still hurts.

    Then he told me that when all three of my brothers got together, (when I wasn't present) they would make all kinds of comments back and forth. The comments were many and uttered in front of other family members. My mother just informed that it happened and no one really put a stop to it. I'm not saying everyone joined in or laughed along with their jokes, I wasn't there so I can't comment too much on what actually happened. So for 21 years, I've been the joke of the family and I guess this is why we don't talk about it.

    I believe there will be some changes in my family dynamic but I know I will get past this; I still have a very large support and care team. Anything I might need, I know where to find it. I also believe things happen for a reason, it’s probably no surprise it happened at this point in my life and what I'm doing with my life.

    Presently ACG has a program dealing with homophobia that I am getting very involved in. I think I have something to bring to the table now. I knew what it was; I just hadn't experienced it before. I see how it can shape your life, how it changes you. Now I wish for us all to have the strength to fight this disease, homophobia, it can be cured.

    Check out ACG's homepage for more information and how you can get involved.

  • HOPE and the Laramie Project

    HOPE and the Laramie Project – 10 years later

    Introducing a new blogger… “HOPE” (Heaven On Planet Earth)

    Greetings everyone,

    My name is John Davie, and I’m a resident of Kitchener, ON, having moved here from my hometown London, ON in 1995.  I’m presently a long-time volunteer with ACCKWA (AIDS Committee of Cambridge Kitchener Waterloo and Area), as well as, a client having been diagnosed HIV+ in 1993.  I also extend my interests in volunteering for Dr. Steingart in Waterloo, ON, who is an HIV/HEPC Specialist at Sanguen Health Ctr.

    I’m currently undertaking a couple of roles in the Laramie Project – 10 yrs later.  This presentation will be performed at Sizzles Bar in Cambridge, ON, the end of April, 2012, and is graciously being directed and executed by the owners of the establishment.  The story is based on true facts gathered by several reporters, in respect to the Matthew Shepard story, as well as, to focus on essential concerns towards bullying, that effect so many of us, especially, amongst the youth in society.

    I chose to be part of this play to show my own undying respect, for a young gentleman who only wanted to show the world who he was as another human-being.  I’m certain that Matthew Shepard’s life, as short as it was, will never be forgotten.  These types of injustices and cruelty to mankind as a whole, just shows us how vulnerable this world is to meaning nothing.

    Introduction to the Laramie Project

    As I wrote in my last post, I’m currently undertaking a couple of roles in the Laramie Project.  Below I have shared some quotations from the script, to give you an idea of the role I will be playing in this projection. 

    First, some background:

    THE FACTS

    On October 6,1998, a gay University of Wyoming student, Matthew Shepard, left the Fireside Bar with Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson.  The  following day he was discovered at the edge of town, by a young boy riding his bicycle.  He was tied to a fence, brutally beaten, and close to death.

    By the following day, Matthew’s attack and the town of Laramie had become the focus of an international news story.  On October 12, 1998 Matthew Shepard died at Poudre Valley Hospital in Ft. Collins, Colorado.

    My role as Dennis Shepard – (Matthew’s Father)

    My son Matthew did not look like a winner.  He was rather uncoordinated and wore braces from the age of 13 until the day he died.  However, in his all too brief life he proved that he was a winner.  On October 6, 1998, my son tried to show the world that he could win again.  On October 12, 1998, my first born son, and my hero, lost.  On October 12, 1998 my first born son and my hero, died, 50 days before his 22nd birthday.

    My role as Dave O’Malley – Retired Laramie police officer, Lead Investigator

    Well, I tell you what, we now have the AIDS Walk here in Laramie,  it’s in its 6th year. Ok?  And it’s grown.  Last year we raised around $22,000 dollars.  And $5,000 dollars at drag queen bingo alone!  I mean we had drag queens at the Cowboy Bar.  Jim and Jason and Travis and they put on just a great production you know.  Yeah, at the Cowboy Bar!

     I’ve chosen to blog about the Laramie Project – 10 years later, as I feel Matthews’ life should always be remembered.  I know nothing about Matthew, and I’ve never acted in a play with such content of information, that makes you feel so overwhelmed with emotion and emptiness.  This was a young gentleman that chose a life-style that may never be understood by many.  This certainly would not have been a choice of Matthews’, to have been brutally murdered, may he rest in peace.  There are many tragic events that take place in life as we all know, however, I don’t believe there are words to describe  a person’s fate brought on by someone else of this magnitude.  It certainly is not my intent to distinguish between right or wrong, defend or criticize, and there have already been many occasions why I feel I’m even undertaking if you will, this role towards trying to make sense of it all. 

    With respect to all of this, my hope is that the Shepard Family will always carry with them, the undying love and support that this tragedy, actually was the right choice for someone to make that felt it was their place to make such a decision.

    Again, Matthew – may you REST IN PEACE

  • Art and Photography, an Update by Wayne

    By Wayne Bristow (Chat Junkie)

    Last September I wrote about having some success with my hobby. When I was diagnosed HIV positive and left my job, I needed a hobby so I used some of my money to buy a decent digital camera and get back to my love of photography. I take most of my photos in colour but black & white are by far my favourites. If I think one of my photos would look good in black and white, thanks to digital technology, it’s just an extra click on a photo program.

    Last August I took a picture the sun going down behind the reeds in a pond out at the old prison property and a local artist seen it on my flickr page. She contacted me and asked if she could use it as inspiration for a piece of art. I was thrilled that anyone would even ask; I agreed right away. She did tell me that her creation wouldn't look identical but the spirit of my photo would be noticeable, I guess that the best way to describe it.

    Well last week I was checking new photos from my friends and contacts on flickr and there it was, a photo of her finished artwork of my photo. With it were a couple close up pictures to show how it was created, she calls herself a thread painter. She creates everything with a sewing machine and fabric. I find it to be so original, one of a kind and it would be hard to recreate this piece.

    The artist's name is Sharron Begg and she will be showing her piece of art at the Elora Centre for The Arts in Elora Ontario from Monday, May 21st to Sunday, July 1st. The piece is called "Through The Reeds". I really want to go, I have yet to meet her actually.

    This brings me to making the decision, finally, to start showing my photos - its artwork too - so I'm looking for places that I can do that. Two weeks ago an email from the Waterloo Region Rainbow Coalition was forwarded to me seeking artists from the LGBTQ community to display artwork at their "Discussion on Diversity" event on June 14th. I have applied to see if I can show mine, I sent them four samples that I would be showing. I have the frames ready, pictures are blown up to fit, including the one that was the inspiration for the artwork. I'm not allowed to sell anything there but I am able to provide contact information. I am tapping my foot waiting to hear back telling me I am accepted. When I do get the call I will post info. Crossing my fingers.

    And that isn't all that I'm excited about. I was given a teaser from ACG about a program that is upcoming that will involve photography and I can get be a part of it. I don't have all the details yet so when its about to take off, they will be sending it out to other possible participants. So stay tuned and sign up, all events are "no experience necessary".

    *Sharron Beggs has given me permission to mention her in this blog.

  • What being "sex positive" means to me

     

    By Wayne Bristow (Chat Junkie)

    What does being "sex positive" mean to you?

    I was following ACG's Twitter (@AIDSGuelph) a while ago and I notice that Megan had put this out to the online world. She recently told me that it didn't get any responses. This surprised me. The subject used to stump me. How do you answer this; what is it?

    I attended a workshop recently where this term was used and explained but it didn't address the thoughts I had on it. My take on it is based on something I learned while taking the Positive Prevention Train the Trainer course a couple years ago. Sure there are a lot of scientific and medical parts to what it may mean to be “sex positive” but I decided to share my thoughts which are more based on an emotional definition. Is it possible to have a healthy sex life after a HIV+ diagnosis? And what would that look like?

    I remember years before my diagnosis, I would be online, I'd watch conversations by many people saying that when you test HIV+, your sex life should be over, you should not be having sex. Oh yeah, there would be some who spoke up to say that you can still have sex by using condoms and practice safe sex like we were all supposed to be doing. In my opinion this thinking still goes on, and the ratio seems to be more people still think that HIV positive people shouldn't be having sex with other people. I had met people who were in relationships where one person was positive and the other negative and they remained this way for over 10 years, so I knew and believed it is possible to still have sex even after testing positive.

    I had my status broadcasted over the internet; I sat and watched as it happened. For two hours I sat in front of my monitor watching all the people I had been chatting with for years debate the fact that I should have had my status in my profile, that I should tell everyone, everyday, that I should not be in a chatroom trying to meet people. I was dirty, I should be shot, I should be run over, I was a dishonest person, I should be locked up and the key thrown away, no one should meet me let alone have sex with me.

    Being sex positive for me is believing I can still have sex, good sex, safe sex, using the same safe practices that everyone else should be using. I AM worthy of it, I AM an honest person. I have always disclosed my status to any possible partners. In fact, I don't meet anyone face to face without telling them first. It’s the choice I made from the beginning.

    Having been diagnosed HIV+ coupled with a little aging has settled me down but it looks like I'm going to be around a while longer. My wild days are over, now I want more out of life and sex from just one person. There are plenty of ways to have sex without taking risks, It doesn't have to involve sexual intercourse or an all out sex Olympics, instead it can be a lot of human contact, intimacy and mutual gratification. I don't want to get too graphic here but let’s just say, foreplay doesn't have to be time limited and masturbation isn't going to make you blind (but you might close your eyes a lot.)

    Yes, it is possible to have a good sex life, a healthy sex life with an HIV+ diagnosis and it can be great, the message is the same… play safe. This is what being "sex positive" means to me, positively!

  • To Be (a PHA) or Not To Be

     

    By Wayne Bristow (Chat Junkie)

    To be (a PHA) or not to be? How I answer that question.

    In the last couple weeks I have been a part of a friendly debate about being called a PHA and naturally I am the one who makes it a debate. While others don't like the the acronym, I don't have a real problem with it. For me its what I'm known as in the HIV community, at my AIDS Service Organization, at training sessions, at HIV conferences or anything else that I do as a person living with HIV. But that is just a small part of who I am and a small part of my world.

    First, I am a son, a brother, a cousin, I'm an uncle, a father and a grandfather. I am someone's friend, someone's co-worker, or a fellow student. When I am any of these other persons, I am not a son who is a PHA, or a friend who is a PHA, on a bus or standing in line at the department store, I don't have to introduce myself by saying, "Hi, I'm Wayne and I'm a PHA. Only when I stand before my peers do I need to be a PHA. It's at that time I wear my hat proudly, for me its my PhD. I live it, I know more about it than some who works in the HIV community.

    I believe the HIV community has to be a leader in the creation of acronyms. Every organization we talk about or associate with is known first by its acronym. This is the ACG blog, there is an ASO in KW known as ACCKWA. The ACG is associated with the OHTN, OAN, CAS. See what I mean?

    ACG - AIDS Commitee of Guelph Wellington
    OAN - Ontario AIDS Network
    OHTN - Ontario HIV Treatment Network
    CAS - Canadian AIDS Society
    ACCKWA - AIDS Commitee of Cambridge Kitchener Waterloo and Area
    KW - Kitchener Waterloo

    I can live with the PHA tag because right now it stands for a "Person Living With HIV/AIDS", it's something positive. If a time comes when someone outside the HIV community asks me what it stands for it's going be a positive conversation, the words "living with" will lead people to want to know more. How do you "live" with HIV?

    Whether I use the full phrase or the acronym, for me the result is the same. Being so active in the community, acronyms have become a big part of my vocabulary. I use to say, "WHAT?", now I know and use most of them. Talk to me, you'll find out.

    No matter what they call us it will have a name, a label. I know where the term came from, The Denver Principles, and I know why. It told people who we were and don't do anything that is about us without us.

  • The Next Step in HIV and Aging

    By Wayne Bristow

    Anyone who knows me well, knows that I spend a lot of time online following social media. Many hours I'm on Facebook and Twitter reading and sharing things I think are important to me and ACG and my peers. One of my many passions is searching for more information on HIV and aging. Being someone who is living with both, it's becoming important to me to make sure I can live out my senior years with dignity like anyone else. What I'm learning is that the healthcare system isn't really ready for me as a gay man, or as someone who is living with HIV.

    Some things I have read online are, every 12 seconds someone in the world will be infected with HIV, in America it's believed that every 9.5 minutes someone will be infected. I haven't heard any numbers being mentioned for Canadians but I'm sure there are and we need to be very concerned. What these numbers tell us is that there are many people right now who are aging with HIV and will soon be part of the healthcare system in the near future; there will be many hundreds of thousands who will follow.

    When scientists, medical establishments and activists learned what they were dealing with back in the early 1980s they went to work to organize and find treatments and learn how to care for the people who were infected. Due to all the work they did over the years and what we've learned from the survivors, we are now able to live long full and worthwhile lives with HIV today. They are all leaders, true heroes in my mind. We can never forget the people who lost the fight. Their existence gave scientists and the medical community so much valued information.

    In 2010, I sat on a panel at ACG's HIV and Aging Symposium. During that event I listened to a gentleman talk about his work trying to find out what Long-term care had available for the LGBTQ community. I have to say, I wasn't impressed to hear what the healthcare people were telling him: "we don't know, we've never had a gay person in one of our facilities". WHAT? Hearing this only strengthened my need to make this my mission - I must get involved and try to make things better for my peers and for myself.

    Like the leaders and heroes that came before us, the ones who made it easier for us to live outside a closet, who made it possible for us to live with HIV, we are the leaders of today and tomorrow who must take us the rest of the way. We can make the world better for us all. We need to organize like they did in the 80s, we need to open talks with the Healthcare system. We need them to understand that we are humans, that HIV isn't something to be afraid of, that Universal precautions are all that is needed like with another patient/client/resident.

    I know that ACG is going to be active in reaching out to the healthcare system in our area and I want to be a part of it in anyway I can. Having worked as a Personal Support Worker, I can see how the stigma and lack of education I encountered is present in the healthcare system. I believe in putting a face to this disease and telling my story. It will have some impact on changing the stigma and beliefs of many people working in healthcare.

  • My message would be...

    By Wayne (Chat Junkie)

    There are times when I'm asked what message would I like to give to people about HIV. It stumps me. So many things run through my mind and I always forget a few. I have learned so much in the last couple years, so now I have a list of messages. I know by the time I finish this I will have forgotten some while trying to remember others. It could be just a normal aging thing or it could be part of the HIV and aging process I'm currently learning about.

    So here are some of my tips based on what I have learned. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below and someone will respond. All comments have to be monitored by the site manager so all questions can be answered anonymously. Any personal questions for me about living with HIV I will answer as honestly as I can.

    1) Learn the risks and get educated on the current information. It's not the 80's anymore and it's not just a gay disease. Depending on your lifestyle and sexual behaviour, there is a risk factor that you could be taking. Contact your local AIDS Service Organization: (ACG) AIDS Committee of Guelph and Wellington County here in Guelph or ACCKWA (AIDS Committee of Cambridge, Kitchener & Waterloo and Area) in Kitchener/Waterloo. By contacting these ASOs you can learn what activities have the highest risk or the lowest risk, but remember, low risk is still a risk. ACG and ACCKWA can also give you information for Hep C treatment and access to support.

    2) If you are re-entering the dating scene, it's a whole lot different now. You must not just take someone's word that they are negative. Ask them and find out. Insist on using a condom. A person who cares about you and about themselves will not have a problem using one.

    3) Until you know someone is negative always use a condom, not just for protection from HIV but from STIs (sexually transmitted infections) as well. If you contract an STI first, your body is busy fighting it and HIV can find its way into your system a little easier and in most cases it will continue to fight the STI first.

    4) If you know someone, such as a friend or family member, who may be putting themselves at risk, talk to them. Support them to go and get tested and go with them if you have to.

    5) HIV is not a death sentence anymore but it is a LIFE sentence. You can live to be a very old person but it won't always be easy with the medications you have to take daily.

    6) If you do test HIV positive you will have to tell every potential partner you have throughout the course of your life that you are positive. Failing to do this could lead to some very serious legal circumstances and you could go to jail. The law hasn't caught up to the current information and facts but there are people fighting to have them changed.

    They say that every twelve seconds, someone in the world will become infected with HIV. That person may be in your neighbourhood and if they were, would you support them? It's believed and statistics are available that show 26% of men who have sex with men don't know they are infected or haven't been tested. They are also finding and compiling statistics on women who don't know their status.

    HIV and treatment of HIV have changed so much over the years. There shouldn't be the stigma around it that there is. If people get the education and the truth, we might be able to end stigmatization. HIV has been around for 30 years now, lets not let it be around another 30 years. Let us care about each other and move to "Get To Zero in 2012".

  • Vitamin D, you are my Sunshine.

    By Wayne (Chat Junkie)

    First of all, this information is intended for those who are able to take Vitamin D and other supplements. I have heard from people who say they can't or shouldn't take them. Checking with your doctor is always the best advice.

    You may have heard Vitamin D being called the "sunshine" drug. Sunshine is something our body needs. At times, like during our long 7 month long winters, when there isn't much sunshine outdoors and shining through our windows, it is suggested that we take Vitamin D to make sure our body gets its daily requirement. It makes sense to me. I attribute the fact that I don't suffer from SADs during the winter to my consumption of the sunshine pill. SAD is Seasonal Affective Disorder, a psychiatric illness in which patients suffer from depression during the winter. Other names for the condition are winter depression, the winter blues or seasonal depression. Taking the supplement isn't the only suggestion, getting out for exercise is important as well but I will add to that, depending on the weather conditions.

    The best source for "up to date" health information for Canadians living with HIV is none other than CATIE (Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange). If you go to their site (listed below) you can find a list of all supplements, charts which list the amounts recommend you take, and what exactly they target. They also have the disclaimer that you consult your doctor before taking supplements.

    When looking for supplements I read the labels, most state what they target, like bones & teeth, red blood cells or the immune system. I recently re-discovered Cod Liver Oil and found out it is good for the immune system. I am so glad it can be taken in a gel capsule form now. I just cringe when I remember how as children we had to take that teaspoon of smelly and foul tasting goop Mom held out in front of us. Yuck.

    So here are the Supplements I am taking along with my HIV medications:

    A.M.
    20 minims Cod Liver Oil support Immune functioning
    500 mgs Calcium for Bone Density Bone health
    1000 IU Vitamin D3 to work with Calcium bone & teeth
    250 mcg Vitamin B12 for Blood support
    10,000 IU Vitamin A for eye and bone health
    50 mg Zinc - general immune function

    P.M. (before bed)
    500 mgs Calcium for Bone Density Bone health
    1000 IU Vitamin D to work with Calcium, bones&teeth

    I have heard of a few others I might try since I haven't seen any problems with my health or my counts. I am open to suggestions if you have any.

    Wikipedia.com: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seasonal_Affective_Disorder
    CATIE: www.catie.ca
    http://www.catie.ca/en/practical-guides/21-vitamins-minerals-and-supplements
    1 800 263 1638
    All information from CATIE is free, comes mailed to you in a plain brown envelope for your privacy. ACG (AIDS Commitee of Guelph also has much of their literature in the office.)

  • I'm never bored but I did get on "The Board"

     

    By Chat Junkie / Wayne B

    In this posting I'm going to talk about something I've been doing for a year now and haven't blogged about it yet. Last year about this time, I was just finishing up the Positive Prevention course and had done a couple blogs on here, when I was approached on two occasions to see if I would be interested in sitting on the ACG Board of Directors. I was informed that there are two seats on the board for community members or....us, PHAs (persons living with HIV/AIDS). Honestly, being asked took me by surprise but they told me to think about it. I did think, for about a day or so and then I said, "sure!"

    I seen this opportunity as a way of representing other PHAs and having their concerns addressed in any issues the board would be discussing and making decisions on. Any decision requires a discussion, everyone at the table is encouraged to speak up and give imput and I like that.

    One thing that led me to accepting was, "no experience necessary". They did set up with some training on Board Governance through the Guelph Volunteer Centre (GVC). When I attended the sessions, constantly things came up by Gayle and she would say, "you should hear what the ACG is doing". I was often called upon to talk about what it was we were doing but at that point, I had only been to one meeting. Our board had worked with the GVC to put together our Governance Manual which lays out all of our policies and procedures. Our mission Statement/Vision, which is, "We dream of a time and place where everyone is free to live healthy, vital lives," was used as a model for others.

    At the beginning of October I went for some other training put on by the Ontario AIDS Network (OAN), as part of their Positive Leadership Development Institute program. It was called "Bored........Get on Board" and it looked at more at being on a board as a HIV positive person. I feel more comfortable in my position on the Board now and as proof of that, I am starting my second year on the Executive Commitee seat as the new Treasurer. Yaaaaaay!

    Other training I have taken was a one day course on GIPA which stands for "Greater Involvement by People Living With HIV/AIDS." A popular slogan that is often mentioned with GIPA is "Its not about us without us." The objective of GIPA is to allow PHAs more involved in their care, their rights and services just to name a few, by attending workshops, conventions etc. and actively participating and contributing.

    So........as of the end of last nights meeting (Oct. 26th) there are two seats available if anyone is interested in filling them. I can say that you don't have to wear a label saying that you are a PHA. People don't need to know that you are a PHA and that includes the public. I just tell people I am on the board, that's it, and all they need to know. It would be the same if I was on any other board.

    If anyone is interested you can contact Tom Hammond or myself and we can submit your name to the Recruiting Committee. The more people we are able to put on the board allows for more voices and more people to do the things that will benefit us all. If sitting on the board isn't your thing you can still have your voice heard by knowing who the board members are and having them bring your concerns to the meetings. There is always at least one board member at every ACG function who is willing to hear from you.

  • 2011 HIV testing campaign!

    Exciting news! We have embarked on another HIV testing campaign, encouraging people to take charge of their health and get tested for HIV.

    Why? Nearly 30% of people living with HIV in Ontario don't know that they have the virus. When people get tested, they can access treatment and support, and learn how to protect their partners.

    Look out for our testing campaign advertisements across Guelph! We have a bus shelter ad located on the corner of Quebec Street and Wyndham Street (at St.George's Square.) Our digital ad (below) is playing in bars, restaurants and clinics across town. You will also find posters and postcards in social service agencies, stores and offices in Guelph and Wellington County.

    We encourage you to download and share these resources yourself:
    postcard.pdf
    poster.pdf

    More information about the campaign can be found here.

    We have rapid testing here at the AIDS Committee of Guelph and Wellington County, at 89 Dawson Road, Unit 115. Testing happens every Wednesday from 1:30 - 3:30. No appointment is required. Rapid testing means that you can find out if you are HIV negative right away, so there is no waiting. And it is anonymous, which means that your name and identity is not requested, recorded or reported.

     

  • Public speaking for the first time

    By Church Mouse

    Who would have thought that a timid and self conscious mouse like me would get up and tell my story of how HIV/AIDS has affected my life? I grew up in rural Ontario, where we planted corn, had a huge vegetable garden and pigs to feed. I think I had a pretty normal childhood. I attended the local high school when AIDS hadn't even been heard of yet! So....it sort of makes sense that my first exposure as a HIV positive speaker would be to a grade nine class in Paris, Ontario. My hands shook, my knees wobbled and my brain was mush. My thoughts were .....OMG what have I got myself into?!

    Many eyes were focused on me, anticipating my disclosure and putting a face to this disease that they were just hearing about. In those early days I too was struggling to understand it myself. However, I certianly could tell them how fearful I was, and that my biggest support came from my partner, Gordon, who was also positive himself.

    You could almost hear a pin drop when Linda, our Support Worker, introduced me. The students seemed leary about what they should ask, so Linda decided to start the dialog by asking me some questions. I was grateful for her help. You see, for me, imaging the audience in their underwear wouldn't even come close to steadying my nerves! (Over the years, however, I have learned that the audience wants you to succeed; they are not as critical as you think they will be. I have also learned that pauses have affect.)

    It is February and I am anticipating another opportunity to share with another class on Monday. It is the weekend and suddenly I have what I thought was sinus headache, followed by intense pain. Seventy-two hours later I am dignosed with Shingles.'' Shingles!!! I'm not over 70 how can this be? Who knew!!!"  I guess my body was trying to tell me something.....I couldn't handle any more stress! Yep! I got the message... or did I? Five weeks of unbelievable pain and itching, both my eyes swelled, my forehead was infected from my scratching. I showered at least 6 times a day because the heat gave me some tempory relief. I was put on an antibotic and demerol.Whoo hoo! I would be talking to someone and doze off in the middle of a conversation, waking minutes later to continue my sentence. I walked off the back porch like I was walking on water, nevermind the three steps that were there. Gordon took good care of me. And the students sent best wishes. Most people you hear about who have shingles usually get it around their mid-section, but I just had to be different! The virus followd the nerve endings in my forhead, around eyes and up into my scalp. I was told by a Doctor just this year. that I was lucky that I didn't lose my vision.

    Surprisingly, the scars don't bother me because I know that Gordon and my friends and family love me unconditonally.

    To me they are signs of the battle I am still fighting. As for public speaking again, I'm not sure right now... maybe somewhere down the road.As for this platform, I like it alot.

  • Sharing your experiences: Quotations needed for vigil slideshow

    By Megan, Positive Prevention Coordinator

    We are seeking quotations to be used as a slideshow during a musical presentation for our annual vigil on World AIDS Day. If you would like to contribute something, please feel free to answer one, (or more, or all) of these questions. You can either write them out and hand them to me (Megan) directly, or email them to me at positiveprevention@aidsguelph.org, or leave a comment on the blog.  Your name will not appear during the slideshow.

     Here are the questions!

    1. How did you feel when you were first diagnosed with HIV? How do you feel about it today?

    2. How do you feel when you think about the people you know who have died from HIV/AIDS?

    3. What gives you hope about the future?

    4. What do you want people to know about HIV / Living with HIV?

    Thanks!!!

  • The Soldier Within

     

    By Church Mouse

    How does someone cope with the dreaded news of being HIV positive and keep moving forward?

    It is 1991, AIDS is thought of as something that only gay men were getting, and certianly not women and children. I don't remember if any of the celeberties talked openly about AIDS or maybe that came much later. Rock Hudson was the first I remember hearing about.When the movie Philadephia came out, I couldn't bring myself to watch it I was living with my own fears. In the weeks and months that followed our diagnosis I sought out support. I called our local AIDS committee and the gentlman on the other end of the line listened patiently while I spilled my story of diagnosis and the doctor's callous response. This gentleman, knowing that he probably wasn't going to get this timid mouse through the agency door for support, offered to meet me at a local coffee shop. This started me on the road to meeting other PHA's and on to telling my story publicly.

    I am still working at this time in a factory making styrofoam plates for resturants.The stress of keeping part of my life secret was taking it's toll and I came down with phemonia. The flu is just the flu, unless you are positive. Then it can become a "what if''. As for work, I made the biggest mistake I could have. Because of fear of rejection, not knowing who I could confide in, and fear of seriously injurying myself, I quit my job instead of taking long term leave, therefore losing my benifits.

    Over in our personal life, it took me along time to persude Gordon to get tested. I think that he felt that once the words were spoken it would become a reality. Since niether of us had any serious infections at this point, we decided to wait, but ultimately he did get tested. We waited an agonizing five weeks for his results to come back.

    Living a double life was becoming impossible. It was time to share with family and friends. Deep breath......that's right Church Mouse just blurt it out!Outstanding!!!! Now you got the nieces all crying.Ooopppsss! My oldest neice asked, "how long I have you known?" "A year I say". "Oh mouse, you should have know that we are here for you and always will be no matter what."

    Mother was not so easy. I took backup - my support worker from my agency - under the guise that we were just up for a visit. Mother wanted to talk about her garden, wanted to know where my friend was from, talked about the weather, who had a baby recently, etc., etc., etc. I was procrastinating. I didn't want her to blame my partner and I know I put her in an awkward position by bringing a stranger into our home with bad news. Each time my mother turned away to do something in the kitchen, Linda kept motioning me to go ahead....and her motions were getting more exaggerated each time. I would have started laughing if I hadn't commited myself to doing this. After I explained my situation, mother's body language told us that we needed to give her time for it to sink in. Since she wasn't making eye contact and she told my dad that I had a blood disorder.We made our exit.

    Our families stood by us. Their support was amazing. I know how hard it was not to want someone to blame.When it came to friends, Gordon's experiences were not as good.One of his good friends walked right out of his life. Another time, Gordon was working on a job landscaping and when he told the boss he had an appointment in London, the fellow suggested in a very scarcastic manner and in front of everyone, "he must have AIDS!" (That's were the HIV specialists were.) Go figure! How did he know?

    Mostly we handled HIV together the two of us like soliders pressing on into battle.Winston Churchhill once said, "knowledge is the key to winning a war," so we armed ourselves with knowledge and support and kept on moving.

  • Xtra!: Out, Poz, and Proud (with Michael Burtch)

     

    Xtra! has an  interview with Michael Burtch about walking 'the tightrope between advocacy and privacy'. He discusses his HIV status and how the criminalization of non-disclosure has affected him. Be sure and check it out!

  • Volunteers Needed: Online Outreach to Gay/Bi Men

     

    The Education program at the AIDS Committee of Guelph offers online outreach to gay, bi, and other men who have sex with men in our region. We screen, select, and train appropriate volunteers to provide this service. Training is upcoming this fall (October) and ACG is looking for volunteers? Ideally,  volunteers would be self-identified gay/bi/queer/trans men, but we have had some excellent queer women who have excelled at online outreach to gay/bi men in the past, so we encourage queer women to apply as well.

    Once trainining is complete, we ask that volunteers make a 1.5-3hr committment a week (1 shift is 1.5 hours and can be completed anywhere you have reliable access to the internet).

    For more information, please send an email to: education@aidsguelph.org

  • Warning: HIV Home Test Kits

    Unlicensed HIV Home Test Kit: Accu-HIV 1 & 2 Saliva Test Advisory
    2011-123
    September 12, 2011
    For immediate release

    The issue:

    Following information that a Toronto Company, ACCU-METRICS, has been advertising HIV home test kits for sale via their website, Health Canada would like to remind Canadians that there are currently no HIV test kits that have been authorized for home use in Canada.

    The Accu-HIV 1 & 2 Saliva Test, or any other HIV home test kits, have not been evaluated by Health Canada for safety and effectiveness. Inaccurate test results from unlicensed HIV test kits may provide Canadians with false test results, such as a failure to indicate HIV in an infected individual, or indicate HIV when none is present.

    Who is affected:
    Canadians who have purchased HIV home test kits.

    What consumers should do:
    Consult your healthcare practitioner if you have used any HIV home test kits and/or are concerned about your health. Report any complaints potentially related to HIV home test kits to Health Canada (see below). What Health Canada is doing:
    ACCU-METRICS has voluntarily complied with Health Canada’s instructions that this product will not be sold to Canadians via their website. It is illegal to advertise or sell unlicensed medical devices in Canada. In addition, Health Canada officials have also alerted our international partners about Accu-HIV 1 & 2 Saliva Test available via the Internet.

    For more information on home test kits, please visit Health Canada’s It’s Your Health articles on Medical Test Kits for Home Use and Buying Medical Devices over the Internet. For more information on HIV and how you can protect yourself, Health Canada has also published an It’s Your Health article on HIV/AIDS. To confirm whether a device is licensed in Canada, please refer to the Medical Devices Active Licence Listing.

    Health Canada will continue to monitor the situation and will take appropriate action and inform Canadians, if necessary.

    Products affected:
    Accu-HIV 1 & 2 Saliva Test

    For more information:

    Consumers and health professionals wanting more information about this advisory from Health Canada can contact the Public Enquiries Line at 613-957-2991, or toll free at 1-866-225-0709.
    Media enquiries related to this Advisory should be directed to Health Canada Media Relations at 613-957-2983.
    How to report problems with consumer products:
    Complaints involving home HIV test kits or any other medical devices can be reported to the Health Products and Food Branch Inspectorate by calling the toll-free hotline at 1-800-267-9675, or by writing to:
    Health Products and Food Branch Inspectorate
    Health Canada
    Address Locator: 2003D
    Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0K9

    Related Health Canada Web content:
    Warning (June 22, 2009): Health Canada is Warning Canadians Not to Use Clean Testing HIV Home Test Kit, or Any Home HIV Test Kit

  • Success with my hobby

     

    By Chat Junkie

    I have never wanted to have any of my photos put to paper or enlarged....yet, but I think it is time for one of them. It feels kind of weird to be doing it but I think I am going to start a portfolio, oh yeah! I wanted to create something with my hobby that I could share with others and hope that some would actually like it. I had tried to do things like this years ago with a good film camera but I failed about 95% of the time. However, I was very good at taking pictures of people, kids in the family and events. In that catagory, I'd have to say I succeeded 99% of the time, once I got the hang of it.

    The picture included with this blog post is the one I'm talking about. It's almost a fluke that I even took it in the first place. Given the conditions in which it was taken, I had no idea how it would look up on the computer. They all look somewhat great when I see them in the back of my camera. I took 5 shots from different angles but settled on sharing this one on my flickr.com site.

    I posted it online August 15th and on the 17th I got the compliment of a lifetime. I was contacted by a local artist who wanted permission to use it for a "threadpainting" piece of artwork based on the photo. She did say that it may not look exactly like the actual photo but it will be the inspiration. She gave me the links to her website and her flickr page so I had to check her out. I was very impressed and now I am really excited to see what she does with this project.

    If she is able to complete it in time it will appear in an art show in October. She emailed me again to get more information on the location where it was taken and what I did to get the shot. This information will be attached somehow with the finished product on that night and credit will be given, I'm thinking WOW.

    I am still learning as I go along. This new camera has so many features and this was me just playing around and amazed by what I captured. The picture was taken using a circular polarizer I bought that is suppose to improve contrast and color saturation in blue skies and white clouds. These filters also help with glare on water. I had thought of taking it off before taking this picture but when I seen what it looked like I thought, hmmm, I clicked off a few and hoped for the best. I think its time to take the advice of some family and friends and get serious with this thing I do.

     

  • Do you need help adhering to your HIV med regimen?

     

    Nobody wants his or her HIV treatment to stop working. And it's easy for someone to tell you, "Just take all your meds, and you'll be fine." But the challenge of taking antiretroviral therapy every single day, and the obstacles that life throws in your way, can make adherence a lot tougher in real life than it might seem on paper.

    This is why The Body has created a Resource Centre on Keeping Up With Your HIV Meds: to help you get the information and advice you need to ensure that your dance with HIV treatment is as flawless as possible. You'll find invaluable advice from HIV experts and people living with HIV, first-person accounts of people dealing with the everyday struggle to stay on top of their meds and answers to the most commonly asked questions about adherence.

    Adherence Centre @ The Body.com

  • Ontario Elections are Approaching!

     

     HIV/AIDS Issues and the Ontario Provincial Election
    By John Charles, qlinks.ca editor

    The Ontario Provincial Election is on October 6th and one of the many issues to remember when choosing the candidate you vote for is how they stand on HIV/AIDS issues. By studying the candidates’ positions or by contacting and asking them directly, you can learn more about how they will help or hinder the ongoing response to such critical issues as...

    · Funding
    Will the candidate’s party promise to maintain the current financial commitment for the continued operation of community based HIV/AIDS programs and HIV clinics in Ontario?
    · The Ontario Disability Support Program
    Will the wholly inadequate monthly ODSP benefit payments be increased to levels more in sync with the poverty line and will there be improved access to the special diet program for people living with HIV/AIDS?
    · Harm Reduction
    Will there be a commitment to evidence based research when it comes to drug use? Harm reduction strategies reduce HIV transmission, save money and are more effective than criminal penalties.
    · Housing
    Will there be increases in the number of affordable housing units for people living with HIV/AIDS?
    · Family Leave
    Will the Family Medical Leave regulations be changed to allow people who care for HIV+ family members to take more unpaid leave time when necessary?

    Continue to visit this space as we will provide additional information in the run up to the election. Be sure to also visit The Ontario AIDS Network’s site for more insight on this issue.

  • Disclosure... continuing the conversation

    By Megan

    In the Positive Prevention workshops, the sessions on disclosure and on stigma always carry a lot of weight. In each workshop, there are always new experiences, concerns, and strategies that are shared. And, there are always a lot of common sources of stress and stigma too.  Today I read, "The Big Reveal: Disclosing your HIV Status" on PositiveLite.com. It's an excellent blog post, and it brings up a lot of issues, like:

    • Is disclosing easier when you are older?
    • Is disclosing a political act... and a responsibility? Does staying silent mean perpetuating stigma?
    • What kind of questions do you ask yourself before disclosing?
    • Is it easier to disclose to sexual partners, or to close friends?
    • How do you negotiate safer sex when both partners are HIV positive?
    • Is there more stigma among younger gay men than older gay men?

    I would love to hear your feedback on these questions!

  • My Busy Summer

     

    By Wayne Bristow

    Wow, it’s almost Labour Day. Where has the summer gone? I wish I could say that with some sort of loss, but with the heat I had to endure, I am so glad to see it go. "Bring on the Fall", my favourite time of year.

    I have been very busy, blogging indoors on the hotter days, on the better days, the days I felt brave enough to try it outdoors, I set off to take some pictures. I even managed to get out with a new friend from China that I met on one of my hikes. Recently I met up with him and one of my other friends for an afternoon out at the Arboretum, so the photography has taken on another dimension; it’s becoming a social experience for me. Last month I finally attended a Pub Night with the Guelph Photographers Club that I joined on flickr.com. I got to meet some of the people I have on my friends list on the site.

    The subject matter of my blogging on PositiveLite.com has been all over the map so to speak. I have been seeing things and hearing things that are just promoting stigma instead of defeating it. In particular, there were two subjects that recently struck a nerve with me.

    One is the movie, "The Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes". If you haven't seen it, I don't want to spoil it for you. I actually loved the movie. It was believable and very well done. But when we thought the movie was over, another small segment played, that frankly stunned me. During this final part of the movie, there was a mysterious virus that was going to wipe out mankind. As I was watching this story I noticed how it was linked to the story of AIDS, including several misconceptions. You can read my full review of the movie and observations here.

    The other topic that struck me was the recent controversy around Bert and Ernie’s sexual orientation and relationship. I had to weigh in on that right away. As a gay person who respects my privacy, I prefer to be the person to tell others of my sexual preference when I'm ready to. In the case of Bert and Ernie, I feel they are being presumed to be gay and there is this movement to get Sesame Street producers to "make them gay" characters and have them get married. Gay people are trying to get the message out that they were "born this way," not made this way, so why turn Bert and Ernie gay? To quote myself from my PositiveLite.com story: "Do we really need symbols or celebrities to endorse our lifestyle for it to be accepted? Is love not enough?"

    Other subjects I've been blogging about are my weight gain, getting the belly, and I wrote about ACG’s new relationship with the Royal City Roller Girls. I wrote another piece asking, if you were to make up the soundtrack to your life, who would be on it? Mine would have a lot of Roy Orbison on it. My latest blog though, has got to be one of the most controversial one I will every write. I did it with a little sense of humour… it deals with masturbation as a safe sex option.

    I am so glad Megan DePutter suggested I follow PositiveLite.com while learning to blog. I emailed the editor there to say I liked his blogs and would like to do it myself someday, that I was doing it for the ACG. Little did I know how that connection would change my life for the better. Just recently, I was asked to write for another site based in California, a site called, "Until there’s a Cure". I wish I had time to do it but I don't want to take on too much. I love what I'm doing, I have established a following, I guess, and most of all I want to be able to blog here too.

    I would like to put out a call to anyone interested in blogging, I have some connections, hint, hint! You can contact me through Megan and we can both work with you to get you started. I wasn't great at it when I started, I found out there are people who will edit it before it goes live, they make me look really good and I'm told that it isn't needed as much now though.

  • It had to be his smile

     

    By Church Mouse

    In my previous blog, I apparently put the cart before the horse so to speak. In order to have my stories flow, I will share with you how I met my soul mate/best friend, Gordon. It was Halloween of 1990. A local pickup hockey team was hosting their annual dance before the season started. I hesitated about going because I had just come out of a bad relationship,but then again I didn't want to sit home and watch the paint dry. Not having put much thought into what I was going to wear as a costume, I quickly scoured the place looking for and borrowing accessories such as cameras and sunglasses, suntan lotion and a map.The final outcome was a tacky tourist ensemble, which included a highly unusual sunburn considering the fact that it was the end of October. This I achieved with a excessive amount of makeup.A busy, multi-coloured shirt and a mismatched pair of shorts completed my look. I was hardly a damsel in distress, except maybe for some fashion advice! And off we went.

    Part way through the night, as I am chatting with friends and munching on snacks, out of the darkness emerges... my knight in shining armour? Wait a minute.....Oh, great  - he is wearing big red shoes a fuzzy red wig and .......of course the trade mark red nose! Awwwwww. Good grief, and he's coming my way! Five minutes ago I was dodging a guy in army fatigues who wreaked like a brewery. I've nowhere to go we have made eye contact. First words out of his mouth: "Don't I know you from somewhere? I 'm sure we've met!" Being a bit annoyed at his unoriginal line and not wanting to get involved or hurt once again, I sort of gave him the brush off by saying, ''well that was original!" Gordon must have seen something beyond my flamboyant costume and the sarcastic attitude because his persistence prevailed and we briefly got to know one another.

    Before we knew, it my ride was leaving with or without me. Since I was sitting close to the wall in a booth, Gordon wouldn't let me out until he got my number.That wasn't a problem because most of the players knew my sis and her husband as he was also a team member. Unknown to us, that night something wonderful was set in motion and the fortress walls that my knight had built around himself slowly started to crumble and over time turned to sand, sliding to the ground to reveal a man of great strength and character. His love, support courage and faith has kept me afloat and pushes me to meet the challenges of being left behind.

    Miss you always, Gordon.

  • CATIE: June 2011 Treatment Update now available

    by B.J. Caldwell, Educator

    CATIE's most recent treatment update (pdf) includes the following:

    1. Helping CD4 cells block HIV by altering a patients genes
    2. Comparing efavirenz to raltegravir
    3. Long term HAART and Bone Health
    4. Making sense of changes on bone density
    5. Alberta study finds higher death rates among HIV+ Aboriginal HAART users

    The section on the genetic altering of  a person's own CD4 cells to become (more) resistant to HIV is fascinating and I have blogged about this recently (and there will be another post or two on the topic, soon)

    Bone health and the role of HIV drugs has long been a point of interest to many HIV+ people and phsyicians/researchers. New studies highlight some of these changes and make it obvious that we still have a lot to learn.

    The Alberta study showing a statistically significant difference in death rates and highlights another glaring hole in our understanding of the factors that play a role in this. It also highlights the issues faced by HIV+ people who also use injection drugs and gives some theories as to why this problem is occurring.

  • Update on the Ontario Prosecutorial Guidelines Campaign

     WE NEED YOUR HELP!!!!! (See below for information on how to get involved)

    Update on the Ontario Prosecutorial Guidelines Campaign

    & Community Consultations

     Ontario Working Group on Criminal Law & HIV Exposure, June 2011.

     The Campaign Background

    In the fall of 2010 the Ontario Working Group on Criminal Law & HIV Exposure (the Working Group) publicly launched the Campaign for Ontario Guidelines for Criminal Prosecutions of HIV Non-disclosure.  We called on Ontario’s Attorney General to immediately undertake a process to develop guidelines for Crown counsel in cases involving allegations of non-disclosure of HIV status.  Guidelines are needed to ensure that:

    •  HIV-related criminal complaints are handled in a fair and non-discriminatory manner
    • decisions to investigate and prosecute such cases are informed by a complete and accurate understanding of current scientific and medical research about HIV, and take into account the social contexts of living with HIV

     In December 2010, Ontario’s Attorney General committed to developing prosecutorial guidelines.

     In Spring 2011, we consulted with people living with HIV, service providers, academics, scientists, lawyers and activists across Ontario.  The consultation was a partnership between the Working Group, the HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.  We wanted community input into the recommendations we would be making to the Attorney General.  We consulted with over 200 people across Ontario, in face-to-face meetings and through an on-line survey.  Thanks to all of you who took the time to participate—we appreciate that this is an exceptionally complex, difficult and emotionally charged issue. [Ed: ACG took part in these consultations]

     Highlights of the Report & Recommendations

     The Report & Recommendations is based on discussions, feedback and suggestions from the consultations, as well as discussion and analysis from among Working Group members.  Overall, we recommended that the Attorney General keep in mind four key directions when writing prosecutorial guidelines:

    • HIV non-disclosure cases are complex
    • HIV is a chronic manageable infection, not a death sentence, and HIV is not easy to transmit
    • People living with HIV/AIDS face significant challenges, including social marginalization, stigma and discrimination
    • Crown prosecutors should act with caution and restraint in HIV non-disclosure cases

     Engaging with the Ministry of the Attorney General

     In June we submitted our Report & Recommendations to Ontario’s Attorney General. 

     In early July we met with a representative from the Ministry of the Attorney General to discuss the Report & Recommendations.  At that meeting we asked the Attorney General to provide a timeline for completing their draft prosecutorial guidelines.  We are awaiting a response and will let you know as soon as we get one.

    ACTION: What You Can Do Now

     

    We need to continue to press to the Attorney General to draft prosecutorial guidelines as quickly as possible.  We are asking community members to contact the Attorney General, the Honourable Chris Bentley, and urge him to draft prosecutorial guidelines by the end of August.  We have written and posted on the Working Group website an electronic letter that you can sign and automatically send to the Attorney General: ontarioaidsnetwork.on.ca/clhe/letter.html 

     

    For More Information

     www.ontarioaidsnetwork.on.ca/clhe/

     Or contact Ryan Peck, Co-chair of the Working Group at peckr@lao.on.ca.

     

  • Roller City Roller Girls

    Check out this great coverage of last weeks Royal City Roller Girls roller derby bout at the Sleeman Centre in Guelph.

     Positivelite has a great article on the Royal City Roller Girls

     

  • Yoga classes for ACG participants & volunteers!

     By Megan, Positive Prevention Coordinator

    Great news - there is now a yoga class available especially for ACG participants, volunteers, and their friends and families!

    There is a suggested donation of $5 a class, and all proceeds go to the AIDS Committee of Guelph. The classes are at 79 Norfolk Street at Moksha Yoga Guelph. They are on Mondays, from 2:00 - 3:00pm, all summer long!

    If you have never done yoga before, you might have some questions or concerns. I have done yoga for many years and am avid promoter of yoga as a form of exercise, a practice for stress-reduction and pain management.  So I thought I would address common concerns and myths about yoga that might be deterring you from accessing this opportunity.

    Concern #1: I'm not strong enough / healthy enough / thin enough to do yoga

    Actually, traditional yoga is a gentle practice that is perfect for people of any fitness level or health status. In my years of doing yoga, I have noticed that the classes are always full of people of all ages, shapes and sizes. If you're with a good instructor, they will provide gentle guidance and one-on-one instruction to help you get into the pose safely. Instructors will provide modifications to each pose so that it's tailored to your ability. There are also props (cushions, bolsters, blankets) that can be used as supports.

    Concern #2: I fear I won't be good enough

    Yoga is not about pushing yourself to do each pose perfectly. Contrary to the way that yoga is commonly presented in the media, yoga is not competitive or only for super-fit athletes. It's more about paying attention to what feels right in your body.

    Concern #3: I'm not flexible

    Flexibility is one of the benefits of yoga, not a prerequisite. I have always had very poor flexibility. This just means that I need to do modifications of the poses. I am usually not able to do the extent of what more flexible people can do in the class. And that's okay. I just do what I can do. Again, this is a form of exercise that is non-competitive and focuses on what your own body is capable of. It's a great way to gain flexibility without pushing yourself so hard that you get injured.

    Concern #4: Yoga is too hard

    Unlike some other sports, yoga is about gentleness and care for the body. When getting into a pose, you are always taught to stop if it feels painful.  Advanced poses like headstands or some other things you might have seen are not taught in beginner lessons. They are for people who have been practicing for many years, and come with a great deal of support from teachers over time.

    Concern #5: Yoga is not a good form of exercise

    Although a beginner's practice is often very simple, it also builds strength and, to some degree, endurance. It builds strength using muscles throughout the entire body and holding poses for as long as possible. It is especially good for core strength, as you will find that you utilize your abdominal muscles quite a bit.

    Concern #6: Yoga is boring

    For people who are used to fast-paced sports or team sports like soccer or basketball, yoga may appear boring at first. There is no music or chatting during yoga. The poses move slowly. Each pose takes time to set it up carefully and slowly. This is to help you bring thoughtful attention to your breathing and to what each pose feels like. You pay attention to the entire body, right down to the muscles in your toes. It is a way to get in touch with you body and what it needs. But the concentration also helps us to be more "mindful" in life, which in essence means that instead of thinking or worrying about the future or past, we concentrate on the present - what is in front of us right now. This very practice helps us to reduce stress and anxiety.

    Concern #7: I can't meditate

    Most yoga practices include at least a small amount of meditation. People who say they can't meditate may have only tried it once or twice. Meditation is just like a form of exercise. It's like running - you might only at first be able to run for one minute at a time. But if you keep practicing, you can run for longer and longer periods. The same thing goes for meditation. You focus on the breath, the mind wanders. You bring it back to the breath. The mind wanders. You bring it back to the breath. And so on. Eventually you can do it for longer and longer. It's all about practice.

    Concern #8: I don't have the right clothes

    Forget about LuLuLemon. All you need are clothes you can comfortably move around in.  Sweatpants, t-shirts, even pajama bottoms. Whatever moves with the body is just fine! For women though, I would recommend a sports bra under your shirt or a tank top that clings to the body so you don't worry about your shirt sliding down when you get into the "downward dog" or other poses where gravity is involved!

    Any other questions or concerns about yoga? Feel free to ask me! Or, go right to the source and email the instructor, Jeff at jmartine@uoguelph.ca.

    Have fun!

  • "We will deal with this the best that we can''

     

    A reflection on the past, part one: A women’s intuition

    By Church Mouse

    It is fall of 1991, I am working in a little bakeshop/cafe. Things are great, I like my job, my boss and I have just moved into a funky little apartment with my partner Gordon, in the top of a house. The reason I call it funky was because it was painted a hideous colour of hot pink with black wall paper. Ouch! Having just finished a course in interior design I could see it had potential. I was up for the challenge. Little did I know that the challenge was going to be a intruder in our home, not invited, not expected, and not talked about enough previous to its arrival. AIDS: the monster at the door.

    Why I got tested baffles me to this day. I feel it was women's intuition. Back then AIDS was referred to as something that only happened to gay men or if you had a blood transfusion or were using drugs. And certainly not if you were a woman.

    After urging from family, I went to see a new doctor. After my physical, he told me he couldn't find anything wrong. I told him I was concerned about my rapid weight loss and feeling crappy most of the time. He informed me, " I can't find anything wrong with you!" Strangely, just as if I was saying pass the pepper, I said, “Maybe you should do an AIDS test?” Surprised by my request, he fumbled around with some papers and reassured me I didn't fall into any of the risk groups. Bold as could be, I said, “maybe you should do it anyway.”

    So they drew blood and I left feeling that the tests would come back negative. So I didn't mention it to Gordon, went to work and carried on. Just prior to that first doctor’s appointment, Gordon and I had been sitting at home out of boredom I said "I wish something exciting would happen". Gordon replied, "watch what you wish for, it may come true".

    Just two weeks later a phone call sends me back to this same doctor. Still not worried, I wait patiently. Finally he arrives with my file, no tell tale signs that his news is about to ruin my life. He matter-of-factly said, “you have HIV. There is a 50% chance you are going to have AIDS. Your partner must have been unfaithful.”
    Unfaithful bloody Hell!!!! He doesn't know my partner from Adam. AND..........WAIT FOR IT… Wow! “You are my only patient that has tested positive!” Whoopie! What did I win??????????????? I can hear Bob Barker now, saying, “give that young lady a brand- new- car.!!!!!!”

    Such a compassionate man. He gave me the number for Public Health and walked out. Compassion might have killed the old bugger! Obviously he wasn't going to risk it! Waiting there to see if he might return, I felt nothing but a whole lot confused.

    The nurse entered the room with a very concerned expression on her face. She inquired if I was okay. My response was "you know, don't you?" She replied, “I did the blood work.” Could things get any worse? This was my sister’s life-long friend. She assured me that she was bound by confidentiality.

    I left that office to meet a co-worker for lunch… needless to say I wasn't interested in eating and had a hard time following conversation. As quick as I could, I got myself out of there. The numbness seemed to be replaced with angry tears. My head was trying to figure out - what next? My heart was breaking because there was one more person who had to be told.

    Walking felt like I was wearing boots full of cement. When I gradually arrived home, Gordon asked how did my appointment go? I burst into tears telling all that the doctor had said. Hugging me close Gordon calmly said, "we will deal with this the best that we can." So that intruder that entered in to our lives was about to get a swift kick in the arse and out the door! Discussing our future together we decided that knowing how we were infected was not going to change anything for us so we never pursued the issue. That way people cannot put us into a category to justify how we acquired HIV.

    At the end of the day I was safe in the arms of the one I loved and trusted.

  • One year later

     

    By Chat Junkie (Wayne)

    A year ago this month I was in the second installment of the Positive Prevention Train The Trainer program not knowing where it was going to lead me. I honestly had my mind made up at the start that I probably wouldn't do anything, I didn't feel I could go out and facilitate workshops, do public speaking or even advocate for HIV and ending stigma. Within two weeks of completing the course, I had written my first blog and I was hooked. Learning about social media I found a way to believe I could do something because social media is the next big thing and I spend alot of time on the computer anyway. The message you want to get out can be send around the world in a second with one click of the mouse on my computer.

    So now I am doing it all, I am now a blogger on the ACG site here and I write for another site called PositiveLite.com and I have my own domain on there called, appropriately, "Wayne's World". Believe me, it was totally their idea, I thought there might be a copyright problem. I can now go out and tell my story to put a face to HIV and hopefully end the stigma attached to it. In May I facilitated my first workshop on "Photography as a Hobby". I sit on the Board of Director's for the ACG as well. So its been one busy year for me and it has been very positive too. My self esteem is way up, I don't doubt myself as much, I go out and try things that I normally wouldn't. Last July I had to start medications because my bloodwork indicated things were happening that required me to start them, but now my health has improved considerably.

    I have been joking around that I am like a "blogging pimp" because I am trying to recruit some other people to do blogging. There are people out there that need to hear our stories and to tell our stories can help us and maybe someone else. So if anyone is considering doing it, you don't have to use your real name, there are ways that are totally private and confidential. Megan and I would be willing to sit down with anyone and help you get started, just contact Megan at ACG and we can both meet with you, ummm.... Megan is pretty good at blogging too.

    Next Thursday, July 14th 2011 will be the last class of Positive Prevention, the program is ending. I am really sorry to see it go, I would have volunteered to help again. I took the course, I volunteered to help for two other runs and I contributed to the Social Media class twice. Each time I was there I would learn new things, not always from the material but from the other participants. Most of all, I met some made some good friends.

    The main thing I got out of Positive Prevention is that I need more than just my doctor to help me through this disease. I can go to the ACG for some help with certain things but they can't help me with everything either. I am able to do alot of the work myself and now I am "empowered" to do most of the work myself. Now I can say I'm a "low maintenance" man.

    Thanks again to the ACG, to Megan and everyone that participated in this program, I am using much of what I have learned from you to help myself and hopefully someone else.

  • Xtra! National highlights spotty coverage for HIV drugs across Canada

    by B.J. Caldwell, Educator

     

    Dale Smith at Xtra! National published a piece today that -- among other things -- highlights the spotty and inconsistent coverage for HIV drugs depending on which province/territory (or federal healthcare plan) you belong to. From the article:

    Jim Kerr, the prairie regional HIV/AIDS director at the Canadian AIDS Society, learned about the pitfalls firsthand when he moved from Alberta to Manitoba. “In Alberta, all your HIV meds are covered under the catastrophic drug plan,” says Kerr. “In Manitoba, they have a pharmacare plan, which assesses a deductable, depending on your income. If I were still working and not retired, the first $6,000 would come out of my pocket unless I had some kind of co-insurance. For other people, the variety of those who do not have co-insurance, they’re falling between the cracks of our social safety net.”

    The main thrust of the piece is the need for a federal catastrophic drug plan (as was called to be created by 2014 in the Healthcare Accord). While the current federal government has been resistant to move on this issue, it's two main arguments against action are dismantled in the article.

    The article finishes with:

    But until the provinces and federal government can come to an agreement on making drug coverage a national system that guarantees equal access, the patchwork between jurisdictions will continue forcing people to choose between getting medications they need and financial devastation.

    To keep updated on current treatment issues in Canada, stop by CTAC (Canadian Treatment Action Council)

     ____________________________________________

    Be sure and check out the free community workshops that we offer. Learn more about HIV. Hep C,. Harm Reduction, and LGBTQ issues. Check out our events page and scroll down to find the Community Workshops!

  • Why my hatred for Kraft Dinner led to my participation in the Food Security Study

    By Tim Walker

    I hate Kraft dinner. Macaroni, cheese and me – we’re enemies.

    Coming from a poor family, macaroni and cheese was something I’ve been forced to eat for as long as I can remember. It’s all, a lot of the time, we could afford. These days, I won’t touch the stuff.

    I wasn’t born into an easy life. Our family was poor, I know Children’s Aid too well and ran to the streets at 15. During that time, I smoked crack to deal with a plethora of emotional issues, worked in the sex industry to make ends meet and stole bread from hotels when I was hungry.

    At 18, I was diagnosed with HIV. I was told I had four to five years to live.

    That was 20 years ago.

    At the age of 24, I was faced with 14 years in prison. However, I was offered an opportunity to go to a drug rehabilitation center instead and after completing my therapy, and being given a suspended sentence by the court, I was given a position within the rehabilitation center and eventually became a counselor.

    I realized I was the only one responsible for my safety and well-being. I’ve been able to maintain sobriety and learned to practice self-care.

    At 27, I returned to Ontario to help my mother with her trucking company. I was parts manager and a trailer mechanic for the company. Unfortunately, she passed two years later. With a Grade 9 education, I opened my own trucking agency at the age of 29.

    Shortly thereafter, I became sick. I went to welfare and then eventually Ontario Disability Support Program and have been on it ever since.

    Recently, I completed an eight-week workshop at an AIDS Service Organization. During that time, I came across the Food Security Study, a national study that looks at the relationship between access to food and HIV.

    I decided to get involved and became a Peer Research Assistant, someone who interviews and recruits other people living with HIV to share their experiences with HIV and access to food.

    People with HIV are asked to complete one questionnaire and a 24-hour dietary recall. The nice thing is you’re paid $40 to participate in this study.

    The Food Security Study is seeking 1,200 people living with HIV from Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia to participate in the study. The study is collaborating with more than 30 community based organizations. This is the first time that information from three major regions in Canada is being brought together to address the health needs of people living with HIV/AIDS.

    We are dedicated to ensuring your privacy is carefully guarded. Information collected in this study is for research purposes only and will not affect the services you might receive from AIDS Service Organizations or the medical care you receive.

    I know for me, being involved in community research is an investment in my own future and an investment for anyone else who is in need. Hopefully, this study will identify the risk factors and help lay the foundation for programs and policies that help people with HIV, and at risk of HIV, access healthy food.

    With access to good food maybe, just maybe, we can avoid creating another Kraft dinner hater.

    To participate in the Food Security Study, call 1-855-246-3388 or 416-969-4890.

    More information about the study can be found here.

  • All about the move

    This weekend, ACG is moving to a new home. Here is everything you will need to know about the move.

    Where are we moving to?

    ACG is moving to Guelph Medical Place, 89 Dawson Rd., Suite 115, in Guelph.

    What about Masai?

    Masai is also moving to 89 Dawson; the Suite number is 113. You will access both services through the same reception area. All services, including bloodwork and laboratory services, will remain the same.

    When are we moving?

    The office will be closed the week of June 20 - June 24. We will reopen on June 27 at the new address.

    Why are we moving?

    Accessibility is one of ACG’s core organizational values. The new accessibilities standards for Ontarians with Disabilities is a new provincial legislation mandated for companies and organizations who provide goods and service to the public. Moving to a new location will allow for ACG to comply with this legislation and provide accessible services for participants, volunteers and the public to our organization.

    As well, in recent years ACG programs and services have increased to enhance with our regional response to HIV and AIDS in Guelph and Wellington County. As a result we have outgrown our space which has resulted in the organization being creative in how we use space and deliver services.

    What is the move going to entail, and how will it impact you?

    During the office closure there will be a brief one week disruption to service. The office will be closed as phone lines and internet providers move our communication systems. The staff will require additional time to settle in, unpack and prepare to reopen. 

    All ACG staff and services will continue as scheduled with funding cycles.

    What about changes in facilities?

    Restroom facilities - access to staff washroom in new ACG/Masai office is designated to staff only. However the new building will have public restrooms. Please be respectful of these facilities.

    Kitchen space is reserved space for staff and volunteers only. Coffee and water will be available in the reception area.

    What about the Syringe Distribution Program?

    The program will continue offering bout outreach and in-reach services. No smoking or substance and drug use will be tolerated in these public facilities. Any illegal activity will jeopardize ACG tenancy, potential criminal charges may take place and individuals found using in washrooms will be banned from onsite ACG services.

    Do I need to book appointments to access support services?

    Yes. Benefits of booking appointments will include guaranteed time to meet with staff. This results in special time dedicated just for you. Walk-ins may not always be accommodated.

     How do I get there?

    The bus number to and from is Route 22 Conestoga The bus arrives every twenty minutes. Begining with 3 minutes after the hour, 23 minutes after the hour and 43 minutes after the hours.

    Can I still get bus tickets, taxi service, client drives and parking?

    Bus tickets are available. Two per visit: one to go home and one to return for your next visit. Bus tickets can be accessed through the support program and NEP program. Taxi service is available for medical appointments only and for individuals who require additional assistance. Parking is available at the new location. First twenty minutes of parking is free or a three dollar flat rate. Participants of ACG's services will have free parking provided.

    Will the phone numbers for ACG and Masai be changing?

    No. All contact information will remain the same.

    Will the hours of operation change?

    No. Office hours will remain the same.

    Thank you for your patience as we adjust to the new space!

  • I go from Participant to Facilitator

     By Chat Junkie

    On May 24, 2011 I facilitated my first workshop called, "Photography as a hobby" and it went very well. I say my first because there may come a day when I would want to do another one, if I find a topic I know something about. Hmmm, maybe .........ummmm, blogging?, hmmmm!

    It was very challenging sitting on the otherside of the table, and it was very tension filled too. Speaking in public isn't and hasn't been one of my strong points. Slowly this is all changing. I have to give alot of the credit to the Positive Prevention - Train the Trainer course I had the chance of taking. When I started it, I had no real intention of doing anything with it but near the end I thought about getting involved with the social media part. I spend too much time on the computer anyway doing things on "facebook" and "twitter" which are two of the biggest social media sites. Workshop facilitation was the far from being a possible goal for me but now I have one under my belt.

    My workshop was based mostly on what I know and what I do as a hobby, I am not a professional but I do get some attention from people I share my photos with. I enjoy taking pictures, its a way to make some "ME" time. If I get stressed out or feel a little lonely, I pack up the backpack and head out for several hours. When I get home I can't wait to upload them onto the computer to see if I really got the pictures I was hoping for.

    I will admit, it didn't all go smooth, I was very nervous at first and there were things I could have done better but thank you for feedback. I have a great appreciation for the participants as well, there was enough conversation on the topic that brought out more information than I had compiled for the workshop, thanks guys and gals. Good or bad, I can't wait to see all the feedback, I do want to try this again and I'm open to learn from you.

    The workshop was topped off by going on a field trip, and we didn't have far to go. Just a couple blocks away there are some trails down along the river. Everyone got into taking some interesting pictures that we hope to publish into a book form to share. I have seen some of the pictures already, its so interesting to see how we all seen something but took the picture just a little different. That is the secret though, to quote Ansel Adams a great American photographer, "You don't take a photograph, you make it."

    I would like to thank Megan DePutter and the ACG for allowing me to do this, it was a good thing for me, one more step in my journey forward. Heck, I have to thank everyone at the ACG, I have accessed all of the services at least once, so they have mentors to me. I guess I'm living proof, you are never too old to learn new things.

  • Med Alert: If you take Prezista/Darunavir, please read

    CATIE News - Trace contaminant found in some batches of darunavir (Prezista)

    Janssen-Cilag International, the manufacturer of the anti-HIV protease inhibitor darunavir (Prezista), has announced that it is working with Health Canada and regulatory authorities in the European Union to deal with trace amounts of a contaminant called TBA (known under the chemical name 2,4,6 tribromoanisole) in certain batches of Prezista. An investigation by Janssen began after four customers complained of an unusual odour—which they described as being musty and mouldy—associated with their supply of Prezista. This resulted in nausea and gastrointestinal symptoms.
    The corporation disclosed that in affected EU countries (specifically Austria, Germany, Ireland and the UK) it has been recalling contaminated batches from pharmacies and warehouses. At press time, Canadian authorities had not finalized a course of action. There are less than 300 bottles of contaminated Prezista in Canada. Fortunately, the contamination is not considered sufficiently serious to cause hospitalization. Contamination is thought to have occurred because wooden pallets containing TBA were used to move Prezista bottles to the factory. The corporation no longer uses these pallets.
    In Canada, bottles containing 600-mg tablets of Prezista with the lot number ALZ0J00 were affected. According to Janssen-Cilag, anyone whose Prezista has an unusual odour should NOT stop taking Prezista and is instead encouraged to contact the corporation at 800.567.3331.



  • Recent Conference Coverage: CROI 2011

    A very quick overview of Conference on Retrovirology and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) 2011 from The Body Pro by Paul Sax, MD:

    1. A large amount of papers and discussion on HIV PRE-Exposure Prophylaxis (HIV PREP). Essentially, it works if you take it, but lots of people in the iPrEx study didn't fully adhere (especially in non-U.S. sites). And bone density goes down a bit in those receiving  tenofovir/emtricitabine [ (TDF/FTC) / Truvada ], long term implications unknown. Not many physicians are prescribing it (anecdotally).
    2. Chronic Hepatitis C treatment is about to get MUCH more effective....and much more complicated. While the treatment success rates will make a big jump in the right direction, the new regimens just add another new drug to the existing challenging regimen of pegylated interferon and ribavirin. Telaprevir and boceprevir are the first two HCV-specific protease inhibitors (it was the first HIV-specific protease inhibitor that revolutionized HIV care in the mid 1990's). Drug-drug interactions with exisitng antiretroviral drugs and these new HepC-specific protease inhibitors will be really challenging to traverse for the healthcare provider. Great webcast here of a plenary given by Stefan Zeuzem that summarizes a lot of the key issues.
    3. Once daily raltegravir (Isentress) doesn't work quite as well as twice daily raltegravir (which we have known for a while, but new detailed data were presented). On a raltergravir side note: 25% of HIV poz people (with no history of taking ARV drugs) that were put on boosted darunavir (Prezista) and raltegravir experienced drug failure. Since these are both two of our "best" drugs, this finding was confusing for many and has yet to be explained.
    4. New drug alert: S/GSK1349572 (aka 572) is now called "dolutegravir" or DTG which has antiviral activity against some HIV which is resistant to raltegravir.
    5. Two papers (here and here) show that blacks in the U.S. do worse than whites in clinical trials. The explanation must be (at least in large part) due to socioeconimic disparities, since clearly Africans are doing just as well on HIV therapy as people in resource-rich settings. It is critical to figure out why this disparity exists.
    6.  Inflammation and immune activation continue to be hot topics. This is a field of HIV study that is relatively new and incredibly confusing. Summed up as "some markers/tests go up; others decrease; no one knows why; no one knows the clinical implications. This is an incredibly energized area of research these days.
    7. If you have Tuberculosis (TB) and advanced HIV-related immune dysfunction (CD4 less than 50), the time to start HIV treatment is sooner rather than later. Untreated advanced AIDS is worse than the potential Immune reconstitution inflammation syndrome (IRIS) that can occur shortly after initiating HIV therapy in these patients.
    8. Zinc finger nucleases are back being talked about again (see earlier ACG blog post)
    9. Does protease-inhibitor based therapy in HIV positive pregnant women cause premature delivery? Europeans have been saying this for a while, and a new study from Botswana seems to support that view. The questions remain: how clinically important is this and what are the best alternatives to this therapy?
  • How I became a blogger

    By Chat Junkie

    Wow, it has been a long time since I wrote a blog for ACG, so I apologize for being gone so long and get busy here.

    Again, just one more time, I really have to thank Megan DePutter and the ACG for running the Positive Prevention - Train the Trainer course. I was able to take it the second time it was going and then I volunteered to help with the third installment. When I started the course, I had no real plans of doing anything with it when it was over except to use the tools that I learned to help me take better care of myself and my health.

    During my time in the course I spoke many times about being on the internet going into chatrooms and dating sites and shared some of the things I had experienced. I also shared many things you need to be aware of, so Megan suggested that I do some social media stuff and write something for the ACG Current Events blog about those experiences. Thats when things began to change for me. I wrote that article and then another and as of today and this blog, I have written 12 in total. I thought I had something to say, something to share. It was a way to advocate for Positive Prevention, to help stop the stigma and promote safe sex.

    Megan showed me a couple internet sites that posted blogs and suggested I read some of it so I could see how it all works. I did follow one in particular, PositiveLite.com. I was very drawn to one writer in particular, his name is Bob Leahy. I sent him an email to tell him I liked his stories and his photos. I was fortunate that he emailed back and we have become friends. I told him about my blog postings on here and he liked what I was doing, so it was great for me to get that feedback.

    Then one day, I was at a Hep C workshop in Kitchener and I was impressed to see what was being done in our area to help control the spread this disease. I approached Bob Leahy and asked if he would be interested in writing a story for PositiveLite on the Sanquen Centre, the first Hep C clinic in Canada and how they compliment the services of ACG and ACCKWA in Guelph Cambridge & Kitchener/Waterloo. The reply I got from Mr. Leahy was, "I think you should write it." I was very surprised and not sure if I could do anything on that level. I then asked Megan to do it and she basically said I should do it as well. With some encouragement, I decided, "alright, I'll do it". Knowing it will be read and edited by Bob before going up online made it a little bit easier, just a little bit, I admit, I was very nervous.

    Well........that story needed a few very minor edits and it did very well for the blog........so I was told and I do believe them. I have now written another one that did very well, so well that they have asked me to be a regular contributor to their site. This is a good thing for me, I am so thankful to everyone who pushed me, and encouraged me to do this, it has been exactly what I needed. I have something to do again, my self-esteem level is way up, this is a very good year for me.

    If anyone is thinking they would like to do something like this but unsure of their talents, don't dwell on it, try it. I didn't think I could do it. Social Media is the biggest communication service out there now, I'm learning how to do it as I go. Like all things in the technical world, it changes daily so you have to keep on top but as you make connections online, it becomes so much easier and friendlier. What you have to say can be read all around the world in seconds.

    The last installment of Positive Prevention is starting on May 19, 2011 and I will be volunteering to help in some areas. I encourage you to sign up, if only for the tools to help you live better, healthier and/or getting involved to help others. For more information, contact Megan DePutter and come on out, you don't even have to cook on those nights, dinner is served.

  • Safe Giving with NV, BoXXXers, and ACG

    By Megan DePutter and Gary Roche

    Chat Junkie has written another post that is now available for viewing on PositiveLite.com, titled "Underwear………it’s what you have in them that counts".   It's an interview conducted with Tomas Toros, founder of BoXXXers(TM), a company that promotes the safe sex message with signature underwear with condom pockets for women & men.(Two percent of the sale of any BoXXXers product purchased in Guelph goes to support the AIDS Committee of Guelph & Wellington County.)

    Meanwhile, we thought we'd give a shout-out to another supporter. As far as community and local business go in Guelph, NV Lounge continues to support the work of our agency and all of our fundrasing initiatives. They were the first business to support our "A Taste For Life" event three years ago and have been an on going participant since. They have joined forces with us with their Sex Trivia nights and Sex bingo for the last year with proceeds from bingo cards being donated to the agency. On Valentine's Day, together we brought that message to the bar scene through a fashion show night at NV with the product and models to raise the awareness of preventing the spread of the disease through the use of condoms with a fun twist. Owners Richard Overland and Randon Hiles have offered us a venue from which to promote a positive message about safe sex and through their generosity have raised the BAR on giving back to the community.

    Thanks to our ongoing supporters and congratulations to Chat Junkie for yet another great blog post.

  • Fighting Hep C in Waterloo Region - a post by ACG's Chat Junkie

     By Megan DePutter, Positive Prevention Coordinator

    Wanted to give a shout out to Chat Junkie whose blog post, "Fighting Hep C in the Waterloo Region of Ontario and beyond" waspublished on PositiveLite.com

  • Me versus the Merc: Harm reduction & the media

     By Megan DePutter, Positive Prevention Coordinator

    The Guelph Mercury recently published a letter to the editor I wrote, which was a small comment on the attention our recent Harm Reduction Forum drew to Levamisole, a de-wormer that is being added to cocaine and causing many extremely dangerous health problems to the people who use the drug. The article was called, "Crack laced with dog dewormer latest danger for addicts, drug forum hears."

    It would have been nice if the article was written with genuine interest in protecting the health of people who use drugs, but it seems so sensational that I felt it was written with less than sincere intent. It seems to draw attention to the dangers of drug use more than it does to highlight the existing answers and solutions that have already been identified.  The forum highlighted the importance of harm reduction and the many ways in which it can be employed to reduce some of the risks to people who use drugs and their surrounding communities. I was particularly moved when I saw the impressive involvement of people who have experienced chronic homelessness and addiction, who contribute to their community by participating in a variety of outreach strategies. It's an incredible contribution; the power of applying lived experience is amazing.  The peers' individual strengths, knowledge and compassion was priceless... why couldn't the journalist have focused on that?

    It's important that our community endorse and support harm reduction. This would have been the perfect opportunity for the journalist in question to relay this important information to Mercury readers.

    To be fair, harm reduction was discussed in the article in a positive way. I just wish that the article addressed it more clearly, and did not push the important part to the very bottom of the column.

    Here's my response. I could have said a lot more, but instead wrote a more optimistic article that I felt had a decent chance of getting published.  My article, which they titled, "harm-reduction programs may help drug-users," was published last Friday.

  • Elections 2011: Canada needs you to vote!!!

    By B.J. Caldwell, Educator

     The Canadian AIDS Society has created a webpage dedicated to the upcoming elections on May 2. It takes a look at important issues relating to HIV and AIDS and those living with the virus:

    Canada is committed to stopping new infections and ensuring the health of people living with HIV. To do so, we need political leaders from all parties to return funding promised to Federal Initiative to Address HIV/AIDS in Canada. We also need them to stand up and fight for the health and social policies that will stem the epidemic.

    The Canadian AIDS movement can’t work alone. We need your help as voters to assist us in ensuring that our leaders also bring forward the important health and social justice issues that are at the root of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Exercise your democratic right to vote and hold leaders accountable.

     

    From their "Strategy" section:

    This May, we encourage everyone infected and affected by HIV to cast their vote.

    We call upon all community members to overcome the barriers that discourage them from voting. Factors such as homelessness, incarceration or lack of transportation should not prevent Canadians from voting. Information, awareness and community support work to make the voting process clear and accessible. Use the tools and information on this site to make this happen.


    Sustainable Funding for the Federal Initiative to Address HIV/AIDS in Canada

    In 2004, the Federal Government announced The Federal Initiative to Address HIV/AIDS in Canada: Strengthening Federal Action in the Canadian Response to HIV/AIDS. It included a funding increase from $42.2 million to $84.4 million by 2008-09. The full amount of the initiative has not been implemented as committed. The funding should have reached $84.4 million under the initiative this fiscal year, yet $11.8 million will not be released as intended. Over the last two years more than $21 million has not been distributed for treatment, care, support, and prevention, as originally committed. These reductions directly impact the AIDS service organizations that are providing front line service to people living with HIV/AIDS. The number of infections in Canada continues to increase and the national response is essential to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS in Canada. We are asking all parties to restore the $84.4 million to the Federal Initiative to address HIV/AIDS in Canada, as originally intended.

     

    Health and Social Justice Issues remain at the Forefront of Candidate Debate

    HIV is more than a health issue. An effective response to the epidemic must be tied to policies targeting social issues such as poverty, housing, human rights and harm reduction. CAS is calling on candidates to tell Canadians what they plan to do to address the social determinants of health, and uphold the social and economic rights of people vulnerable to, infected or affected by HIV.


    Some of the issues they highlighted and encourage you to ask your local politicians about (some of these are external links):

    Federal Funding for HIV/AIDS

    Caregiving

    Childcare

    Drug Policy

    GIPA/MIPA Principles

    Palliative and End of Life Care

    Gay Men

    Harm Reduction (Substance Use, HIV/AIDS, and Hepatitis C

    Homelessness and Housing

    Medical use of Cannabis (Marijuana)

    New Prevention Technologies

    Poverty

    Prisons

    Public Health

    UNGASS

    Women

    Youth

     

    Don't forget to vote on Monday, May 2nd.

    Just follow these kids from the University of Guelph (answering Rick Mercer's call for youth to vote):

  • Blog posts on HIV & Aging

    By Megan DePutter, Positive Prevention Coordinator

    I was pretty upset when I was forced to postpone last week's HIV & Aging workshop due to bad weather, but we've got another date scheduled! This PHA-led workshop is happening on Thursday (March 31) from 6-8pm at Sorbara Law. 

    If you're interested in the topic, there is no shortage of opinions and information out there on the subject, particularly in the blogosphere.  Here are a few suggestions for good reading:

    "The Long-Term Survivor Dilemma" - A blog post by Nelson Vergel on theBody.com

    "My T-Cells could use a facelift" - a funny blog entry and video by the hilarious and talented Mark S. King

    "To rent or buy?" - Personal reflections on rental versus home ownership with considerations to aging and living with HIV

    "HIV and Aging" - thoughts from "Chat Junkie" on ACG's blog.

    If you have recently read a great blog post that addresses these issues, please share below!

  • The Berlin patient, receptors, and zinc fingers: new HIV research field is energized

     

     

    To understand what's going on, I'm going to have to explain a few things:

    •HIV attaches to the CD4 receptors (and their co-receptors) on our CD4 immune cells (aptly named) and uses them to enter the cell and thereby make copies of itself

    •A small percentage of people of Northern European descent (1-2.5%) have an inherited genetic mutation (delta 32 mutation) that alters the form of their CD4 receptors (actually, the co-receptor CCR5)  making HIV infection (and replication) very difficult, if not impossible.

    Could we artificially alter/block these receptors with medications? What would be the side effects? Do the people with the natural delta 32 mutation face any unrelated challenges? There was a lot of concern in the medical/research community about this, so this new knowledge was met with caution. A few pharmaceutical companies began examining possible agents. Maraviroc was studied and finally approved  for use as a CCR5 antagonist (a drug that blocks the CCR5 co-receptor).

    Concerns about blocking the receptor proved to be unfounded as maraviroc has become a great drug in the anti-HIV arsenal. Though, one downside to blocking the CCR5 co-receptor is that it makes a person more susceptible to West Nile disease should a person be exposed to the West Nile Virus.

    At the same time as all of this, a long-time HIV+ patient in Berlin was diagnosed with a form of leukemia and required a bone marrow transplant. His ingenious physician, knowing about the delta 32 mutation in some people, looked through the compatible matches to see if any had the mutation. And, lo and behold, he found one. Which was extremely luck given the rarity of the mutation in the population. And HIV seemed to have been wiped out in the patient

    At CROI 2008 (a big HIV conference), the paper on the Berlin patient was presented, but reaction was muted as many felt that HIV would still be hiding in reservoirs in the body and it would only be a matter of time before HIV "re-appeared" in the blood stream. It took a few years more, but when further evidence showed the Berlin patient was still free of HIV, people started to really stand up and pay attention. And he is still HIV-free. This has also motivated further pharmaceutical research on ways to disrupt the CCR5 co-receptor.

    I know, you're probably wondering what zinc fingers have to do with this....I'm getting to that now!

    One pharmaceutical company had been looking at ways to more permanently alter the co-receptor rather than just continually provide a drug that blocks it. They had been looking into zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs) which are basically scissors that cut the piece of DNA/gene that is responsible for making the CCR5 receptor. In the past, studies had not been so favourable as the altered CD4 cells weren't able to be maintained in the body.

    Fast forward to this past CROI 2011 which was just held. A group of researched presented a paper on the successful proof-of-concept use of ZFNs, in addition to HAART, in treating HIV. They found that:

    •The treatment was safe and well tolerated.

    •Their were CD4 cell count increases (the patients in the trial were HIV+, on HAART, with a low CD4 count) in 50% of the patients and a fixable reason why the other 50% didn't respond that could be addressed.

    •These altered CD4 cells were maintained in the body throughout the study. Not only maintained, but with huge increases meaning that the altered cells were growing in the body.

    •Three out of five of the responders had a normalized CD4/CD8 ratio which is a good sign of a healthy immune system

    •Great news: CD4 altered cells were found in the rectal mucosa at all testing times throughout the trial. It also was found in other mucosal sites and the gut tract (another good sign!)

    (•these patients will be followed for life to look at long term ramifications (positive/negative))

    This definitely opens up some new research possibilities, but there are still a lot of questions and concerns that also need to be addressed:

    •long term effect: will it help or hurt long term prognosis?

    •future studies of people already on treatment would require a Structured Treatment Interruption (which we know to generally have a negative effect on long term prognosis and not advised). Will future studies even be able to be ethically approved in light of this?

    •what is the proper dosing?

    •will this work in people with a detectable viral load who are not on treatment? (A small trial is underway now in San Francisco to look at this)

    •what will be the cost?

    •will this allow people to stop HAART or avoid it altogether?

    We should be very careful not to overreach with these data. Many people are throwing the "cure" word around when talking about this study, but this is just a very preliminary effort to start answering important questions toward that goal. But it's much better writing about/hearing good news than bad.

    This new field will probably create several new treatment mehanisms, and perhaps even preventative. Whose to say a person at extremely high risk of HIV infection would not benefit from a reprogramming of her CD4 cells to be more resistant to infection? Like I said, possibilities.....





  • Words I Live By

     

    By Chat Junkie

    When I took the Positive Prevention - Train the Trainer course I heard someone say "I have HIV, HIV doesn't have me". This statement has really stuck in me and made me realize, there is still a lot more to me than this disease. HIV is in my blood, not tattooed on my face. I can get out there and do whatever I want to do, whatever I need to do to take care of myself and my health. I don't have permission to say his name in here but I would like to take this time and thank him for saying it. He was definitely sending me a message that I should think of and that message was received.

    A while ago I read another mantra that I can identify with because I see how it has always been a part of my life, but it tells me I can change what has happened in my life. "I create or I allow everything that happens in my life" (Note: I have changed it to an "I" statement).

    All of my life I have dealt with many changes, some expected, most unexpected, but they happened because I created them or I allowed them to happen to me. Through a lot of resiliency, something I wasn't aware I had, I have overcome a lot. I'm in my 50's now, still here and able to create or allow so much better for myself now. I have learned, I have new wisdom.

    So getting back to Positive Prevention, I have that course to thank for helping me be able to put this all down here. In that course I learned my rights, how to eat properly, how to share and learn. Most of all I learned ways that I could get involved and advocate for HIV awareness and stop the stigma. At first I thought I would just do some volunteering, but the thought of "social media" kept going through my mind. I am on the computer alot so I thought I could do something to help getting involved this way. On the news everyday I hear so much about "social media" being so useful in getting the word out. Today, March 16th, I heard that studies have shown that the way people are using Twitter, it can predict changes that could happen in the Stock Market. I now have both feet deep into the social media pool and the information is flooding in. I am learning so much about changes and advances they are making in HIV treatments as well as the pros and cons. Alot of the news sounds good but you have to read into it all to see that there still is no cure for HIV and that some of the new developments are only a band aid that are not 100% effective.

    All this is proof that I took those words and used them to help boost my self esteem, I have something important to do. My health is better, my counts have gone back up, the stress is practically gone now. It’s not a perfect world but I'm working on coming closer to it.

  • A Woman Like Me

    by Cheryl Bloemendal, Women's Community Development Coordinator

    The AIDS Committee of Guelph & Wellington County is pleased to announce the launch of A Woman Like Me. The campaign is designed to encourage women to take an active and empowering role in their sexual health. The campaign was launched simultaneously across Southwestern Ontario in celebration of International Women’s Week.  

    Women are increasingly becoming more likely to test positive for HIV. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, in 2008 women represented 26.2% of all positive HIV tests in Canada. Approximately 300 women in Ontario will test positive every year.   

    A Woman like Me features new materials including postcards, posters, and a (soon to be released) comprehensive booklet that will promote awareness of the risks women face in relation to HIV/AIDS and what precautions and resources are available to them. Look for the campaign materials in social service agencies, hospitals, universities and anywhere women access health services throughout the region. 

    Here is the video for the campaign. It will be playing around Guelph for the next month in local businesses, doctors’ offices, and restaurants.  

  • "Pets day!" With Spark of Brilliance

    By Megan DePutter, Positive Prevention Coordinator

    Back in June, 2010, Poz.com published a post called "pawsitivity" on how and why pets can be great for people living with HIV & AIDS, and drew on the personal experiences of HIV positive pet owners.  For those who would like more information on caring for a pet, a new workshop hosted by Spark of Brilliance, led by the Ontario Veterinary College Community Program, will provide a chance to gain new skills. As you can see below, this workshop is on April 3 from 1-3pm. It's free, and will offer some refreshments. You can even bring your furry friend along! 

  • Reflection on International Women's Day: Women & HIV

    I thought I would share some good resources to spring forward yesterday, on the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day, highlighting how women are affected by HIV worldwide.

    1. The press release by the Canadian AIDS Society encourages strong leadership by women in the Canadian HIV & AIDS movement, and argues that we need to address the issues holistically:

    Depression, poverty, violence and injection drug use are contributing factors to HIV infection among women. There is an urgent need for more comprehensive and consistent prevention education programs targeting women.

    2. In this press statement put forward by the United Nations, we see that nearly 16 million worldwide are living with HIV and this number is only growing. The statement also highlights that we cannot attack women's infections rate while simultaneously ignoring rape and sexual assault, as women's ability to protect themselves and make decisions about their own bodies and sexuality goes hand in hand with HIV prevention.

     

     

    3. The World Health Organization put forward a statement titled, "Celebrations and Challenges on International Women's Day" - a perhaps overly-simplified yet nevertheless significant compilation of the challenges women are currently dealing with, making mention to the need for equal access to the social determinants of health, health research and technologies. HIV is not mentioned, but many of the issues highlight translate directly to HIV infection.

    4. If you haven't seen it already, take a gander at the video "Equals" with Daniel Craig and Judy Dench, a video that seems to be making the social media rounds. It again does not address HIV directly, but it does address many issues that accompany HIV infection (such as sexual violence).

     

    5. I enjoyed this article produced by Shameless magazine, highlighting existing challenges for women at home at across the world and demonstrating that International Women's Day still matters.

    I hope that everyone spent some time yesterday reflecting on the past, honouring women today and looking forward as to how we can collectively address the challenges of the future.

  • International Women's Day

    Today, March 8th, 2011 marks this year’s International Women’s Day. It is a day to celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. Over the last 100 years, we have seen tremendous changes in the way women have been viewed and treated. Women have established themselves as legal persons, won the right to vote and participant in government, attend university, work and raise a family, but most importantly earned the right to choose their own path in life.

    Even with the advances that have been made, the unfortunate fact is that women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts, women still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally women's education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men.

    International Women’s Day reminds us of what women have gone through, what still lies ahead, and inspires women by celebrating these achievements.  The day is dedicated to recognizing the fact that securing peace and social progress and the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms require the active participation, equality and development of women. The day is also an opportunity for our community to come together to unite and create meaningful and positive change for the future.

    Women’s history regarding HIV and AIDS is also filled with struggles, challenges, and successes. After the first HIV diagnosis in Canada in 1983, the American Medical Journal published an article in 1985 claiming that women’s rugged vaginas will protect them from HIV infection, leaving women misinformed and therefore more vulnerable to HIV infection, as we now know that women are physiologically more susceptible to HIV than men. It wasn’t until 7 years later in 1992 that the rugged vagina myth was finally debunked in AIDS in the World and the World Health Organization listed women as a group at risk for HIV infection.

    Today, many Canadian women are living long, healthy and empowered lives with HIV, thanks to medication, healthy lifestyles, and access to health care. Unfortunately due to socio-cultural factors such as marginalization, barriers to health care, poverty, and a lack of control over sexuality and sexual relationships, not all women have access to the treatment and care they need to prevent or manage HIV.  

    This year on March 8th, celebrate the women around you.  Take time to remember the past, learn about the achievements of notable Canadian women and inspire those around you to do the same.  Take time to learn about HIV transmission, risk reduction, and prevention and how the disease affects both men and women. Pass the information along to those you love.

    Happy International Women’s Day Everyone!

  • Telling my story

     

    By Chat Junkie

    In early January of this year I signed up for a workshop called "Speaker's Bureau". I told myself last year that I would take as many workshops as I could fit into my schedule, I wanted to learn more about HIV and "Living" with it. I never even thought about it, or asked what exactly it was all about. Speakers Bureau is learning how to go out into the community and tell your story to groups of people and try to put a face to HIV, not letting HIV be just a number, just a statistic. People out there need to know who can get HIV.

    So, who can get HIV? Using myself as an example, I am someone's son, brother, cousin, I am someone's father, uncle, grandfather, hopefully someone's great grandfather someday. I was someone's co-worker, someone's friend, a classmate in school or someone they sat beside on the bus today. Unless you know that I have HIV you wouldn't guess it by looking at me. HIV positive people don't have a tatoo on their forehead, most of us look just as healthy as anyone else they pass on the street.

    Now I have to do five "speaks" to get my certificate which I am really looking forward to. This is something I have thought about doing. Yesterday (Feb. 23) I had an opportunity to talk to some University students at the ACG office. I thought I was prepared but when I entered the room it became a very small room, I got nervous. I told as much of my story as I could and then answered questions, some very good questions. One in particular I wished I could have answered better was, "What message or a couple of messages would I want them to take and pass along in their future work?" I believe that was the way it was worded, or close anyway. I was stumped, I had a list of them here at home on the computer but didn't make a copy to take along with me. Message to self, make a copy of that list, keep with you at all times!

    In response to that question now, I would say to them, if you are working with someone who is newly diagnosed, encourage them to find someone they can trust full heartedly and tell that person. Building a solid support team is one of the most important things I needed. Have the person get involved in his/her healthcare, educate themselves on what it will take for them to live long fulfilling lives because you do live with HIV now. Have them enlist the help of their local Aids Committee and attend workshops, especially the Positive Prevention course, the best course ever. Each time it runs there is new information dealing with medication advances, HIV and the law are just some. The Aids Committees can also help them find safe places to go for help where they will be welcome and made to feel comfortable.

    After it was over, of course you always think of something else. My thought was, after listening to me, a person over 50, if it was a help to them, being that they were all in their very early 20's. I guess when they start work out in the community they will work with people of all ages so I am thinking it was important to hear it from someone older. ‘Another note to self, ask for some feedback in the future!' Jeeeeze, and they even taught that in the course.

    So I need four more speaks to get my certificate and I'm willing to continue as long as there are people to listen. If anyone knows of a group that could benefit from listening to some of us tell our stories, there are a few people who will do this through ACG, just contact B. J. Caldwell and hopefully he can work it out with you.

  • 2 Gay Robots hook up online...

    Here is a video that is being passed around. I've seen other similar videos addressing various issues, but this one addresses the illogical ways in which some HIV negative gay men think about sex with HIV positive guys.

     
    The cute robots in this video are about to get down ‘n nasty after hooking up through a gay chat site. There’s just one problem: the horned up bareback bottom forgot to ask the top about his HIV status. What follows is a funny, sex slang filled language (NotSafeForWork), painfully realistic “negotiation” in which, unfortunately, stupidity rules the day.
     
    Great way to get the message across. And a message that HIV negative gay men need to hear.We need to stop using stigmatizing language like "DDF" and "Clean" and we need to educate ourselves about the realities of HIV transmission so that we aren't further marginalizing and stigmatizing gay and bi men living with HIV.
     
    Again, the language in this video is very strong. Viewer discretion is advised.

  • New Study on Lubricants: Reasons for Concern

    A forthcoming research report suggests a number of personal lubricants can damage anal tissue cells and increase HIV replication, potentially heightening the risk of contracting HIV, notably if condoms aren’t used. 

    We have known for a while now that the research on personal lubricants has been severely lacking. Very little safety data has been required before personal lubricants have been put on the market. We don't know how these lubricants interact with the sensitive skin of the vagina/rectum/mouth. Are some better than others? Do some increase the risk of HIV or other STI transmission? 
     
    A study was just released by the HIV/AIDS Division of the Population Council (New York) compared 41 over-the- counter lubricants to two substances (Carraguard, which does not harm the mucous membranes; and Gynol a-substance that contains non-oxynol-9, a substance known to harm mucous membranes). This is a very preliminary study and it remains unclear whether any lubricant might increase the risk of HIV transmission. They found:
     
    *all of the lubes, compared with Carraguard, damaged the mucous membrane cells in test-tube tissue samples
     
    *Only one of the lubes (Probe Personal) had a similar profile to Carraguard -- all of the others either dried out the cells or caused them to swell with fluid (causing them to burst)
     
    *none of the lubricants had HIV-inhibiting qualities that approached that of Carraguard. Four Astroglide brand lubricants actually appeared to increase HIV replication in cell cultures. Subsequent testing of lube ingredients led the researchers to suspect that polyquaternium-15 might be the cause.
     
    Conclusions: These are very preliminary results and much more research is needed looking at both the vagina and the rectum. "Ultimately, the use of condoms is the best way to prevent transmission, but using a lubricant will help prevent condom breakage. So, if you are using a latex condom using a lubricant is still the best option --- but be sure you store and use the condom properly to make sure the condom doesn't break....and don't use oil/cream based lubricants...just water based. (learn more here). If you are using lubricant and no condom, understand the risks.......there may be some lubes that are better than others but we don't know which yet....and some lubes probably increase the risk of transmission in the absence of condoms.
     
    A more indepth article on the study @ (aidsmeds.com)

    To read more on the safety of personal lubricants for rectal use, read IRMA’s Q&A for HIV educators and advocates.

  • Update on the testing campaign

    By Megan DePutter, Positive Prevention Coordinator

     

    Now that we are into February, our local HIV testing campaign has officially come to a close. However, I'm happy to say that until otherwise specified, anonymous, rapid HIV testing will continue at the AIDS Committee of Guelph weekly on Wednesdays from 1:30 - 3:30pm.

    Last week I attended the Gay Men's Sexual Health Summit in Toronto, where I participated in sessions both on HIV testing and social media. There was some fantastic overlap of these goals and tools. I love seeing innovative solutions to solve complex problems, particularly when it comes to sexual health.

    For example, I was really impressed to see dramatic results in the testing campaign run by the Regional HIV & AIDS Connection in London (formerly AIDS Committee of London). In fact, rates testing done in the Options clinic were increased by 100% when compared to one year ago. Amazing! You can view the campaign site here.

     

    Other neat stuff I discovered includes a really neat little iphone app by Toronto Public Health called M2Men, providing easy access to sexual health resources across the city for gay men and men who have sex with men. You can download the app from itunes here.

    In addition to this, Toronto Public Health also has a text messaging service called TOHealth, targeted to youth, to provide sexual health information in a private, confidential way. This system allows information to be downloaded and shared with friends easily and confidentially.

    During the plenary session on testing at the summit, one of the speakers casually mentioned that he would like to see an iphone app that sets dates and reminders of when you should be tested for various STIs (syphils, HIV, etc) based on risk level. Since it can be sometimes challenging to figure out how often to be tested, for what, and where to go, it strikes me that this app might be an neat little development idea for the future.

    Props to so many people and agencies doing such innovative work promoting HIV testing. I'm hoping that our work with the fall/winter campaign will have a lingering snowball effect in Guelph & Wellington County. And I'm extremely happy that weekly testing will continue and will look forward to resuming the campaign again in the fall.

  • I re-learned a new word

    By Chat Junkie

    On January 19th the ACG held a workshop on "Resiliency" so I signed up to take it, not really understanding what exactly it is. I don't even use this word. I don't use the vocabulary that most people seem to use. I was once described as being or having a "fiduciary" something something. I learned it meant something about the job I had done as a caretaker or being a caretaker, I don't know. See, I can't even explain it.

    As we went through the workshop I learned that I have confronted many situations in my life with resiliency; I got through many of them and became a better person because of how I handled it. It might have been easier if I had known what it was, that it had a name. Only one problem with that was, it started long before computers and Google. Many times I thought, "I can't do this, I can't do that", I would make excuses to not even try. I have always been my worst critic and to some people, they think I put myself down too much. To be honest I would prefer having more feedback in my life than praise for the things I do.

    When I was training for a new career a few years ago, two of the places I did my practical work in checked everything off in my report as "excellent, perfect, very good". I knew I didn't do everything perfect, I even had to be told a few things over and over, "you have to do it this way, you have to be faster". Then I went to a third place to work and at the end, my supervisor wasn't as impressed with my performance and she put it in writing. I was actually relieved; I had some things I had to work on..... finally.

    Getting through this career change was a test of resiliency. I was 52 years old, I was told my job was ending after twenty seven years - what was I going to do? I knew I had to make a plan and it had to be something far from what I was doing. I worked in factories for over 30 years, I did not want to go back and those jobs don't hire people in their 50's much. I set up the plan, I believed in it and convinced all the people I needed to help me realize it, and then it all fell into place. A year later and I was working again. Everywhere I applied for work wanted to interview me and I was hired by three employers.

    Taking the Resiliency course allowed me to remember all the times I was in a stressful place but here I am today. There are solutions to getting past these times and this course gave me a better understanding of what I had experienced. I also learned ways to cope with getting through them. What I am doing here is a part of me being resilient, going forward, hopefully giving encouragement to others to look at themselves and realize what they need in their lives to move on to be healthier and happier. I find most of the courses are common-sense based - I know this stuff but I don't recognize it as being this or that, I just do things. Now I learn why they are important, why I did it this way or why I should do some things a little differently next time. Being in a group also helps; you can learn from others’ experiences.

    So if there is any message from me to you on this subject, if you know there are things you need to do to move forward and be healthier and happier, be "Resilient", take this course the next time it runs and any others that will be offered. The ACG strives to use competent facilitators to present these workshops and many times PHA's like ourselves can be a part of the presentation as was the case in this workshop. Another point I should make here, in all the workshops it is of the utmost importance that information shared is confidential and private. What is said in the class stays in the class. I have been to many workshops over the last few years and I find others are very respectful of this rule. Everyone is very supportive of the others.

  • The Importance Of A Solid Support Team

     

    by Chat Junkie

    Over the past few years I have lost part of the support team that I had in place or thought I had. The hardest part of finding the right support people is finding people I could trust. During this time I have had to re-evaluate who were my friends and who were just acquaintances and question who in my family I could count on. When I had a falling out with some of them my HIV status got passed around so fast, most of it on the internet and to people I don't know.

    There was a time when I was first diagnosed, I would go every 3 months to have my bloodwork done at a clinic (I won't name here) in this area. I would walk in, drop my paperwork at the reception window, and one person behind that window always made an issue of bellowing out my information. If she was doing the paperwork, she had to ask the others questions and if someone else was doing it, she would have to blurt out instructions on what to do with it. I can't be positive everyone knew what a CD4 or Viral Load was but I'm guessing alot of people might. It was very uncomfortable I tell you. I needed to find a better place to go.

    As for my doctor, I was seeing a GP (General Practioner) for several years but when I was diagnosed he sent me to see someone more specialized in HIV. At first it was only suppose to be "a once in awhile, once a year" checkup. Then one day the GP told me that he didn't know what he was suppose to be looking for or how to treat anything that might come up. I asked him if he could get me the specialist full time and it was arranged immediately, I was so grateful, I felt so much better.

    I got involved with the ACG (Aids Committee of Guelph) as soon as I could to get some councelling and find better places to help with my care and my health. Learning that there was HIV friendly dentists, labs, doctors and support programs for me was so enlightening. I felt so much better, more confident that I was going to be alright. I had friends that were HIV positive but had never discussed anything with them. I knew that I could live a long meaningful life with HIV, I just had to find my own way and find the help I needed. Now, I know of friendlier places to have my bloodwork done, where to have my prescriptions filled, dentists in the area that are sensitive to my privacy and dignity, and that is very important to me.

    I never got the luxury of picking my family, most of them are great but there are some that I can live without if it isn't good for health, my stress level or coping capabilities. I will be more selective on picking my friends from now on, this I have total control. Some people come and go in my life but I have alot of support now, I can see it and I feel it.

    To all of my supporters, I thank you, and you know who you are (if you're reading this, if not I will forward it later, haha!).

  • My thoughts on criminalizing of HIV non-disclosure

     

    By Chat Junkie

    In the Positive Prevention - Train the Trainer Course, the subject of HIV disclosure & the law was covered with a facilitator from HALCO- HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic (Ontario). After the presentation we were all asked how we felt about this information. My reaction was that it scared me. Unless I can prove I disclosed to someone before having sex, then I can be prosecuted, and I could go to jail. How do I prove that I disclosed? The other person can be HIV positive as well and still claim that I could have put him at risk for a re-infection, the same law would apply.

    I made up my mind, when I do meet the right person, he will totally understand the risks, understand the law and why I have disclosed to that person. It seems like an impossible thing to do sometimes - who is going to want to get involved and go through all of that? But I know there are people out there that will do this and for the right reason.

    Still, let’s say I meet someone, we date for a while, I have disclosed to the person, we practice safe sex, everything is great until one day, something happens and it’s over. Now based on what I believe to be the law, this person can go to the police, claim I didn't disclose my HIV status and I am charged.

    So how do you prove that you have disclosed? A few suggestions that came out of the Positive Prevention Course and literature supplied suggested that you discuss your status while socializing with friends so that your friends can see that you told the person, then you have a witness. Another suggestion was to seek relationship counselling and discuss everything with the counsellor, again you have a witness. The suggestion of writing up a letter and have the person sign it was also discussed but it was determined to be not a very easy thing to prove even if it was drawn up by a lawyer.

    As most of us know, having HIV is a learning experience. There is always something new that we have to be educated in that is important to our mental and physical health and now our legal rights. If they are going to criminalize for non-disclosure, then make the laws fair.

    The Ontario Aids Network is circulating a petition online at the address below. You can find more about the changes to the laws concerning discloser. These laws have to reflect our human rights so please read the objectives and sign the petition; I did.

    http://www.ontarioaidsnetwork.on.ca/clhe/

    To find out more about HIV and the law, Halco can be reached by:
    Phone:1-888-705-8889
    Website: www.halco.org

    I also found this article on a site called Positive Lite, written by Bob Leahy. There are two short videos attached to the article on the laws and how stigma plays a part in the making of the law changes. The cases discussed are in the United States but they could play a part in what Canada is trying to do.

     

  • Five New Year's resolutions to make this year

    By Megan DePutter, Positive Prevention Coordinator

    If you are living with HIV, here are five New Year's resolutions you might want to make:

    1. Quit smoking:

    HIV infection increases your risk of lung cancer by 80%. But smokers are 10 times as likely to develop lung cancer. So if you are HIV positive, and you smoke, you're at much greater risk of developing lung cancer.

    2. Eat  better and reduce your sugar intake:

    Did you know that refined sugar is "by and large the worst additive for the immune cells"?  I've posted links to some good information on HIV and nutrition here. Also check out CATIE's nutritional resources online.

    3. Get more (load-bearing) exercise:

    If you're HIV positive, you have a greater risk of osteoporosis. This year, resolve to take good care of your bones by hiking, walking, dancing, or lifting weights. Learn more about osteoporosis and exercise here or visit my blog post on tips for hiking.

    4. Have more sex:

    We talk a lot about the risks associated with sex, but what about the health benefits? In addition to pleasure and intimacy, sex is associated with positive health outcomes such as reduced blood pressure, increased longevity, lowered stress and reduced pain.

    5. Have more fun:

    What's wrong with putting fun on the top of your agenda? Laughter helps to reduce stress and provides a good abdominal work out.

    Enjoy 2011, everyone!

  • Happy Holidays!

    By Megan DePutter, Positive Prevention Coordinator

    Just a reminder that the office closes tomorrow (December 24) at 1:00pm and will reopen on January 3rd. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has contributed to ACG in the last year - volunteers, participants, community members, the Board of Directors, the staff, and all of the people who have participated in my program. It's been a wonderful year and I wish each and every one of you a terrific year ahead.

    Have a happy holiday and happy new year!

    Megan

  • ACG in the media again - this time on needle exchange programs.

    Following the November recap of media putting ACG in the spotlight, I thought I would draw your attention to a recent article (from last week) in the Guelph Mercury  titled "Needle-exchange program seeing growth in Guelph and Wellington" where our Harm Reduction Outreach Coordinator, Natalie Basaraba, was interviewed.  I personally thought the article was a good start towards generating public support for harm reduction practices and principles. The article focused on the benefits of harm reduction and was not sensationalistic, which is great to see.  Check out the article here and share your thoughts!

  • Positive Prevention - Train The Trainer Part Two (for me)

     

    By Chat Junkie

    Thursday December 2nd was the last day for the third installment of Positive Prevention - Train the Trainer, and my second time going through it. This time though, I was the volunteer helping Megan. The purpose of the course is to hopefully get people involved in a volunteer role or advocating healthier and safe lifestyles for people living with HIV.

    When we started doing the course this time, I thought it would be a repeat of the one I went to. I was surprised to learn that there were many changes to some of the topics, like how the laws concerning disclosure had changed in just a few months. There was also some new information on changes in medications and treatments. But most of all, I learned more about myself from listening and sharing with the other participants. The more people we meet that are living with HIV can only help us learn more about our own feelings and our health. I am happy to see the direction the ACG is going, so many good things happening in education, support services, workshops and volunteering. We need this agency and they need to know how they can help us to improve the services. Without them, we only have our medical support.

    I had my mind set to volunteer again but someone from this last course spoke up before I did so I wish this person a lot of encouragement; it is very rewarding. Several people who have taken the course have done something to help in some way. Not all opportunities put us out on the street banging a drum; there are many ways we can help ourselves and our agency that protect your privacy. Believe me, this was a real issue of mine.

    The next course is on the schedule to start in the new year, call Megan if you are even curious about it, get more information and maybe give it a try, it might really help.......and dinner is supplied, so no rushing home before classes.

    I must be getting better at this blogging stuff, I said so much in less words, this is all I got for now.....so till the next time, take care and ........ think about it!

  • More on HIV in the media

     By Megan DePutter, Positive Prevention Coordinator

    Catching up on my reading at PositiveLite.com, I noticed this cool post by Bob Leahy, and his interview on the news. I thought the interview was well done, and that Bob did a great job. I'm glad that they touched (albeit briefly) on some of the complexities to do with HIV & aging.  Thought you might like to watch!

  • Who doesn't want to wear the ribbon?

    Promoting World AIDS Day in #Guelph! on Twitpic

    By Megan DePutter, Positive Prevention Coordinator

    I just wanted to follow up by saying thank-you to those who participated in the World AIDS Day events.  The vigil was absolutely beautiful. And I really appreciate the two volunteers who helped us promote the vigil and World AIDS Day by handing out red ribbons downtown. It was super cold out, but we were warmly received by most, which I thought was excellent news. Most people were very receptive to the cause and happy to don the red ribbon. After a few hours we started to see downtown flooded with people wearing red ribbons. To me, it is a good sign that the people in our community recognize the importance of this symbol.

    At the risk of being too flippant about an important issue, I couldn't help but compare us to the "ribbon bullies" from that ancient Seinfeld episode.  No, we didn't chase anyone down or beat them up just because they refused to wear the ribbon!

  • ACG in the news - a November recap

     By Megan DePutter, Positive Prevention Coordinator

    AIDS Awareness Week has come to a close. Thank you to everyone who participated in the events of last week.  ACG has been in the media quite a bit lately, which is fantastic. Here is somewhat of a recap of the local news that has mentioned ACG and promoted World AIDS Day. 

    AIDS threat remains, despite ‘luxury’ of living in North America

    Guelph symposium examines advances in HIV prevention

    Leave a Big Tip at PJ’s for the United Way

    Between the sheets: Breaking down HIV and AIDS

    And, although ACG is not mentioned, you may also want to read: 

    My World AIDS Day vision for all by Anne-Marie Zajdlik

    Enjoy!

  • Lady Gaga is Dead!

    by B.J. Caldwell, Educator

     

    On Wednesday December 1, Hollywood dies digitally to raise awareness for World AIDS Day. The world’s top tweeters are making the ultimate sacrifice, leaving their 30 million followers in the dark until $1,000,000 is raised to buy their digital lives back.

    Participating talent (most are featured in the video below): Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, Usher, Jennifer Hudson, Ryan Seacrest, Kim and Khloe Kardashian, Elijah Wood, Serena Williams, socialite Daphne Guinness, R&B sensation Janelle Monae, Twilight’s Bronson Pelletier, singer Kimberly Cole, Alicia’s husband, Swizz Beatz, and the cast of MTV’s The Buried Life.

  • Queer as Folk: Correcting the myths about HIV testing

    By Megan DePutter, Positive Prevention Coordinator

    I recently re-watched the first season of one of my favourite TV shows... Queer as Folk*. In watching the episode where "Ted and Emmet get tested for AIDS" (Season 1, episode 11), I noticed plenty of inaccuracies and some common myths.  Although it's a decade old now, many of these common myths persist.  The media can have a profound influence on our ideas and attitudes towards sex, so I thought I would address this episode, correcting some of these myths and hopefully providing a somewhat more realistic portrayal of the testing process.

    So, first check out the episode here.  The scene with the doctor, to which I will be referring, begins at exactly 7 minutes in.  At that moment, Ted and Emmett are in the doctor's office waiting to get tested, since Ted had unprotected sex with someone he just learned is HIV positive.

    Fallacy #1:  You can get tested for AIDS.

    In the description of the episode, "Ted and Emmet get tested for AIDS."  But there is actually no such thing as an AIDS test; testing is done for HIV, not AIDS, and technically, the test looks for HIV antibodies, not the virus itself. Keep in mind that HIV and AIDS are not the same thing and that proper treatment can delay or even prevent AIDS from ever occurring.

    Fallacy #2: Spermicidal lubricant should be used by gay men to help prevent HIV infection

    Emmet lectures Ted on his failure to use a condom. Emmet boasts, "I always have condoms, spermicidal lubricant..." and in response, Ted calls Emmet the "Safe Sex poster boy."  But Emmet is incorrect. Although spermicide was touted in the late '80s as an effective means to prevent HIV, we actually know that now spermicide causes damage by causing lesions in the rectum (or vagina), which can lead to easier HIV transmission. All condom companies but Trojan discontinued their condoms with spermicidal lubricant after studies revealed this risk.

    Fallacy #3: You and your friend can get tested for HIV at the same time

    Emmet tells the nurse that he is only getting tested for moral support. While it might be a good idea to bring a friend to the testing location for moral support, the nurse is unlikely to allow your friend to come into the testing room with you.  In the show, the test is done without any pre or post test counseling. In real life, the nurse will ask you a few questions about your sexual activities and intravenous drug use. This information is confidential, and, since you might feel uncomfortable answering honestly in front of your friend, this needs to be done privately.

    Fallacy #4: The nurse or doctor will reassure you of a particular outcome

    "I'm sure you'll be fine," says the doctor when Emmet declares that Ted is nervous.  As previously mentioned, the pre-test counseling provides the nurse an opportunity to counsel you on your level of risk. If you are having testing done at a clinic that also provides STI and viral hepatitis testing (like the AIDS Committee of Guelph), you will jointly decide what other tests to have.  However, a nurse or doctor would not reassure you of an outcome; they will instead help you assess risks of various kinds of behaviour and make decisions accordingly.  This is part of the pre-test counselling that is not shown in the show.

    Fallacy #5: The nurse will call you with the results.

    At 14 minutes into the show, the nurse phones Ted to tell him that he is negative. This is unlikely.  More likely is that Ted would be asked to return to the office for his results. It is not standard practice to give someone their results over the phone.  Post test counseling would be provided at this point.

    Rapid testing takes about 20 minutes. If the results are negative (non-reactive), you will know right away. If the results are reactive, they will be sent away to a lab for confirmation and you will be called back into the office at a later time. Positive results are not given over the phone.  In fact, it is not standard practice to give any results over the phone, however it can happen in rare circumstances. 

    Fallacy #5: Being "AIDS-phobic" protects you

    Subsequently, the tables turn and Emmet fears he is HIV positive as he waits for his results.  Ted reassures him by saying, "Emmett, you cannot be infected. No-one in the world is more HIVphobic than you. You practically boil the sheets!" This line particularly bothered me. AIDS phobia is a big problem and a major contributor to the spread of HIV.  Being fearful of HIV or stigmatizing people who live with HIV will not protect you. It will only help to create a discriminatory and hostile environment for people who are living with HIV, making disclosure more difficult and discouraging people from accessing testing, treatment, and information about safer sex.

    Furthermore, boiling the sheets will not protect you from HIV.  You can't get HIV from bed sheets or towels, talking, shaking hands, hugging, kissing, or sharing food, water, eating utensils, pools, or toilets.  The sooner these myths evaporate, the better.

    I commend Queer as Folk for bringing up many important issues that the media often avoids. However, it’s important to have good media literacy skills. Whenever a TV show provides information about sex and risk, it’s a good idea to follow up with a reputable source to clarify and make sure you have the proper information.

    *Picture from Showcase.ca

  • HIV and Aging

     

    by Chat Junkie

    Over the past couple months I have attended the Opening Doors Conference and The AIDS Awareness Symposium and have seen a few workshop/speakers talking about HIV and aging. I realized that I have not even given much thought to this aspect of my life. In other workshops I have met people who have lived 25 - 30 years with HIV, through all of the hard times dealing with the old medications and treatments. These people talk of getting their diagnosis and being told they may not live very long but are surprised somewhat to still be here. I now know the real meaning is behind the saying, "you live with HIV, you don't die from it".

    When I was first diagnosed, my counts were so close to normal they had to do them again to be sure it wasn't a false positive. I was also told I didn't need medications right away, that it may be 10 years down the road. Well, I made it seven and a half years. My doctor also said that I would probably die of something else, unrelated to HIV, with good health and taking care of myself I could live a long time. I see that being the case more and more as I learn about all of this. I have to thank the ACG for being there when I needed them. If I just had my doctor for support and education on my illness, I don't think I would be as aware and as healthy, mentally or physically, mind you my doctor makes me do what I have to do. He is very aware of many things but the support part he doesn't have alot of time for it. The ACG can't do everything either but they have links to other services throughout the city that can help us, places that we can feel comfortable going to because they are respectful of our situation.

    So it looks like we are going to get old, like the rest of the population and there will come a time when we will be heading into longterm care or just living on our own. I hope the latter is true for me. It is a tough thing to face for anyone but are the homes and staff in these places ready for us? Do we need places for HIV clients/residents only? Having some exposure working in those facilities, I know there are some workers who are still afraid of the term “HIV”, nevermind actually working with someone who is positive. They are taught to use Universal Precautions and it is the same with every resident but the stigma of HIV still lives in many people. When we reach the time where we need these services, our medical history goes with us and the people who will care for us will know it all.

    I am now over fifty so this really got my attention in the last few months and I would like to see more information and I have offered to help get it, be it workshops or educational programs, whatever. I want to know it will be there when I get there. These things don't happen overnight and I don't plan on needing it right away so there is time. We need to get out there and educate the healthcare system that we are coming....................not right away but someday.

  • Preventing Compassion Fatigue

    At the Opening Doors conference that was held in Burlington on November 2nd and 3rd, Françoise Mathieu gave a presentation on Compassion Fatigue.  She was a dynamite speaker and presented a lot of information on how to recognize the symptoms of burnout or compassion fatigue and prevent them in the first place.

    Service workers who are exposed to clients' histories of trauma are often deeply affected in ways they're not always aware of.  If service workers don't take measures to protect and care for themselves, prolonged exposure to the suffering of others will ultimately cause burn out.  And burnout is a lot harder to repair than prevent, so finding ways of healing and self-nurturing before burnout occurs is critical.

    Burnout can happen not just to service providers but to volunteers as well. I often tell my Positive Prevention participants to be aware that they can always say "no" when asked to speak, volunteer or participate at an event.  Our section on Boundaries in the Train-the-Trainer workshops is a good starting place, but sometimes the ability to say no goes against individuals' own instincts, and saying no or recognizing ones own limits can be difficult.  HIV & AIDS can be an emotionally difficult space in which to work and volunteer, especially if it triggers your own memories of stigma, abuse, addiction or shame.

    Burnout and compassion fatigue isn't about weakness. It often happens to people who are dedicated and who are great at their jobs, because they genuinely care about the people they serve, and have the ability to provide empathy and sensitivity to the people they work with.

    Preventing burnout is actually easier than it sounds. Many of the things we can do are things we already know are important to our health, but we might not make time for them - getting enough rest, eating healthy food, spending time with our friends & family, doing things that make us happy, getting exercise, managing our schedule in a way that it doesn't overburden us, debriefing after a stressful event with a supervisor, and finding ways to reduce stress and anxiety, such as yoga, breathing exercises, or meditation.  Sometimes we just need to make time to do the basic things we know will help!

    There are some excellent resources on Françoise's website  and she even has a blog.

    I thought I would share one excellent practice for simultaneously reducing stress and processing trauma in a healthy way. It's called a Metta meditation practice, also known as a Loving Kindness Practice.  Information and instructions about the metta practice can be found here.  Hopefully you will also find it helpful and relevant in this field.

    Lastly, I wanted to remind the readers not to assume that yoga and meditation is an elite practice that only the rich can participate in.  Research studios in your area.  Most yoga studios have community classes or karma yoga classes on weekends that ask only for donations, pay-what-you can offerings, or canned goods that will be donated to the food bank.  Meditation classes in the community are often based on Buddhist principles that also just rely on donations or small fees. In both instances, no one will be turned away if they show up without any money, and most often these classes are advertised as free for those who don't have any income, or a reduce rate for those unemployed.  Research online or call up some studios and inquire. You might get connected to some great opportunities at next to no cost.

    I hope these tips help you to prevent Compassion Fatigue in your work or volunteer placement.

  • Volunteer workshop tomorrow!

    Tomorrow is our workshop at the Volunteer Centre! This workshop is designed to do a number of things:

    - Learn how to choose a volunteer opportunity that suits your interests, skills and schedule

    - Learn how to use the Volunteer Centre's online database so you can search opportunities from home

    - Learn about your rights as a person living with HIV & AIDS in any volunteer environment

    - Get to know your community better

    This workshop will be held tomorrow at 1:00pm at 46 Cork Street East.  Please email or call Megan if you'd like to attend.  A light lunch will be served.

  • It Get's Better: A Message for Queer Youth

    by B.J. Caldwell, Educator
    cross-posted from qlinks.ca
    Shortly before the recent suicides of young gay teens hit the mainstream media, Dan Savage and his partner, Terry, began a channel on Youtube called the It Get's Better project. It was their message to queer youth; their story of how their lives got better. Then they invited other queer teens, adults and straight allies to send in video messages: "Many LGBT youth can't picture what their lives might be like as openly gay adults. They can't imagine a future for themselves. So let's show them what our lives are like, let's show them what the future may hold in store for them."

    The response was overwhelming. Thousands of videos from across the world were submitted and are there for all to view. Choirs singing their messages (see below), queer support groups, families, employees of Facebook, Google, and others, and messages from queer youth themselves. It is quite extraordinary. And a radical shift.

    For years, many queer adults were afraid to reach out to struggling queer youth to offer support for fear they would be branded a pedophile. Homophobia and heterosexism prevented many from interceding --- and still do. And our youth continue to kill themselves at a disproportionate rate than their straight peers.
    From Joe Sudabay at AMERICAblog Gay had this to say about the project and after viewing the video below:

    We're seeing the LGBT community come together to take care of its youngest members. Not many of us had people to tell us "It gets better." But, it does -- and the next generations need to know that. And, I think the outpouring since Dan Savage launched this project shows an understanding that we have to be the support we need.

    So, check out the Project, and consider sending in a video. Or at least be sure and share this channel with everyone in your life for two reasons:

    1. Because you never know who may need to hear this message (kids and parents, alike)....... and

    2. Because it really does get better!

    If you or someone you know is struggling and you need to talk to someone, call Youthline (The Lesbian. Bi, Gay, Trans Youthline) at 1.800.268.9688 or visit them online at youthline.ca

    And now, the video. Warning: I cried....especially at the end when everyone joins in. It really is a powerful message and a great use of social media.

     

  • AIDS Awareness Week is coming early to the University of Guelph!

    AIDS Awareness week is coming up (November 24 - December 1). If you are a student at the University of Guelph and can't participate in AIDS Awareness Week events due to exams, consider taking part in the university's campus community AIDS Awareness events, taking place between November 1 - November 5.

    If you can't make it to these events, remember that you can always seek information about HIV and AIDS from the University's Wellness Centre.

    Here's what's happening:

    Tuesday November 2:
    Shari Margolese on HIV and Stigma (Tuesday 5:30 to 6:30 pm in the Wellness Centre)
    Brass Taps NAKED Trivia (Tuesday from 8-9 pm at the Brass Taps)

    Wednesday November 3:
    BJ Caldwell on HIV in Guelph (Wednesday from 5:30 pm to 6:30 pm in the Wellness Centre)

    Thursday November 4:
    A Closer Walk Documentary Night with BJ Caldwell (7:30-9:30 pm in Mackinnon room 304)

  • Pics from our Healthy Cooking workshop

    By Megan DePutter, Positive Prevention Coordinator

    I've been promising to deliver some photos from our recent healthy cooking workshop, delivered by a Positive Prevention volunteer. So here are a few snaps. If you'd like to be involved in planning, facilitating or attending future workshops, please let me know.

    Our chef... and me!

    Making puff pastry bundles.

    Demonstration in the kitchen.

  • Lube Safety? IRMA calls for more research

    by: B.J. Caldwell, Educator

     

    The International Rectal Microbicide Advocates (IRMA) call for more research into lube safety -- especially ones used during anal intercourse. According to the IRMA:
     
    Very few studies have examined the effect of lubes on human rectal tissue, but those that did showed mixed results. Most water-based lubes tested in these studies were shown to be damaging to rectal tissue. However, some lubes were more damaging than others. Furthermore, in one study the use of lube for anal intercourse was associated with the presence of rectal sexually transmitted infections.
     
    What they found in their review (sampling data on lube use was obtained from gay and bi men in our region):
     
    - more research is urgently needed to explore if there is a link between lube use and acquiring HIV and/or rectal STIs
     
    -It is unclear whether any particular type or brand of lube might increase, decrease, or have no effect on acquiring HIV/STIs
     
    -Using male/female condoms is still considered the BEST way to prevent acquiring STIs during anal intercourse. In addition, the use of condom-compatible  lubes has been associated with a decreased risk of condoms breaking or slipping.
     
    -It isn't yet possible at this time to recommend for or against lubes if having anal intercourse without condoms.
     
    -Lube use on its own is not a proven method of HIV or STI prevention
     
     
    So what does this mean?
     
    It means that attention is being drawn to the widespread use of lubricants during intercourse and their effects on the sensitive tissue (mucous membranes) of the genital tract. We have been using lube for a long time and yet there has been little research in the area of lube safety when used rectally. If a lube (or anything, really) causes damage to the sensitive tissue of the genital tract, it can increase the vulnerability of the person to STIs and HIV should they be subsequently exposed
     
    Every lube has a different chemical make-up and needs to be tested individually and then tested against each other.

    If using latex condoms, you must still use water-based lubricants to prevent damaging the condom

     
    If you are having condomless sex, some lubes may be better than others. (but we don't yet know which ones)
     
    But there is no data yet on specific lubes.......hence the IRMAs call for an increase in research. Our society seems to hold anything related to the rectum as taboo....and that can have an effect on the ability to get and maintain funding. We also seem to have this notion that queers are the only people to have anal sex.....which is definitely not true! (In absolute numbers, there are more woman engaging in anal sex than there are gay men.
     
    For more information or to get involved with Rectal Microbicide advocacy, visit rectalmicrobicides.org
     
  • The Disclosure Heard Round the (Reality) World

    by B.J. Caldwell, Educator

     

    [Hat tip to Megan De Putter who tweeted the story (@AIDSGuelph)]

    The Body has an excellent  interview with Mondo Guerra about being HIV+ and the power of disclosure.

    When Mondo Guerra was chosen to be on the hit reality show Project Runway, his main goal was to live out his dream of being a successful fashion designer, not be a poster boy for HIV. But one emotional challenge compelled him to disclose on air that he had been living with HIV for the past ten years. In this exclusive interview with TheBody.com, Mondo talks about living with HIV for a decade, overcoming fear and stigma, and the disclosure that was seen around the world.

  • Healthy Cooking on a Budget

     By Megan DePutter, Positive Prevention Coordinator

    Yesterday evening a workshop was given by one of our Positive Prevention graduates called "Healthy Cooking on a Budget."  The chef gave the participants step-by-step instructions on how to prepare healthy meals using ordinary canned items you'd find in a box from the Food Bank.  This included a blueberry smoothie, hummus, black-bean miso, puff pastry, mixed bean and tomato whole wheat penne, and build-your-own puff pastry bundles.

    I have more pictures and recipes which I will be sharing with you next week, but here is one recipe to get you started:

    Blueberry Bliss Smoothie

    Ingredients:

    1 cup orange juice (or grape juice)

    1 cup blueberry yogurt

    1 cup vanilla frozen yogurt

    1/2 cup frozen banana chunks

    1 1/2 cup frozen or fresh blueberries

    1 scoop vanilla flavoured soy protein drink mix (optional)

    If you'd like a sweetener, the chef pointed out that honey is a great selection, but you can use whatever is in your pantry - even ordinary pancake syrup will do.

     Directions

    Pour all liquid ingredients into blender. Add frozen ingredients. Blend until smooth.  You can use an immersion blender or a regular blender.

    Enjoy!

  • Red Tent Campaign - In Sopport of Bill C-304

      By Gary Roche, Community Support Worker

    Housing is a right! Not a Priviledge!

    Canada is lacking in a National Hosuing Strategy!! Support of Bill C- 304 by all political parties,  which is to be voted on in the house at the end of October can ensure  that safe, secure, and affordable Housing  can be addressed on a national level.

    For more information  read the full Action Alert by the Canandian AIDS Society.

     

  • The fall session of Train-the-Trainer is about to begin!

     By Megan DePutter, Positive Prevention Coordinator

    Positive Prevention Train-the-Trainer begins on Thursday. It runs for 9 weeks (from October 7 through December 2) from 5:30 - 8:30pm weekly.

    I'm really looking forward to running this season of Train-the-Trainer. It will be my 3rd time running this new course, so I'm very well acquainted with the material - so well acquainted, in fact, that I will be facilitating most of the workshops myself. instead of bringing in outside facilitators. I will also have a trusted volunteer by my side, who completed the course this summer.

    Train-the-Trainer is always a lot of fun, and it's a great way to meet new people and discuss important issues. We all have different backgrounds and experiences, but more often than not, there are commonalities that unite us. Exploring issues such as stigma & discrimination, disclosure, and transmission, we learn to communicate effectively with each other about HIV & AIDS and the issues that affect our lives.

    The participants from the summer session have been incredibly involved, in the agency and in the community, taking part in new initiatives (PHA retreats, school courses, community volunteer work, blogging/editorial writing, and so forth.) It's great to see the course being used as a spring board for some great work, both internal and external to the agency. I hope that at the end of this course, the participants also feel energized and empowered to move forward with prevention activities or other activities/experiences that are meaningful to them.

    Just a reminder that there is still time to register. Participants get $200 as an honorarium when they are finished - an extra incentive for the hard work involved in this course.

  • Campaign is underway!

    By Megan DePutter, Positive Prevention Coordinator

    The HIV testing campaign is underway! The campaign launched this Monday, September 27, with poster distribution around town and throughout the University of Guelph. Look for campaign posters in social service agencies, community organizations, and bars & shops across town.

    Below, campaign posters on the wall at ACG.

  • Are you a serophobe?

    B.J. Caldwell, ACG Educator

    cross posted to qlinks.ca blog

     

     

    This is an old campaign, but is worth another look. An AIDS Service Organization in Quebec called COCQ-SIDA launched a campaign raising awareness about the various ways in which people reject/alienate/discriminate (hence: serophobe) people living with HIV.  What does serophobia mean? From the campaign website:

    And here is a video made for the campaign:

  • What the ACG has done to help me

    By Chat Junkie

     

    I have been involved with the AIDS Committee of Guelph pretty much since I was diagnosed in 2003 so I’d like to talk a little on what it has meant for me.

    I had heard about the ACG from others in the gay community as well as ACCKWA in Kitchener. A friend and I inquired about volunteering to be in the “Buddy” program that they had several years ago. I had a job at the time and couldn’t do the training on the days they offered so it never happened. Then I learned of my own HIV status. I had no idea how I was suppose to feel, what I should know about all of it.

    I made the call to the ACG and was given an automatic appointment for some support. I did know others with HIV and had learned some things but you never really know everything until you are in the position. I knew I needed to talk to people who knew more than I did. At first I was a bit reluctant to go to the office, I was going to suggest meeting with someone over coffee in a neutral setting. I didn’t want to be seen
    going to the office with fears that everyone in town knew why I was going in there. I was assured that I shouldn’t worry about being exposed to a crowd outside watching to see who is going in.

    So I decided to do it, I met with Tom who was the support worker at that time. He made me feel safe and he listened to me. I felt very comfortable to tell him anything and ask any questions. The atmosphere was very positive, everyone smiled and each were busy doing their jobs. I could see that it wasn’t just a place to go for help, the staff was busy trying to improve the help they were offering.

    Several weeks later I received a mailing asking for PHA’s to come to a meeting to discuss ways of expanding the services that were being offered. They were looking at moving to a larger location and wanted to know what WE would like to see. I believe 8 of us showed up and many ideas came from that meeting and I see a lot of them being used today. I know they still look for new ways to help us cope, educate us and teach us ways to live well and live longer. The current location, I feel very comfortable going there. There is a lounge where you can go and just sit and talk with staff or other PHA’s if they have time. Coffee is always available.

    So far this year, I have been to many workshops, I completed the Positive Prevention Train-the-Trainer course, we went to Canada's Wonderland, we went to a Educational Dinner at the Babel Fish Bistro, it was so good, and on the last Tuesday of each month we have “movie night” with pizza or some other type of dinner.

    I have met many people and made a few friends and acquaintances. So basically what I would like to say or encourage people to do is to be involved. If there is something you would like to see happen to get you involved, make a suggestion, chances are you are not alone and will get plenty of support to make changes. Stress is not a friend of HIV so getting out and letting off some tension and sharing a laugh or just a relaxing
    conversation with someone else may be just what is needed to keep the stress level down.

    A good start would be the next installment of the Positive Prevention course starting up in October.

  • Sneak Preview: HIV testing campaign digital ad

    Here's a sneak preview of our digital media advert that will be running in bars, restaurants, and other locations in Guelph during the month of November!

     

  • New HIV testing campaign is on its way!

    By Megan DePutter, Positive Prevention Coordinator

    Exciting news about our HIV testing campaign! We were featured on the front page of the Guelph Mercury on Friday, with the headline, "More HIV testing aimed to catch the estimated 3 in 10 who don’t know they’re infected."

    Watch for our campaign messages! You will see posters around town and find wallet cards in community organizations. A bus shelter downtown will prominently display one of our ads, and you will also notice transit advertising as well. During the month of November, you will also see a digital ad playing in 17 bars and restaurants in the city.  Our testing campaign will roll out in stages, starting on Monday, September 27, and will run through to the end of January.

    For more information, download our press release here:

    Press release for testing campaign.pdf

    Check back on our website next week for more information and to see what our testing campaign will look like!

  • HIV and nutrition

    By Megan DePutter, Positive Prevention Coordinator

     

    There is a great series of blog posts on Positive Lite titled, "Macronutrients for Living Well with HIV." Check out this informative series if you would like to learn more about how your body works and how to eat properly to keep your body healthy while living with HIV. To read the articles, click here:

    Part One - HIV & nutrition

    Part Two - Inflammation & oxidation

    Part Three - Refined sugar versus a healthy diet

    If you want to apply what you've learned but aren't sure if you can afford to eat healthfully, or don't know where to start, we have a solution!

    Join us for a workshop on "Affordable Cooking". This is a hands-on, interactive class, run by a graduate of the Positive Prevention Train-the-Trainer program at ACG, who will teach you how to make some affordable, healthy, easy meals.

    This class will take place on October 13, between 6:00 - 8:15pm at the Guelph Community Health Centre in the Kitchen (downstairs). To register, call me (Megan) at 519-7630-2255 or email positiveprevention@aidsguelph.org.

  • Being Poz on the Internet - Part Three

     

    By ChatJunkie

    There is a lot of stigma attached to poz people in chatrooms.

    When you join these chat sites, there are many people who believe that everyone should post their HIV status. Some feel we have no right being in there looking for relationships, encounters or friendship. In every chatroom there is a group of people who think that what they believe is what everyone should believe because we are all in there for the same reason. I don’t mean to offend anyone by that statement, it’s just a fact. They don’t understand or support the fact that it is none of their business and the only time it becomes their business is if they plan on having sex with someone who is poz. On the other side of the issue, there are people who are poz who choose not to post their status, never tell partners their status and others who outright lie about their status. There are others who have never been tested, ……ever, because they are afraid to know the truth, afraid of having to tell family and afraid of the stigma.

    If at sometime you do disclose to someone you have chatted with, there is no way to be sure that it will stay between you and that person, alot of chat goes on in private. Gossip can run rampant in that way. There are times when someone has broken up with a partner and they go in making claims that their ex is HIV positive and doesn’t tell anyone. Incidents like this can start the stigma machine and a heated debate will begin. The internet chatroom is a lot like the old school yard when you were growing up and its hard to believe they are all adults in there carrying on like that.

    When my status was broadcasted in the chatroom, I was so devastated, embarrassed and felt like people were now seeing someone totally different. I heard comments like “I deserved it”, “I hope it takes him, the quicker the better”. How could I have been coming in there all that time and not have it in my profile. There was even a comment that I was suffering from dementia, I was delusional and one very sick person to not have said anything. I learned through my real friends and some complete strangers that it didn’t matter to them, some had spoke up in my defense.

    Not long ago I created another profile on the site and posted my HIV status. Even my friends don’t know its me. The experience is so different. I can be present in the room for several hours and not one person will talk to me. From time to time someone will message me in private and want to meet. I make sure they have read my profile and if they still want to meet, I tell them I would rather chat a bit longer. Some don’t really know what it all means, they aren’t aware of the risks. I will then tell them to go to the Aids Committee in their area. Anyone that I have chatted with under this profile, none have led to a meeting.

    What I am learning from all of this experience is that by posting my status, it might minimize my exposure to stigmatism but it will not help when it comes to some people and their beliefs. We need to change the beliefs of the others, not by force but by open discussion and education. Some people need to be brought into the 21st Century. There are tougher laws for disclosing and people on both sides of this issue need to know their responsibility. Posting your status in a profile online is not enough anymore.

  • Being Poz on the Internet – Part Two

     

    By ChatJunkie

    Every warning you have heard about protecting your personal information on the internet is completely true. Everything put up on the internet can be copied or shared and you have no control over it after you post it. Just like this blog entry, it can be deleted tomorrow but it could have been copied by someone and kept in their computer and changed or used in ways that I didn’t mean it too. Hopefully this never happens. Using some basic computer lingo, all you have to do, is COPY, EDIT and PASTE and this could all read very different.

    When you use chatrooms, this can happen more frequently. When you put up a profile on the site it isn’t protected. All chatrooms require that you post certain information to open the account, they claim it is protected but if someone really knows how computers work, they can still search for what is known as an IP number. All computers require one to be connected to the internet.

    Most sites don’t require you to post a picture, it’s just an option. The more you tell people about yourself, the more attention you will attract. Some sites only require and email address and a/s/l which is age, sex and location. Some people choose to post their picture on another site and show the link in their profile. These pictures can still be copied if you know what you are doing. I have had my picture copied, used in a phoney profile and made to look like someone who practices reckless behaviour. I have trusted people with my personal information during conversations and when a disagreement happened with those persons, they told the whole chatroom my HIV status and claimed that I don’t tell people my status. They even claimed to have it in writing from me. All I can figure is they used the COPY, EDIT and PASTE method to create the statement.

    I just learned about something new on “facebook”. They have something called “People Here Now” or “Places I Check Into”. It’s where you post where you are by way of your phone, and on your facebook page it will show a map and verifies you are at that location. There was a story on the news where a woman had been using this feature, she was on vacation in another country. Friends of her friends saw that she was gone for two weeks; they went to her place and robbed it.

    For every safety feature that comes out, there are people out there who find ways to get around them.

    Below are some tips on things to watch for:

    • - Never do cam to cam chats. What you do on camera can be copied by the other person and put up on porn sites.
    • - Find the privacy settings on all sites and use them. Limit strangers from finding you. It is always better to be safe than popular; you don’t know who is watching.
    • - Don’t post a picture right away. If you chat with someone and things progress and you feel comfortable, you can exchange one through emails.
    • - Be aware that most people lie about certain things in their profiles.
    • - Never give your phone number or home address to anyone too soon.
    • - Only agree to meet in a public location. Never agree to meet in the middle of the night. Some people can be what’s known as a “No Show”.
    • - Let a friend know where you are going and let them know if things are going alright.
    • - During your conversations with people, listen for red flags - they are there.
    These are just a few things we should all watch for. If you have anything else, please feel free to comment and share that experience with us.

    Remember, you don’t have to use your real name. Take care and be safe.

  • Tips for Budgeting

    By Megan DePutter, Positive Prevention Coordinator

    Last Friday, Gary Roche (our Community Support Worker) and I held a workshop on Creative Solutions for Budgeting. The workshop was facilitated by Ken Harvey from Ontario Works.  I thought I would share some of the information from the workshop that will help you get started on a budget if you missed the workshop.

    How to budget

    The first step in budgeting is to track your income and expenses. Begin by calculating all of your income from various sources for one month - include income from your wages, government assistance, cash gifts and any other income.  The total amount will be your total income.

    Next, track all of your expenses for the month. This will be trickier because you need to record everything you've spent. Write down every purchase - even if it's just for a pack of gum or a newspaper.  It might be helpful for you to carry around a small notepad to track the expenditures.

    At the end of the month, total your expenses and subtract it from your total income. If you're in the negative, it will be time to start making a few cut-backs! Luckily, once you have a list of all your expenses, you can see pretty easily where your money is going and how you can start to save money.

    Making a new budget for you might take some experimenting. Eventually, you'll get one that works for you.

    Tips to save money and stay on budget

    1. Get some friends involved. Sticking to a budget is not easy, especially if you love to shop! Getting some friends together will really help you along. You can do this in a few ways:

    i) Have a buddy that you can call if you're feeling the urge to shop, so they can talk you out of making an impulse purchase

    ii) Food is often cheaper if you buy in bulk, so eating together is a great way to save some money. There are a few ways you can do this - buy bulk products and then divide the cost equally and split the products, hold pot-lucks, cook meals in batches together or take turns cooking for each other once a week.

    iii) Find fun, free ways to spend time together. Start a book club or movie night, or another event where you get together and a have a good time without spending a lot of money.

    2. Set small, manageable goals, and then find small ways to reward yourself when you reach them. Having lofty, long-term goals is great, but try to set some smaller, more manageable goals in the meantime. Then find ways to treat yourself to celebrate every small success. Treats might include an ice cream cone, a food you really like from the grocery store that is a bit more costly (like a steak), or a walk or jog through a nature trail.

    3. To avoid making impulse purchases, make a list of everything you want and wait until the end of the month. Sometimes writing it down will make you realize that the thing you want isn't quite as meaningful as you once thought.  At the end of the month, take a look at everything you've wanted and decide what is really important to you. Having a clear list will help you make more thoughtful decisions about where and how you spend your money. It will also help you set goals to buy what is really special to you, and not just everything that crosses your path.

    4. Find alternatives to buying new. If you have your eye set on an expensive new item, check out thrift stores to see if you can find a similar alternative to the item at a fraction of the cost.

    5. Utilize community resources. Take advantage of the public library to borrow books, movies, and CDs, use the internet, or join in on book clubs, movie screenings and craft workshops.  The Arboretum features 408 acres of beautiful nature trails and gardens to enjoy at zero cost. The West End Rec Centre offers gym facilities, pools, and an arena, all which can be enjoyed for small fees. The YMCA also offers discounted memberships depending on your financial situation. Take advantage of these great community resources for opportunities for entertainment and fitness! Another great community resource is the Garden Fresh Box. You can order a great big box of fresh veggies and fruits from the Guelph Community Health Centre for $15-$20. Consider getting a friend or roommate to share the box with you to make this even more economical. For more information, visit the GCHC's website.

    What is your best tip for staying on budget and saving money?

  • Toronto formally endorses harm reduction

     By Tom Hammond Executive Director

    Toronto has become the first city in the world – and the first government in North America – to formally endorse a declaration that advocates harm reduction over the war on drugs.

    This endorsement could be the gentle push that the City of Guelph needs in order to follow suit. The last few years the City of Guelph has supported the Wellington Guelph Drug Strategy.

     

  • Creative Solutions for Budgeting

    By Megan DePutter, Positive Prevention Coordinator

    Just a little reminder that this Friday, from 12:00 to 3:00pm, we will be having a workshop on budgeting. The title of this workshop is Creative Solutions for Budgeting and it will be run by Ken Harvey from Ontario Works.  This workshop will be held at  the Guelph Community Health Centre (Downtown Guelph). This is a joint partnership between Positive Prevention and Housing.

    This will be a very practical, hands-on, fun workshop and everyone will leave with some incredibly valuable skills that you can put to use right away.

    If you find yourself struggling to make ends meet, missing bill payments or relying on overdraft or credit cards, or if you've had a recent change in income, this workshop will help you get control over your financial situation. 

    And everyone can use help with budgeting, no matter what kind of income you have.  Taking care of your money enables you to take care of your health.

    Please join us to learn this important life skill.

  • Combatting HIV Stigma

     

    The following was written by a recent graduate of the Positive Prevention train-the-trainer program at ACG.

    I recently completed the Positive Prevention Train-the-Trainer course. Taking this course has been a blessing, because I have learnt so much and I feel I have information that I didn’t know before. Confidence, high self-esteem and knowledge are what the course has given me. I feel I can inform people who stigmatize others or have a desire to learn about HIV. HIV is not a death sentence anymore; you can live, love and be free while positive.

    HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus and AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. There is no cure for HIV or AIDS but there are medications to prolong one’s life, just like any other disease – for example, diabetes or high blood pressure. Treatment has come a long way from the time it started, when people were told they would have five years to live; now it’s changed and you can live a long time, have a family and see your family getting older and be happy.

    Although there are medications for HIV & AIDS, there’s still a lot of stigma around the disease, in all communities and in different countries. When one doesn’t have it, they tend to think or say it’s not their problem. The truth is, it’s everyone’s problem and I’m sure if they are not infected, they must have a family member who is.

    To break this stigma, we need to talk about it, be pro-active about it, and if you are living with HIV, talk about your experiences. I believe that educating people about HIV will lessen the stigma and when people know about the disease, the less scared, ashamed, and embarrassed they will be and the more willing to get tested they will be.

    I recently had an experience this weekend with HIV stigma. I went to the African festival in Kitchener and there was a good diversity of different nationalities there. There was also a stand for ACCKWA, and what I noticed was that people didn’t want to go near that stand; it was as if they didn’t want to be seen standing near that booth, in case someone thought they might have HIV. So I became pro-active and took a whole bunch of condoms with information in them about HIV and started handing them out to the young men who were in the crowd. I would also tell them about being safe and reassured them that it was okay to be safe. Doing that made me feel good about the knowledge I had received from the Positive Prevention course. I believe I can use it in the near future to educate others about HIV and stigma.

    The Bracelet of Hope is another way to break the stigma, because if you wear a bracelet, it shows that you have some information about HIV and you are helping those infected and affected by HIV living in Lesotho. I’m sure if more people get the bracelet, the more informed people will be.

    There is help out there, and if more people talk about it, the less the stigma becomes. In closing, to prevent HIV and stigma, my mottos is, “STAY PRO-ACTIVE ABOUT HIV”.

  • More Good News.....somebody pinch me.

    Hearing about the recent successful microbicide clinical trial (CAPRISA 004) which, after years of not-so-great-results with other microbicides, is exciting enough, but now there is more good news on the HIV prevention front in low- and middle-income countries.

    A World Bank - sponsored program in Malawi that gives small monthly payments to girls and young women (13-22) and their families with the goal of reducing girls' risky sexual encounters. There is a description of the study on the World Bank website that details the program, the forces that seem to be at work,  and its unexpected findings.

    Here's a synopsis:

    The money (as much as $15/month) is given to young girls and their families if the girls stayed in school. A control group received no cash reward for schooling. Another group of girls received the cash without any schooling strings attached  A year later, they found that those girls who received cash rewards for attending school were more likely to still be enrolled in school than the control group who received no cash.

    Here's where it gets good!

    They also found that those girls who received the cash (after 18 months in the study) were 60% less likely to be infected with HIV (and genital herpes). This finding also held for the girls in the group that received the money (without school strings attached).

    Why?

    From the World Bank website:

    How did it happen? The key seems to be an "income effect" on the sexual behaviors of young women receiving cash payments. A year after the program started, girls who received payments not only had less sex, but when they did, they tended to choose safer partners, says Berk Özler, a senior economist at the Development Research Group who conducted the study with Sarah Baird of George Washington University and Craig McIntosh at the University of California, San Diego. In fact, the infection rate among those partners is estimated to be half of that of partners of the control group.
    The cash transfers may have led to a drop in the so-called "transactional sex." At the beginning of the study, a quarter of sexually-active participants said they started relationships because they "needed his assistance" or "wanted gifts/money." Meanwhile, among the sexually-active schoolgirls in the control group, 90% said they received an average of US$6.50 a month in gifts or cash from their partners. Such "gifts" are significant, given the country's GDP per capita was $287.5 in 2008.
    After a year, schoolgirls receiving payments from the cash-transfer program seemed to avoid older men, who tend to be wealthier and are much more likely to be HIV positive than schoolboys. The sexual partners were two years older on average than the girls, compared with three years for the control group.

    Conditional cash transfer (CCT) programs that provide regular payments to poor families if their children stay in school (or get vaccinations, or engage in other desirable behaviors) have become a favoured anti-poverty intervention in low- and middle-income countries, and a new Economist report on CCTs gives a concise explanation for the reason:

    The programmes have spread because they work. They cut poverty. They improve income distribution. And they do so cheaply.

    The Malawi study suggests that, at least in the case of behaviors related to HIV, payments may not even need to be conditional if the money reduces pressures that lead to unhealthy behaviors. (Girls' choice of sexual partners may or may not be based on HIV considerations, but they apparently prefer sexual partners closer to their own ages, who are less likely to be HIV positive.)

    Both the microbicidal gel (CAPRISA004) and cash-payment interventions have an important aspect in common: they put decisions about safer sex in women's hands. It's important that the gel, unlike condoms, can be used by women without men's consent or knowledge - study participants were instructed to use pre-filled gel applicators within 12 hours before sex and as soon as possible within 12 hours following it.
    Halting the spread of HIV will require a combination of interventions, both existing and new.

    These studies suggest that many women in low- and middle-income countries want to have sex that is safer. We need to make options for safer sex more readily available to them.

  • Health Warning: Salmonella in Green Onions in Ontario

    B.J. Caldwell, Educator

    Salmonella bacteria have been found in green onions sold in Ontario (throughout the GTA) and can cause cases of salmonellosis.

    In otherwise healthy people, salmonellosis may cause short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Long-term complications may include severe arthritis.

    However, for young people, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems, salmonella can cause severe disease and can quickly become life threatening. The infections can also be a bit more challenging to treat and may involve long courses of antibiotics.

    If you have purchased green onions in the Toronto/GTA area (North York, Vaughan, Scarborough, Mississauga) the Canadian Food Inspection Agency recommends throwing them out and not eating them.

    In general, proper food handling, washing, and cooking can help to reduce the risk of food-born illness

    1. Make sure your hands, and the surfaces you are cooking on are clean.

    2. CAREFULLY and thoroughly peel and wash fruits and vegetables

    3. Ensure meats and seafoods are cooked thoroughly.

    4. Keep foods separated while storing and preparing (keep raw meat, seafood, and poultry away from ready-to-eat foods (fruits/salads)

    5. Pay attention to Food Warnings (such as this!)

  • Being Poz on the Internet - Part One

    Below please find our very first blog post by one of our Positive Prevention participants!

    For the purposes of this blog I will go by the name of ChatJunkie. I was diagnosed poz back in April 2003. Seven and a half year later I am now on medications for the first time. Things aren't as bad as I thought they would be but I am experiencing some side effects.

    I would like to thank Megan DePutter for putting on a great 9 week program called Positive Prevention that I am about to complete. I have learned so much from the course and from others in the course. One of the goals of the course is to take what we have learned and
    get involved in some way to prevent the spread of this virus, take care of ourselves and end the stigma attached to this disease. I have volunteered to assist Megan through the next installment of the course scheduled for October 2010. Another suggestion I was given is to
    contribute to this blog and share some of my experiences. During this course I discovered I have much to share and it is important.

    I am not a writer in any professional way. I'm not much of a talker either, I'm shy and sometimes I feel what I have to say isn't all that important. Thanks to the internet, I have been able to open up more and find ways to talk to people and communicate better in real life. Because I spend a lot of time in chat rooms, I read a lot of bad information being given by people who have no training in giving truthful facts to other people. I will private message the person asking the questions and try to get them to call the AIDS Committee in their area and find out the real truth.

    So, I hope you will follow along as I post some of my experiences on this blog and that helps you in some way. I will write what I see, the way I see it. I hope it brings up some discussion so we can learn from each other. We are not alone, we all have something important
    to say and share, we can support each other. Our stories are all different but they can help someone else find answers to theirs.

    If anyone chooses to comment, you don't have to use your real name, just make up a nickname.

  • Update on Positive Prevention

    By Megan DePutter, Positive Prevention Coordinator

    I am happy to report that the spring/summer session of the Positive Prevention Train-the-Trainer nine-week course is now complete, and all of the participants did a wonderful job. I was really moved when I saw that, starting from the very first class, the participants were committed to supporting one another. Even though the group was incredibly diverse, the participants immediately found commonalities and accepted each others' differences, creating an open and non-judgmental environment in which to learn. As one participant liked to say, "we need to recognize that we're more alike than we are different."

    The fall session of Train-the-Trainer runs through October and November. It begins on Wednesday, October 6 and will run every Wednesday for three hours, for nine weeks. The program is designed to increase participants’ self-efficacy in promoting safer sex practices and provides participants with the ability to implement tools for promoting and improving the overall wellbeing of people living with HIV. Participants increase their self confidence and develop the ability to run educational workshops, use social media and conduct one-on-one education sessions.

    If you are interested in participating, please let me know, and please spread the word to others who might be interested too! It is quite a commitment, but the skills that are developed and the friendships that are made make this commitment well worth the effort. One participant said at the last class that she could see the changes in her classmates - their smiles and eyes were brighter. This is also a paid opportunity, since participants are building skills that they can then apply to potential volunteer opportunities in the community and at ACG. This opportunity is open to anyone living with HIV and AIDS.

    Also Coming Soon: Exciting Positive Prevention Workshops:

    • Creative Solutions for Budgeting
    • Community Engagement & Volunteering
    • Good Cooking on a Low Income
    • Planning for the Future

    For more information about any of these workshops or to register for the Positive Prevention Train-the-Trainer course, please contact Megan  at positiveprevention@idsguelph.org or call 519-763-2255, ext.161.

  • PHA Speaker's Corner

     By Megan DePutter, Positive Prevention Coordinator

    I'm so excited to announce a new component of the blog - a PHA Speaker's Corner. I am inviting Positive Prevention participants to write guest blog posts. Like I wrote in a recent post, I think there are tremendous opportunities to use social media in Positive Prevention, so I'd like to encourage PHAs to contribute to ACG's blog.

    What to write about? To use social media for Positive Prevention work, consider any topic that promotes the overall health and wellbeing of PHAs. Topics could include information or discussions on treatment, legal rights or related issues, nutrition or health-related information, prevention strategies, issues around racism and discrimination, coping strategies for anxiety, depression or stress, the rights of LGBTQ, and your own personal experiences living with HIV and AIDS.

    Looking forward to sharing blog posts of Positive Prevention participants soon!

  • Magnetic and marvelous!

    By Megan DePutter, Positive Prevention Coordinator

    Last week was our workshop on sero-discordant relationships, or in simpler terms, relationships where one person is HIV positive and the other is negative (also known as magnetic couples). Our speaker, Ian, was there with his partner. He spoke openly and honestly about the journey that they went through together as a couple. It was wonderful to see a couple that was so happy together, but clearly, it was their commitment to communication that has made their relationship so strong.

    When Ian and his partner first got together, there were a lot of questions and fears. But Ian pointed out that to every argument for why they shouldn’t be together, there was always a counter argument. There are always solutions to any problem, and at the heart of the solution usually lies communication.

    Many HIV negative people have a lot of misconceptions about the virus, so education is really important. This is true not only for the negative partner, but also for friends, family and loved ones of the negative partner. Some friends and family members of Ian’s partner were initially weary of the relationship, but they came to terms with it as they became better educated. Ian couldn’t take full responsibility for teaching his partner everything about HIV and AIDS, so his partner took initiative to learn everything he could. He did his own research, he attended the speakers’ bureau talks through PWA, he spoke to his family doctor, and he became connected with other related agencies.

    Relationships are never easy, regardless of your sero-status, but when HIV is thrown into the mix, there are a lot of tough questions that need to be addressed. For Ian and his partner, this was actually a blessing of sorts, because they were able to develop a strong bond and healthy communication patterns early on in the relationship. They spent several months working with a counsellor and solicited support from their minister. This has undoubtedly strengthened their relationship.

    What I was most struck by in this workshop was a simple, but profound message, which Ian delivered with eloquence and conviction: No matter who you are, you are worthy of love. People who are positive may have to do quite of a bit of "deprogramming" from all the stigma and hate that they have received.  But Ian told the group, “HIV is but a small part of who you are” and he encouraged all participants to view themselves as being capable and loveable – “people should be blessed to be with you,” he said.

    Tips for strong communication:
    - Be honest.
    - Trust the other person.
    - Check in frequently.
    - Recognize that things change in a relationship – they require ongoing communication and negotiation.
    - Listen – really listen to what the other person is saying.
    - Find a counsellor who can help you learn how to listen and communicate better.
    - Speak from the heart.

    Thank you to Ian for his inspiring message!

  • A picture's worth a thousand misinformed words

    By Megan DePutter, Positive Prevention Coordinator

    A recent headline from the Globe & Mail grabbed my attention – “New HIV infections in Canada back to 1982 levels.” The article contained some important information, but I fear that this will be missed due to the strong, visceral reaction that most Globe readers will have with a quick glance at the accompanying photograph.

    There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the photograph, but it will likely evoke strong feelings and snap judgements for many readers, who won’t bother to read or consider the information contained within the full text of the article. They may not read or remember, for example, that "inequity is the real driver of the epidemic."

    Furthermore, there was a great deal missing from this article – important information that could help contextualize these findings.For example, while 17% of new infections are among IDU, this number is not new or shocking. In 2002, this numbers was 19%. In 2005, the number fell between 14-16%. In 2008, the number climbed one percentage point to 17%. So there is no reason to put a picture of an injection drug user at the top of this article, as though this is breaking news. One might go so far as to say that they are unnecessarily stigmatizing drug users.

    The other important piece that was missing was the importance of harm reduction. The caption of the photo said, “An intravenous drug user gets ready to inject heroin into his arm in Vancouver's downtown Eastside last year.” Nowhere does the article mention the importance of harm reduction. It doesn’t mention, for example, that Insite, the safe injection site in Vancouver, has made a tremendous positive impact in the community, playing an integral role in preventing HIV infections, among countless other benefits. One might ask, where would we be without harm reduction, and what kind of an effect will anti-harm reduction policies will have an HIV infection rates?

    But most Canadians will probably not look at the photo and consider the importance of harm reduction, nor will they consider HIV transmission in a holistic way. They will likely disassociate themselves from this man in the picture, quickly concluding, “HIV is not my problem.” And that is simply not the case.

    To understand the meaning of statistics, careful attention must be paid. Sociological and epidemiological data always exists within a context – a context of many complex factors. It’s easy to take a quick gander at stats and get the wrong idea. It’s even easier to take a look at a photograph and make a snap judgement.

  • New opportunities for positive prevention in the world of social media

    By Megan DePutter, Positive Prevention Coordinator

    I had a great time at Wednesday night's Positive Prevention training class. I facilitated two presentations, one of which addressed how social media can be used effectively for Positive Prevention work. Social media, or interactive online tools that promote two way communication on the web, such as blogs, facebook, twitter and you-tube, create opportunities for dialogue on subjects that are difficult to discuss. Myths, stigma and misinformation about HIV proliferate on the web, and social media creates a space in which to challenge stigma, clarify misleading information, and guide the otherwise passive interpretation of material.

    The evaluation of the HIV stigma campaign concluded that social media can:

    Respond directly to misleading information and to explain connections to the HIV stigma-related attitudes and HIV transmission risks. Personal stories both in the blogs and the facilitator videos allowed campaign messages to come alive in a direct way with the facilitators and blog participants essentially serving as role models for sharing and addressing HIV stigma-related challenges.

    However, not every social media tool is created equal when it comes to social marketing. The evaluators found that where material was passively absorbed, on spaces such as you-tube, where staff were not actively participating in the dialogue around the messages that were being shared, there was often confusion or misinterpretation around the true meaning of the message. Spaces promoting active conversation and two-way dialogue – on blogs, for example – might provide the very best forum for discussing HIV & AIDS.

    Social media can also create opportunities for support – between PHAs, community members, community associations and those affected by HIV, within an environment that provides some anonymity. Particularly in an arena where there is so much stigma, silence, and exclusion, social media provides opportunities to celebrate the voices and the lived experiences of PHAs, recognizing the diversity within these lives but also reducing isolation by recognizing similarities, building agency and promoting community development.

    Looking for ways to get involved in Positive Prevention on the web? Here are some great sites to check out:

    OutNPoz (Facebook group)

    TheBody.com (Blogs)

    Poz.com (Blogs)

    Positivelite.com (Blogs)

    ACG uses social media too! In addition to this blog, you can also follow me on twitter, where I tweet about sexual health and Positive Prevention activities. You can also befriend us on Facebook!

  • New gene therapy for HIV shows promise

    by B.J. Caldwell, Educator

    In the June 2010 edition of Science Transitional Medicine there is a study looking at transplanting genetically altered (in a way that can provide protection from HIV) bone marrow cells that will eventually go on to become other cells in the body.

    I blogged in Feb of 2009 about the American ex-pat living in Germany whose HIV infection was functionally cured in a similar fashion (the only person known to be functionally cured). That was essentially a `proof of concept` for a gene based therapy to treat HIV. What exactly did these researchers do?

    They took 4 PHAs who also had an HIV-related lymphoma (cancer) and were undergoing a bone marrow transplant to cure the cancer. Instead of only putting the usual mix of cells into the transplant they added genetically altered CD34+ cells which have 3 separate anti-HIV "qualities". They found evidence of persistent presence up until 24 months -- meaning the treatment showed evidence of working for up to 2 years. This is a good sign showing that gene therapy is possible in treating HIV (theoretically...it's complicated) and these transplants of progenitor cells with HIV protection which then protects its future offspring.

    There were some ethical limitations which limited some really interesting avenues of research, but hopefully as more evidence mounts the ethical restrictions can be removed. From the moment we understood HIV and infection there has been talk of somehow genetically modifying our immune cells to be resistant in some way to HIV --- the best way of doing that is by doing a transplant of "progenitor cells" (sort of like stem cells) which will then pass on the protection. And, in this small and very early stage of research, they seem to have done just that. But this is likely many years away from your local doctor's office --- and may not even work in the end. But it shows great promise and provides more evidence for gene therapy to treat and possibly prevent HIV infection.

     

  • Bringing the (VERY) old back to life: human retroviruses

     

    by B.J. Caldwell, Educator

    Humans have been interacting with retroviruses (HIV is a relatively new example) since before we were human. When retroviruses replicate inside of human immune cells they permanently infect the cells with viral DNA --- they insert the blueprints for viral production into our own DNA.As long as the cell is living the viral DNA is there. As a consequence, humans (and many other species) have records of past infections with retroviruses. If these viruses infect "germ cells" (sperm/eggs) than they are passed on to future generations (us). It has been shown that 8% of our current DNA are retroviral remnants/fossils ---  they are all defective and don't create viral particles because a series of mutations has occurred to silence them. One such family of viruses are the Human Endogenous Retrovirus (HERV).

    Researchers have "fixed" some of these silencing mutations (in a test tube) and 'turned on' viral production of HERV-K (or something very close to it). And now, they are able to examine this ancient retrovirus (it circulated approximately 1 million years ago in humans).

    Here it is (from PLoS):

    Very cool. Now, before you start asking questions about safety and Pandora's box, there is very little to fear from this. If this retrovirus (or one similar to it) circulated in our ancestors it has already made peace with our collective immune system. This is the first time this has been done in humans, but researchers did bring back to life an ancient fish transposon.

    The more we learn about retroviruses and human adaptation the better, I say. But let's keep these "new/old" viruses in the test tubes, shall we? Just in case.

  • New workshop on sero-discordant relationships

    By Megan DePutter, Positive Prevention Coordinator

    On Thursday, July 22, I'm hosting a workshop on sero-discordant relationships.

    "Sero... what?" A sero-discordant relationship is when one partner is HIV positive and the other is negative.  Healthy, satisfying, fulfilling relationships between people of differing sero-statuses are absolutely possible, and this workshop will help promote this reality.  We've got an experienced, funny speaker coming in who is part of the Speaker's Bureau at the People with AIDS Foundation (PWA) to talk about his personal experience in communicating in his sero-discordant relationship of six years. 

    Please note - this workshop is not just for people in relationships! It's also for PHAs who are single and are wondering what it's like being in a sero-discordant relationship, or have worries or concerns about getting involved with someone who is negative.  I'm hoping that this workshop will provide strategies to strengthen relationships, but will also help to answer any questions people who are single might have. 

    So, if you're single, or if you're in a relationship, if you have questions, or even if you have your own strategies/advice to share, come on out!

    The partners of PHAs are absolutely welcome!

    And, as always, there will be food!

    This workshop will be held in the ACG board room from 6:00 - 7:30pm.  Please contact me for details at 519-763-2255 ext.161.

  • Nature Walk in Rockwood Conservation Area

    By Megan DePutter, Positive Prevention Coordinator

    Last March, I hosted a workshop titled HIV and Bone Health, with Lesley Hamilton, a registered dietitian from the SIS clinic in Hamilton, Ontario.  People who are living with HIV and AIDS have an increased risk of low bone density and fracture, so it's important to get enough calcium and eat well.  It's also important to get enough exercise - load-bearing exercise.  Most of us don't get enough exercise, so I thought for my next workshop I would take the group for a little outdoor adventure. Hiking and walking are popular activities, and they both count as load-bearing activities.

    We went to Rockwood Conservation Area.  So beautiful! The pictures speak for themselves:

          

    Here are a few tips for hiking:

    • Wear comfortable, supportive footwear.
    • Walk at a pace that you are comfortable with and can sustain. You might be a bit out of breath, but should be able to maintain a conversation. If not, slow down.
    • Go with friends. If you go alone, make sure you tell someone where you plan to go and when you plan on returning.
    • Bring plenty of water with you, and on hot days, a sports drink. Take sips throughout the hike.
    • Take high energy and high protein snacks to sustain you. Good examples are nuts & seeds, peanut butter & jam sandwiches, cheese and crackers, and fruit.
    • Wear long pants to protect you from poison ivy/poison oak, insect bites and prickly or thorny bushes and tall, wet grasses.
    • Take a plastic bag with you to collect all garbage.
    • Take a small camera if you like. And don’t take anything but photographs.
    • Layer your clothing so that you can remove layers if you are too hot, or add layers if you are too warm. Clothing that is breathable is best.
    • Take a lightweight backpack or fanny pack so that your hands are free.
    • Protect yourself with a mosquito repellent and sunscreen.
    • Take time to pause and notice your surroundings. If you are walking on rough terrain, you might be too focused on the ground to prevent yourself from tripping to truly appreciate the beauty of nature around you. Pause for a minute to listen to the birds and notice what’s around you.
  • Positive Prevention Training - the halfway point

     

    Tonight will mark the half-way point for the Positive Prevention peer Train-the-Trainer course. The first half of the course is very intense, as we cover a great deal of material in a short period of time. In weeks three and four, we have lectures on Positive Prevention, HIV & AIDS, STIs and Hep C. This information is very important to cover in a peer training course, even for those who have been living with HIV for years.  Why? Well, partly because the research is always delivering new findings, and it's important to keep abreast of the very latest research.  It's impossible to know everything in the medical field and inevitably there is always something new to learn.  So perhaps not surprisingly, tons of questions were raised during the last couple of workshops. So far, though, there hasn't been a question to arise that our educator couldn't answer!

    I'd like to thank all the Positive Prevention participants for working so hard in the first half of the course. The second half is more interactive and deals with some very interesting issues, such as communication, workshop facilitation, social media, stigma & discrimination, disclosure, and lots more!

  • AIDS Vigil Held: A Call on the G20 for Action

     

    The annual AIDS vigil was held yesterday at the AIDS Memorial in Toronto to honour those who have died and, this year, to serve as a call to action for the G20 countries to address the issues of HIV stigma and discrimination, homophobia, and global access for treatment. While I'm sure these issues weighed heavily on the minds of those at the vigil, I fear this issue will not be given much thought (and even less action) by those with the power to affect change so easily. Often with the stroke of a pen. Maybe it's just the pessimist in me. I will report here on any related news coming out of the G8/G20 meetings in Toronto. And Toronto waits...

    (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

  • Retrovaccinology: A new process of vaccine development

    by B.J. Caldwell, HIV Educator

    After the Thai HIV vaccine trial showed --- for the first time --- that an HIV vaccine could work (albeit modestly), vaccine researchers finally had some good news to report. That vaccine was actually made about 10 years ago. Since then technology and research/development in the field have greatly improved. Very recently, several broadly neutralizing antibodies to HIV was found circulating in the bloodstream of some people living with the virus. Why is this a good thing?

    HIV is easily the most tricky virus ever discovered and one of its many strengths is its ability to mutate and result in many strains of HIV circulating in one person. This makes it difficult to create a vaccine as there are multiple targets (at least with the standard approaches to vaccine development).  The discovery of several  broadly neutralizing antibodies to HIV means that we now have new weapons against multiple strains of HIV. If we can figure out where exactly this antibody "fits" or "attaches" to HIV....and if we can then somehow present that piece of HIV to the immune system and force the body to create these broadly neutralizing antibodies.....and create a level of protection in humans.

    How much protection is anyone's guess. We still don't fully understand the complex immune reactions that occur as a result of HIV infection. And it is difficult to figure out how to create immunity without understanding what is needed for a person to be immune. But this is definitely new and exciting. This working backwards from the discovery of an antibody produced by humans is used in a 'reverse engineering' process to create a vaccine is a brand new approach. Retrovaccinology

    And since the discovery of this broadly neutralizing antibody for HIV, there has since been a discovery of a broadly neutralizing antibody to the flu --- and a discovery of a new part of the flu virus that we can use to attack it. There is currently work underway to create a treatment for severe, overwhelming cases of influenza.

  • Positive Prevention Training has begun!

    By Megan DePutter, Positive Prevention Coordinator

    First week of the Positive Prevention peer training has begun! I've decided to blog about my experiences with the course, so that anyone who is interested can get a little bit more info about what it's really all about. I'm already really excited because we had a great first session.  We had time to introduce ourselves and we got to know each other better, before going over the objectives of the course, establishing some personal goals and defining some house rules.  In the second half of the course we did a collage exercise. In the collage we cut pictures out of magazines that helped us answer a few questions:

    What makes me happy?

    What makes me unique?

    What is a defining moment in my past?

    What are my goals?

    What scares me?

    What makes me feel grounded?

    The collage exercise is a great opportunity when working in a group; it not only provides an avenue for self reflection but also allows the group to get to know each other better beyond your typical small talk. It's also a nice activity to do on your own, to get in touch with what is really important to you. If you're feeling a little lost, this is a nice grounding activity.

    I'm really appreciative of all of the participants who were very supportive of one another and were very open and honest. I think this is going to be a great group!

     Below: my collage

  • McDonalds France supporting gay youth

    By Megan DePutter, Positive Prevention Coordinator

    Supportive commercial by McDonalds in France. Love it! I hope more companies follow suit.

  • HIV:The Musical

    Check out this satirical video about some ridiculous attitudes towards HIV.  From the video description:

    A series of video blogs posted by a young playwright, James McKenzie (played by Martin Freeman from The Office), whose artistic integrity is being challenged by the ignorance of a production company determined to hijack his script, represented by a producer played by Julian Barratt (The Mighty Boosh).

    The main aim of Patrick and Woodall's film is to expose the ridiculous attitudes towards HIV.

    And they do a great job. (There are a few swear words....and a few of those British words that I just know are cuss words, lol). In whole or in part....priceless. And can I just say...when they get to the "staging" of the musical, my mouth hit the floor...and then I couldn't stop laughing). An excellent and accessible way to bring awareness. I think the internet has saved satire for the masses.

    And, without further ado....


    HIV the Musical
    Uploaded by CtrlAltShift. - Full seasons and entire episodes online.
  • The Positive Side: Tom's Excellent Olympic Adventure

    by B.J. Caldwell, Educator

    The Spring/Summer 2010 online issue of The Positive Side has an article about our Executive Director, Tom, and his experience carrying the Olympic Torch. Check it out, here.

  • World's Oldest Sex Toy Unearthed

    by B.J. Caldwell, Educator

     

    Scientists think they have found a 30,000 year old sex toy. Also seemingly used to light fires (with flint) its formation leaves little doubt as to what it was also used for:

             

    Now, the sexual health educator in me just has to point out the following:

    - There is no flare at the base of this sex toy to prevent "losing it" inside of the body so it would get a zero safety rating from me.

    -It would be difficult to effectively clean in between uses and the cracks in the stone would allow for things to get into hard to reach places.

    - And the thought of small pieces of gravel breaking off during use could definitely damage the mucosal lining of the vagina or rectum increasing the chance of acquiring a sexually transmitted infection should they be exposed....and not that condoms were around 30,000 years ago...but if they were, the stone could damage the latex.

    -It also seems as if this sex toy was also used for purposes other than self-pleasure (lighting fires as is evidenced by the markings)....this is never a good idea. Sex toys should really be single-purpose and used exclusively for that purpose. For a variety of reasons!

     

    So, all in all I would say that this particular sex toy would get a very bad safety rating.  To learn more about the safest sex toys and how to care for them and prevent disease transmission, check out the following pdf (Sex Toy Stories: A User's Guide to HIV and STI Prevention)

  • International Day Against Homophobia

    By Megan DePutter, Positive Prevention Coordinator

    Yesterday was the International Day against Homophobia. Homophobia is a significant obstacle when it comes to HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment. The criminalization of homophobia can prevent LGBTTQQ2S* from accessing services, discussing sexual risk factors with health care providers, getting tested, and receiving support.

    Homosexuality is illegal in nearly 80 countries around the world - a shocking statistic. But homophobia is alive and well in Canada, too, even in metropolitan cities like Toronto. In the video below, Ryerson students report being spit on and having a glass bottle thrown at them for drawing awareness to homophobia in a silent protest.

    Dr. George Ayala, Executive Officer for The Global Forum on MSM & HIV, explains here why homophobia around the world affects HIV transmission:

    Even in countries where homosexuality is not specifically criminalized, experiences of homophobia can drive MSM underground, making them hard to reach with salient prevention programs and information. Homophobic comments by healthcare providers are common and particularly harmful, pushing MSM away from clinics that are often the only source of HIV prevention, testing, and treatment. These factors combined work to disconnect and disenfranchise MSM from the information, services, and support they need to protect themselves from HIV. Tragically, these same homophobic actions that hinder health-seeking behavior also exacerbate risk of HIV transmission – more and more studies indicate that MSM who experience higher levels of social discrimination are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior.

    Thank you to everyone who supported and/or participated in yesterday's events.

     

    *Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Transsexual, Queer, Questioning, 2-Spirited

  • CBC article stigmatizes young gay men

     By Megan DePutter, Positive Prevention Coordinator

    Yesterday, CBC posted an article on their website entitled, "Condom use by young gay men may be waning."  In the first sentence, the author states: "HIV-AIDS workers in Winnipeg are concerned that infection rates are rising because young gay men are having unprotected sex, and don't believe they're at risk of contracting the deadly virus."

    My response? CBC should be weary about promoting stereotypes that point the finger at young gay men for rising HIV infection rates among the larger population. Although the article presented some valid concerns, blaming “young gay men” for “having unprotected sex” limits the scope in which HIV infections must be understood. Over 30% of Canadians who have HIV are unaware that they have the virus. To fight this problem, we need to encourage people to realize that everyone is at risk for HIV – regardless of gender, sexual orientation or age. While the anecdotal evidence supplied in this article may point to some legitimate problems, CBC should proceed with caution before publishing articles that promote myths, entrench stigma, and lead other people at risk – including women and straight men – to remain untested. Blaming gay men for rising infection rates perpetuates the myth that HIV is a “gay disease” and, furthermore, ignores the active participation of gay men in fighting HIV stigma and promoting safer sex. Publicizing statistics in the field of HIV is risky business. Statistics that are read in isolation can do more harm than good, reinforcing existing myths and stigma, problems that are at the root of HIV infections.

  • A Taste for Life

     By Gary Roche, Community Support Worker 

    Just two short years ago who would of thought that a unique type of fundraising known as “A Taste For Life" would be embraced by the people and business community of Guelph! As you might be aware, the community of Guelph was awarded the honour as the most caring community in Canada and their actions in supporting this event tell me why. As the event organizer from the beginning, I have to be honest and say I had no idea what I was doing! With the encouragement of the folks in Ottawa where the event debuted, and the great support from my friend Michelle, who organizes an amazing event in London, I jumped in head first!

    My first year was overwhelming as now I had websites, media, and advertising to think of, besides getting the restaurants on board. Lucky for me, my co-worker Kim, a graphics whiz and computer master helped with the print materials and my “gift of the gab” helped as I approached restaurants for their support. The first year of “Taste” was ready to go, and with a very limited budget, and support from our local media, we were off an running! Three great restaurants tookpart. We had a great result and a lot of support of friends, family, and community partners. All of the restaurants involved came on board for another year!

    For 2010, we set higher goals: double the restaurants, recruit volunteers, and obtain corporate sponsorships, to name a few. With the success of year one behind me and my energy level in high gear, I needed to convince the Guelph community that “Helping out was never so EASY or Tasted So Good”. Well, here we are, nearly one week after the event! The results? Eight restaurants participated! Donations alone surpassed the total amount raised last year! The revenue generated by the restaurants have yet to be tallied, but it's clear that the event was a huge success. The people of Guelph came through once again! So what’s next? Just one word:

    THANKS!

  • Elton John to Ryan White: 20 years later

    by B.J. Caldwell, Educator

    Ryan White (December 1971 – April 1990)

    Elton John wrote a letter to Ryan White --20 years after Ryan's passing -- via the Washington Post. Elton John and Ryan White became friends and Elton was at his hospital bed when he died at the age of 18 (April of 1990). From the Washington Post:

    Twenty years ago this month, you died of AIDS. I would gladly give my fame and fortune if only I could have one more conversation with you, the friend who changed my life as well as the lives of millions living with HIV. Instead, I have written you this letter.
    Dear Ryan, I remember so well when we first met. A young boy with a terrible disease, you were the epitome of grace. You never blamed anyone for the illness that ravaged your body or the torment and stigma you endured.
    When students, parents and teachers in your community shunned you, threatened you and expelled you from school, you responded not with words of hate but with understanding beyond your years. You said they were simply afraid of what they did not know.
    When the media heralded you as an "innocent victim" because you had contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion, you rejected that label and stood in solidarity with thousands of HIV-positive women and men. You reminded America that all victims of AIDS are innocent.

                                                                                 Elton and Ryan's Mom by Ryan's side


  • Legal Network Welcomes Crown Prosecutor Decision

    by B.J. Caldwell, Educator and Tom Hammond, Executive Director

     

    The Candian HIV/AIDS Legal Network has released a press release welcoming the recent announcement that the Crown Prosecution in Hamilton has decided not to charge Justus Zela with aggravated sexual assault. Zela was charged in February 2009 after an ex-partner alleged they had oral sex without disclosing that he had HIV. The ex-partner has not tested HIV positive.

    According to the claim, oral sex had taken place a few times --- and mostly with Mr. Zela performing the act. Oral sex is a low risk activity for HIV transmission --- and that risk is for the performer of the act, not the receiver. There has never been a documented case of a person living with HIV transmitting their infection by performing oral sex on someone. The low risk for HIV acquisition is for the performer. To be clear, HIV infections have transmitted via oral sex, but compared to unprotected vaginal or anal sex, or sharing needles, the risk in the case of oral sex is quite low.

    The Supreme Court decided in 1998 (R.v.Currier) that a person living with HIV must disclose their status to sexual and drug using partners IF they put their partners at "significant risk of serious bodily harm". Unfortunately, they declined to define their terms clearly. While 'serious bodily harm' obviously refers to HIV infection, 'significant risk' was never defined. We know that it most likely refers to high risk activities only (unprotected anal/vaginal sex, sharing needles) and not low risk activities (oral sex), but since they weren't clear in their ruling, it is up to Crown Prosecutors to decide whether to charge someone (and this leaves it open for abuse). And, HIV doesn't actually have to transmit to another person for the criminal code to be usedtwork --- attempted aggravated sexual assault carries significant jail time.

    The press release also argues the need for guidelines for Crown Prosecutors in these situations so that the law is applied equally.

    From the press release:

    "We’re pleased with the Crown’s announcement this morning, but it must go further.  This case should never have proceeded in the first place, and the charges should be withdrawn entirely,” said Richard Elliott, Executive Director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.  “There was never any solid basis for significant risk of transmission.  It’s a misguided overreaction to lay and pursue some of the most serious charges in the Criminal Code when no harm has occurred and the risk of HIV transmission was miniscule at most.”

    ...

    “This case is yet another example of why the Attorney General of the province should work with community groups to develop some clear guidelines for prosecutors and police about when criminal charges are, and are not, warranted,” said Elliott.  “Guidelines should be informed by the evidence about actual risks of transmission.  They should also consider the damage that misusing the criminal law does to individual lives, and how it undermines public health, including HIV prevention efforts, through contributing to misinformation, fear and stigma.”

    ...

    Over the past decade, there has been an alarming increase in both the frequency and severity of charges against individuals with HIV for not disclosing their status to a sexual partner.  Prosecutors have pursued serious assault charges even in circumstances where the risk of HIV transmission, already statistically small in any single sexual encounter, has been lowered further by the responsible practise of safer sex.  In light of this “criminalization creep,” it is all the more urgent to address legitimate questions about where, as a matter of public policy, we should draw the lines.

  • National Volunteer Week

    By Megan DePutter, Positive Prevention Coordinator

     

     It's Day Three of National Volunteer Week!

    I'd like to say a big "thank you" to all of our volunteers, and give special thanks to all of the volunteers who participated in my Positive Prevention training. Your commitment and dedication is truly inspiring.

    One of the things that jumped out at me while running the training was how, no matter what kind of backgrounds or life-experiences we have, we all have something special to share. We can support each other in unique ways because of the different things that we have been through.  We all have a unique voice, and that voice can help to contribute to a beautiful tapestry of peer support.

    Thank you, volunteers!

    Enjoy this great video by Volunteer Canada!

     

     

  • Toronto Star: Feds aim to revoke children's AIDS charity after audit

    by B.J. Caldwell, Educator

    The Toronto Star had a report in the paper (Mar. 16, 2010) about Pediatric AIDS Canada (PAC) and the federal government's aim to revoke their charitable status. There have been numerous complaints by other HIV- and AIDS- related charities concerning PAC and their aggressive and misleading telemarketing strategies (including two from the Ontario AIDS Network--- one in 1995 and one in 2005).

    The Ontario AIDS Network and the Canadian AIDS Society have been, and continue to, keep an eye on the story. They have warned ASOs and the public to call Phone Busters if they get very aggressive telemarketing calls from HIV- and AIDS- related charities. We also encourage you to find out ---before donating to anyone--- the amount of your donation that goes to overhead, as opposed to the amount that goes directly to programs.

    Just to let you all know, we here at the AIDS Committee of Guelph, do not rely on aggressive fundraising tactics to secure community support, and we are a member in good standing with the Ontario AIDS Network and the Canadian AIDS Society. And, we are in no way affiliated with Pediatric AIDS Canada. If you would like to explore ways to donate to the AIDS Committee of Guelph....check out the "How to Help" link on the menu (to your left!).

    And, how about a HUGE thumbs down for fake or unethical "charities" taking advantage of people who want to help.

  • Reuters: U.S. insurer targetted PHAs to drop coverage

    Reuters:

    Previously undisclosed records from [the] case reveal that Fortis had a company policy of targeting policyholders with HIV. A computer program and algorithm targeted every policyholder recently diagnosed with HIV for an automatic fraud investigation, as the company searched for any pretext to revoke their policy. As was the case [here], their insurance policies often were canceled on erroneous information, the flimsiest of evidence, or for no good reason at all, according to the court documents and interviews with state and federal investigators.

    Disgusting. Every time I hear about the issues south of the border regarding healthcare issues, I cringe. While our system isn't perfect, it is better on many fronts. Anyone hear of anything similar to this in Canada?

  • Xtra article: Beyond Criminalization

     

    There is an excellent article on the issue of criminalization (from last October's Xtra.ca) that really helps to provide a good analysis of the issue and asks some great questions. I encourage you to read it. It's a smart, well-written and researched 5,000 word essay from queer Canadian writer/advocate Shawn Syms, whose previous writing on criminalisation and the HIV-positive/negative divide was equally insightful and thought-provoking.

  • Pamphlet: 10 Reasons Why Criminilization of Exposure or Transmission of HIV harms women

    A  pamphlet released to coincide with this past World AIDS Dayhighlights why criminalization is bad for women and girls, despite policymakers believing they are enacting new HIV-specific laws in order to protect them.

    In addition to criminalizing the transmission of HIV, these laws sometimes call for mandatory HIV testing of pregnant women, as well as for non-consensual partner disclosure by healthcare providers; further exacerbating the impact of such legislation on women. The call to apply criminal law to HIVexposure and transmission is often driven by a well-intentioned wish to protect women, and to respond to serious concerns about the ongoing rapid spread of HIV in many countries, coupled with the perceived failure of existing HIV prevention efforts. While these concerns are legitimate and must be urgentlyaddressed, closer analysis reveals that criminalization does not prevent new HIV transmissions or reduce women’s vulnerabilities to HIV. In fact, criminalization harms women, rather than assists them, while negatively impacting on both public health needs and human rights protections. Applying criminal law to HIV exposure is likely to heighten the risk of  transmission does nothing to violence and abuse women face; address the epidemic of gender-strengthen prevailing gendered based violence or the deep economic, inequalities in healthcare and family, social, and political inequalities that settings; further promote fear and are at the root of women’s and girls’stigma; increase women’s risks and disproportionate vulnerability to HIV.

    It then details the ten reasons (for more detail about each of the reasons, download the pdf below):

    1.Women will be deterred from accessing HIV prevention, treatment, and care services, including HIV testing

    2. Women are more likely to be blamed for HIV transmission

    3. Women will be at greater risk of HIV-related violence and abuse

    4. Criminalization of HIV exposure or transmission does not protect women from coercion or violence

    5. Women’s rights to make informed sexual and reproductive choices will be further compromised

    6. Women are more likely to be prosecuted

    7. Some women might be prosecuted for mother-to-child transmission

    8. Women will be more vulnerable to HIV transmission

    9. The most ‘vulnerable and marginalized’ women will be most affected

    10. Human rights responses to HIV are most effective.

    10 Reasons Why Criminalization of HIV Exposure or Transmission Harms Women (pdf download) was drafted by Dr. Johanna Kehler of the AIDS Legal Network, Michaela Clayton of the AIDS & Rights Alliance for Southern Africa, and Tyler Crone of the ATHENA Network.

  • The Situation for PHAs in Haiti: Charles King's Blog

    Charles King has a blog up and running from Haiti where he writes about the situation in Haiti for PHAs. And from a quick read.....it is still not good at all. Check out his blog if you want to keep informed about PHAs in Haiti and how you can help!formed about PHAs in Haiti and how you can help!

    Charles King

    Charles King is the president and CEO of Housing Works which has been providing services since1990 to homeless men, women, and childrenliving with HIV and AIDS in New York City and beyond.

  • Positive Spin Blog --- Wingman: My Doctor and Me, a Medical Partnership

     

    An excellent posting about the relationship between the blogger and his HIV doctor. He discusses his realization that his doctor is more like his 'wingman' (in the Air Force sense, not in the helping-a-friend-get-lucky meaning!). Definitely worth a read!

  • Uzbekistan jails AIDS advocate over work

    According to AFP:

    An AIDS activist in Uzbekistan has been sentenced to seven years in prison for writing a brochure that authorities said would promote antisocial behaviour, activists said Thursday.

    Maxim Popov was convicted last September, his colleagues told AFP, but his case only came to light this week after US-based watchdog Human Rights Watch asked local activists to investigate his situation.

    "Maxim Popov was convicted for writing a brochure which was funded by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS and UNICEF as an effort by international donor organisations to raise awareness about the disease in the country," said an AIDS activist who worked with Popov.

    Prosecutors argued that the brochure, which called for the use of condoms during sex and sterile needles when injecting drugs, was promoting immoral behaviour, the activist said.

  • 60 Cdn PHA's Denied Entry to U.S.

    Crossposted to Qlinks.ca Blog:

    Edge Magazine in Boston was the first to break the story of 60 Canadians living with HIV who were planning to attend the North American Housing and HIV/AIDS Research Summit in Washington D.C. who were denied entry into the U.S. The U.S. Congress has repealed the law that bans HIV positive travelers to the U.S. however, the repeal has not been translated into policy implemented by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The article can be found here.

    For more information about the travel ban to the U.S. check out this past week's Xtra for an article (that went to print before the 60 people were barred from entry) 

    The U.S. remains one of a few countries that still bar any HIV+ people from entering the country. Other countries in line with the U.S. policy include: Armenia, Brunei, China (which has since been removed), Iraq, Quatar, South Korea, Libya, Moldava, Oman, The Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia & Sudan.

    Former US President GW Bush passed legislation to change this ban, but the government agency responsible has not yet changed its policies.

  • 25 years later: A Call to Action from the scientists who first identified HIV

     

    Dr. Luc Montagnier (L) (formerly of the Pasteur Institute, France) and Dr. Robert C. Gallo (R) (formerly of the National Cancer Institute, U.S) just published a joint article on huffingtonpost.com as a call to action. Dr. Gallo and his team created and pioneered the field of retrovirology (HIV is a retrovirus) and along with the Dr. Montagnier and his team at the Pasteur Institute share the honour of having discovered the viral cause of AIDS : HIV.

    An excerpt of the call to action (full article can be found here):

    Today we call on international organizations and governments to immediately implement six objectives to end the HIV/AIDS pandemic. We made this announcement today and were joined by Jeff Crowley, Director, White House Office of National AIDS Policy.

    Globally, many are acting as though HIV and AIDS are no longer the threat they were 25 years ago when the HIV virus was first discovered. However, in fact they remain an unparalleled global health threat, and despite progress in treatment, could worsen unless determined action is taken. We believe these recommendations are key to reducing and ultimately minimizing the devastation of HIV and AIDS.

    Our Global Call to Action is as follows:

    1. Invest in medical infrastructure and educational outreach programs in U.S. communities most affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic

    2. Promote global development of HIV/AIDS treatment and control programs along with regional research institutions in developing countries

    3. Cultivate and inspire young scientists in the field of human virology

    4. Enhance HIV/AIDS education and prevention, especially in countries with high infection rates

    5. Support cutting-edge vaccine research and the development of new effective therapies

    6. Continue the focus on preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission

    Here we are, 25 years after discovering the cause of AIDS and we still have a major, public health HIV/AIDS crisis. Never in the history of mankind have we so quickly identified the cause of an epidemic, developed a test for it and begun to develop drug therapy, changing a once-deadly virus to a lifelong condition with proper medical intervention. It is important for governments and organizations from around the world to come together and combat this collective HIV/AIDS emergency.


  • Scientists reawaken an ancient defense dormant in our genes for 7 million years: Very cool.

    UPDATE: The Blog "Not Exactly Rocket Science" has moved to a new home. The link has been corrected.

    From Ed Yong of Not Exactly Rocket Science (edited for length):

    Nitya Venkataraman from the Univeristy of Central Florida has managed to reawaken a guardian gene that has been lying dormant in our genomes for 7 million years --- retrocyclins. They are known to protect monkeys from HIV-like viruses. The hope is that by rousing these genes from their slumber in humans, they could do the same for us.

    Retrocyclins are the only circular proteins in our bodies and belong to a group of proteins called defensins, which as they suggest defend against bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other foreign invaders. They have only been found in the white blood cells of macaques, baboons, and orangutans. They have proven to be remarkably good at protecting cells from HIV infections....but in humans the genes don't work anymore. Somewhere in the course of evolution these genes developed a mutation that resulted in a useless retrocyclin.

    Here's whats promising:

    Despite this lone crippling mutation, the genes are intact (in all of us) and 90% identical to the mokey versions (which have been studied). Now, Venkatarman's group has reawakened them. She found two ways to fix the fault in human white blood cells --- one involving gene transfer and the other using a simple antibiotic. Either way she restored the cell's ability to manufacture the protective proteins. AND, the resurrected human proteins did their job well --- they stopped HIV from infecting a variety of human immune cells (up to 80% of the cells) and reduced levels of virus in cells already infected.

    Gene transfer is expensive and an unlikely help in rolling out any future cures, treatments or preventions tools in resource-poor countries. But Venkatarman has also discovered something very cool --- the effect of a certain type of antibiotics, called aminoglycosides.

    In bacteria, these drugs work by blocking them from creating proteins. But in the more complex cells of animals, they do something different - they react with the protein-making machinery of our cells so that they make slightly more mistakes than usual. Normally, that would be a bad thing but for retrocyclins, it's an unexpected boon. It means that the machinery barrels straight through the mutation that causes retrocyclins to be built half-finished. It doesn't stop prematurely, and produces a full-length protein.

    Venkataraman found that one of these drugs, tobramycin, was especially good at restoring retrocyclins, and did so in both white blood cells and actual vaginal tissue. The drug slashed the rate of HIV infection by about 50% - a respectable figure but clearly a smaller one compared to the sizeable benefits bestowed by the gene transfer method. On the plus side, the technique didn't seem to harm the cells in any way.

    These results are promising ones indeed, and Venkataraman thinks that with more work, aminoglycoside-based creams [a form of microbicide] could be used to prevent HIV infections in the real world.

    HIV kills by infecting the very cells that are meant to defend us from infections and destroying them. But retrocyclins are something it hasn't encountered before. Humans lost the ability to create these guardians millions of years ago and by reawakening them, we could have a new but ancient weapon against this sneakiest of foes.

     

     

     

  • Prison Tattoo Program Reduced HIV rates, cost effective: Corrections Services Canada Report

    A pilot program that was cut by Stephen Harper's conservative government was found to reduce the rate of HIV, increase awareness of blood-borne infections (HIV, HepC, HepB), increased employment for prisoners, and resulted in the safer disposal of used sharps. Of course, in the light of this new report from Corrections Service Canada (not known for their embrace of harm reduction programs) the Conservative government has seen the error in its ways, right? Nope.  The Sudbury Star online has an article on the issue which includes this repsonse from the Conservatives:

     A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan said the federal government has no plan to reverse its decision and resurrect the program.

     It is often not on radar of many Canadians, but the rights (including human rights) of those incarcerated in Canadian prisons are not always respected. While some rights of those encacerated are restricted as part of their punishment, a prison sentence does not restrict or remove all of their rights, nor should it. Their right to the same level of healthcare is one that is not restricted. Yet, this is still a major issue voiced by those living with HIV or Hep C while incarcerated, as well as prisoners with drug addiciton seeking treatment while incacerated. There are many other examples.

    Prisoners currently do not have access to clean syringes to prevent the spread of HIV and Hep C Despite Needle Exchange Program (NEPs) being available in many other countries. The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, a world-renowned organization that consults with governments and groups around the world, has the following on their website:

    In many countries, including Canada, rates of HIV and hepatitis C (HCV) infection among prisoners are significantly higher than those found in the general population.

    Despite the evidence and informed opinion supporting harm reduction measures in prisons to reduce the spread of HIV and HCV in prisons, authorities in most jurisdictions have failed to take decisive action. The failure to provide access to essential prevention, care and treatment is a violation of prisoners' right to health as established by international law.

    Some countries have implemented programs — peer education, condom distribution, opioid substitution therapy and needle exchange, for example — to reduce behaviours with a high risk of transmitting HIV or HCV. Similar programs are used in the community at large to prevent the spread of these viruses.

    But in other countries, the lack of prison needle exchange programs, unprotected sexual intercourse and sexual violence are all factors driving the worsening HIV epidemic in prisons. Higher infection rates ultimately result in greater health-care costs. And, since most prisoners are eventually released back into the community, the public health implications of imprisoning non-violent people who use drugs cannot and should not be ignored.

    Both in Canada and internationally, we promote the human rights of prisoners to have access to HIV prevention, treatment and support services equivalent to those available to in the community.

    Another group working locally to provide advocacy, education, and support for those living with HIV and Hep C in prison is PASAN. Their website should be checked out to learn more about the issue, as should Prisoner Justice in Canada.

    It is important to remember that human rights abuses occur around the world, and at home here in Canada. When we view people has 'other', as 'less than', it is easy to not think about the rights of others, or to rationalize the abuse as just part of the punishment. This is not acceptable. If we truly are concerned about public health and basic human rights, we absolutely must be concerned with how people are treated while incacerated, and who exactly we are incacerating.



  • Cuba: A New Anti-homophobia campaign

     

    Mariela Castro, the daughter of Cuban Presiden Raúl Castro, launched a wide-reaching antihomophobia campaign targetting "agents of change". From Huffington Post:

    The 2009 campaign for respect for freedom of sexual orientation, under the slogan "Diversity is Natural", will try to contribute to "the education of society in general, with an emphasis on university students, about respect for people's free and responsible sexual orientation and gender identity, as an exercise in equity and social justice." In an interview with IPS, the head of CENESEX  [The National Centre for Sex Education] and daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro said the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) will be celebrated in Havana this year on May 16 and will be devoted to young people, and also to families, so that "parents may better understand" their homosexual or transsexual children.

    Another intereseting section of the article:

    She added that a date has still not been set for the Cuban parliament to debate a draft law to reform the Family Code, in force since 1975. The reform bill includes proposals on gender identity and the rights of sexual minorities.

    "The work that we are doing will help to ease the prejudices behind these processes," she said.

    Castro also said that the Catholic Church had communicated its negative views on the proposed reforms to the authorities. "There have been conversations. They were concerned about homosexual marriage, and were told that this is not being proposed," nor the adoption of children by homosexual couples, she said.

    The reform bill would allow legal recognition of same-sex unions, and grant them the same rights as civil unions between heterosexual couples.

    As for sex change operations for transsexual persons, approved in June 2008 by a Health Ministry resolution, which is another matter of concern to the Catholic Church and other religious denominations, Castro indicated that the decision remains in force.

    Resolution 126 signed by Health Minister José Ramón Balaguer established a facility for comprehensive health care for transsexual persons as the only institution in the country authorised to carry out total or partial sex change operations.

  • Exciting Breakthrough in HIV Research

    Researchers have for the first time captured on video the transfer of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) from infected to uninfected T cells through structures called virological synapses. The breakthrough study could lead to new methods to block the transmission of HIV, and shows that cell-to-cell may be the predominant mode of HIV transmission in the body. Prior studies have mostly focused on free roaming viruses in the body.

     

  • Ontario AIDS Network's Response to Provincial Budget

    The provincial budget was announced yesterday. Here are some key measures as they relate to AIDS Service Organizations and to some of the people they serve.

    Here is the Ontario AIDS Networks official response to the budget.

    For more complete budget coverage, check out the Globe and Mail's Budget 2009 page.

  • Circumcision Guards Against STIs

    A new study by the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in the US has shown that circumcision may reduce the chance of certain infections later in life.

    In a study of more than 5,000 uncircumcised adult Ugandan males, researchers found that after circumcision, the rates of infection with the virus that causes herpes went down by 28 percent, and the transmission of human papillomavirus (HPV) -- the virus that can cause cervical cancer and genital warts -- was reduced by 35 percent.

    In a previous study, the same researchers found that circumcision reduced infection with the HIV virus by 60 percent. Two other research groups -- one working in Kenya and the other in South Africa -- have also had similar findings. [The 60% reduction figure is valid in countries with a predominantly heterosexual epidemic that is generalized/endemic. In countries with much smaller numbers of people living with HIV, it is impossible to assess the effectiveness--Ed]

    It looks like the issue of circumcision is going to continue to surface for the foreseable future.

     

  • 2009 National (US)Magazine Awards Finalists Include LGBT Articles

    Despite the preponderance of Obama and Iraq articles leading this year's finalists for the National Magazine Awards, a few noteworthy lgbt stories are nominated, most of which will be familiar to longtime Thebes readers.

    For Feature Writing: from the Atlantic, Hannah Rosin's "A Boy's Life," a nuanced look at the complexities of raising young trans children and the enormous decision of whether or not to give them puberty-inhibiting drugs. This feature piece is a must read for anyone wanting to learn more about trans youth. I REALLY hope this piece wins!

    For Profile Writing: from GQ, Andrew Corsello's "Let God Love Gene Robison," about modern Christianity's first openly gay bishop.

    For Columns and Commentary: from The New Yorker, three pieces by Hendrik Hertzberg including his editorial on the Prop 8 victory.

    For Fiction: from The New Yorker, Annie Proulx's story, Them Old Cowboy Songs, set in the Wyoming Territory of 1885. Primarily twin narratives about a teenage straight couple who are separated by work, the story features a closeted cowpuncher and his memorable advice to a newly hired young husband about the aggressively gay foreman. [Not available online, but this story and her Tits-Up in a Ditch are great enough to warrant buying her latest, strangely uneven collection, Fine Just the Way It Is.]

    Winners will be announced in a ceremony at Jazz at Lincoln Center (New York) on April 30.

  • 21st Annual Lamda Literary Award Finalists


    Lambda

    Nominations for the most prominent prizes in LGBT books were announced last night and are comprised of 105 finalists from 72 publishers. The awards ceremony is in New York on May 28th.

    And the nominees are:

    GAY FICTION

        * Stray Dog Winter, David Francis, Macadam/Cage Publishing
        * The Torturer's Wife, Thomas Glave, City Light Publishers
        * We Disappear, Scott Heim, HarperCollins
        * The Conversion, Joseph Olshan, St. Martin’s Press
        * The Boomerang Kid, Jay Quinn, Alyson

    LESBIAN FICTION

        * The Slow Fix, Ivan E. Coyole, Arsenal Pulp Press
        * The Sealed Letter, Emma Donoghue, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
        * Map of Ireland, Stephanie Grant, Scribner
        * All the Pretty Girls, Chandra Mayor, Conundrum Press
        * Breaking Spirit Bridge, Ruth Perkinson, Spinsters Ink

    LGBT NONFICTION

        * Me as Her Again, Nancy Agabian, Aunt Lute Books
        * If I Could Write This in Fire, Michelle Cliff, Univ of Minnesota Press
        * Dishonorable Passions: Sodomy Laws in America 1861-2003, William N. Eskridge Jr, Penguin Group
        * Beyond (Straight & Gay) Marriage, Nancy Polikoff, Beacon Press
        * Loving The Difficult, Jane Rule, Hedgerow Press
        * Drifting Toward Love, Kai Wright, Beacon Press

    GAY DEBUT FICTION

        * Shuck, Daniel Allen Cox, Arsenal Pulp Press
        * Light Fell, Evan Fallenberg, Soho Press
        * The Screwed-Up Life of Charlie The Second, Drew Ferguson, Kensington
        * The Steve Machine, Mike Hoolboom, Coach House Books
        * Finlater, Shawn Ruff, Quote Editions

    GAY POETRY

        * Want, Rick Barot, Sarabande Press
        * Please, Jericho Brown, New Issues
        * Fire to Fire, Mark Doty, HarperCollins
        * Now You're the Enemy, James Allen Hall, Univ. of Arkansas Press
        * My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer, Jack Spicer, edited by Peter Gizzi & Kevin Killian, Wesleyan University Press

    BISEXUAL

        * Open, Jenny Block, Seal Press
        * Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women's Love & Desire,
          Lisa M. Diamond, Harvard University Press
        * The Bishop's Daughter, Honor Moore, W.W. Norton
        * Kinsey Zero Through Sixty: Bisexual Perspectives on Kinsey, Ron Jackson Suresha, Taylor & Francis Journals
        * Rimbaud, Edmund White, Atlas & Company

    TRANSGENDER

        * 10,000 Dresses, Marcus Ewert & Rex Ray, Seven Stories Press
        * Intersex (For Lack of a Better Word), Thea Hillman, Manic D Press
        * Two Truths and a Lie, Scott Schofield, Homofactus Press
        * Boy with Flowers, Ely Shipley, Barrow Street Press
        * Transgender History, Susan Stryker, Seal Press

    LGBT ANTHOLOGIES

        * A Casulty of War: Gay Short Fiction, Peter Burton, Arcadia Books
        * Live Through This, edited by Sabrina Chapadjiev, Seven Stories Press
        * Love, West Hollywood, edited by Chris Freeman and James J. Berg, Alyson
        * Our Caribbean, edited by Thomas Glave, Duke University Press
        * Big Trips: More Good Gay Travel Writing, edited by Raphael Kadushin, University of Wisconsin Press

    LGBT CHILDRENS/YOUNG ADULT

        * Hit the Road, Manny: A Manny Files Novel, Christian Burch, Simon and Schuster
        * Out of the Pocket, Bill Konigsberg, Dutton
        * How They Met & Other Stories, David Levithan, Knopf Children's Books
        * Mousetraps, Pat Schmetz, Carolrhoda Books
        * What They Always Tell Us, Martin Wilson, Random House Children's Books
        * Love & Lies: Marisol's Story, Ellen Wittlinger, Simon and Schuster

    LGBT DRAMA

        * Phi Alpha Gamma, Dan Bernitt, Sawyer House
        * Radical Acts: Collected Political Plays, Martin Duberman, The New Press
        * The Second Coming of Joan of Arc, Carolyn Gage, Outskirts Press
        * Two Truths and a Lie, Scott Schofield, Homofactus Press
        * Vile Affections, Vanda, Original Works Publishing

    LGBT SCI-FI/FANTASY/HORROR

        * The Archer's Heart, Astrid Amara, Blind Eye Books
        * The Magician and the Fool, Barth Anderson, Bantam Del Rey
        * Wilde Stories 2008, Steve Berman, Lethe Press
        * Sea, Swallow Me and Other Stories, Craig Gidney, Lethe Press
        * Turnskin, Nicole Kimberling, Blind Eye Books

    LGBT STUDIES

        * Tomboys: A Literary & Cultural History, Michelle Ann Abate, Temple University Press
        * The Dividends of Dissent: How Conflict and Culture Work in Lesbian and Gay Marches on Washington, Amin Ghaziani, The University of Chicago Press
        * Criminal Intimacy: Prison and the Uneven History of Modern American Sexuality, Regina Kunzel, The University of Chicago Press
        * Political Manhood: Red Bloods, Mollycoddles, & & the Politics of Progressive Reform, Kevin P. Murphy, Columbia University Press
        * Screening Sex, Linda Williams, Duke University Press

    LESBIAN DEBUT FICTION

        * Red Audrey & the Roping, Jill Malone, Bywater Books
        * Passing for Black, Linda Villarosa, Kensington
        * Closer to Fine, Meri Weiss, Kensington
        * Love Does Not Make Me Gentle or Kind, Chavisa Woods, Fly by Night Press
        * The Bruise, Magdalena Zurawski, Fiction Collective Two/University of Alabama Press

    LESBIAN EROTICA

        * Lipstick on Her Collar, Sacchi Green and Rakelle Valencia, Pretty Things Press
        * Periphery: Erotic Lesbian Futures, Lynne Jamneck, Lethe Press
        * In Deep Waters 2: Cruising the Strip, Radclyffe and Karen Kallmaker, Bold Strokes Books

    LESBIAN MEMOIR/BIOGRAPHY

        * Wrestling with the Angel of Democracy, Susan Griffin,
          Shambhala Publications
        * Intersex (For Lack of a Better Word), Thea Hillman, Manic D Press
        * Sex Variant Woman, Joanne Passet, Da Capo
        * Sex Talks to Girls: A Memoir, Maureen Seaton, University of Arkansas Press
        * Case of a Lifetime, Abbe Smith, Palgrave Macmillan

    LESBIAN MYSTERY

        * Blind Faith, Diane and Jacob Anderson-Minshall, Bold Strokes Books
        * Whacked, Josie Gordon, Bella Books
        * Sweet Poison, Ellen Hart, St. Martin's Press
        * Losers Weepers, Jessica Thomas, Bella Books
        * Calling the Dead, Ali Vali, Bold Strokes Books

    LESBIAN POETRY

        * Interpretive Work, Elizabeth Bradfield, Arktoi / Red Hen Press
        * Kissing Dead Girls, Daphne Gottlieb, Soft Skull Press
        * love belongs to those who do the feeling, Judy Grahn, Red Hen Press
        * Same Life, Maureen N. McLane, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
        * Two Minutes of Light, Nancy K. Pearson, Perugia Press

    LESBIAN ROMANCE

        * Finding Home, Georgia Beers, Bold Stroked Books
        * A Pirate's Heart, Catherine Friend, Bold Strokes Books
        * The Kiss That Counted, Karin Kallmaker, Bella Books
        * Hotel Liaison, JLee Meyer, Bold Strokes Books
        * The Lonely Hearts Club, Radclyffe, Bold Strokes Books

    GAY EROTICA

        * Best Gay Erotica 2009, Richard Labonte & James Lear, Cleis Press
        * The Secret Tunnel, James Lear, Cleis Press
        * Hard Working Men, William Maltese, Victor J. Banis, Jardonn Smith, & J.P. Bowie, MLR Press

    GAY MEMOIR/BIOGRAPHY

        * Bringing Him Home, Aaron Cooper, Late August Press
        * Swish, Joel Derfner, Broadway Books
        * Assisted Loving, Bob Morris, HarperCollins
        * Edward Carpenter:  A Life of Liberty and Love, Sheila Rowbotham, Verso Books
        * King of Shadows, Aaron Shurin, City Lights Publishers

    GAY MYSTERY

        * The Fisher Boy, Stephen Anable, Poisoned Pen Press
        * Sundowner Ubuntu, Anthony Bidulka, Insomniac Press
        * Mahu Fire, Neil Plakcy, Alyson Books
        * First You Fall, Scott Sherman, Alyson Books
        * Spider Season, John Morgan Wilson, St. Martin's Press

    GAY ROMANCE

        * Mexican Heat, Laura Baumbach & Josh Lanyon, MLR Press
        * Got 'til it's Gone, Larry Duplechan, Arsenal Pulp Press
        * The Protector, N.L. Gassert, Seventh Window Publications

  • Saliva as Lubricant: Spreading Disease?

     

     

     

    A recent study from the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of California entitled: 'Use of saliva as a lubricant in anal sexual practices among homosexual men':

    OBJECTIVES:

    Compared with other sexually active adults, men who have sex with men (MSM) are more frequently infected with several pathogens including cytomegalovirus, hepatitis B virus, and Kaposi sarcoma-associated herpesvirus. Because one common element between these organisms is their presence in saliva, we evaluated saliva exposure among MSM in a heretofore relatively unrecognized route-via use of saliva as a lubricant in anal sex.

    METHODS:

    MSM in a San Francisco population-based cohort were interviewed regarding use of saliva by the insertive partner as a lubricant in various anal sexual practices.

    RESULTS:

    Among 283 MSM, 87% used saliva as a lubricant in insertive or receptive penile-anal intercourse or fingering/fisting at some point during their lifetime; 31%-47% did so, depending upon the act, in the prior 6 months. Saliva use as a lubricant was more common among younger men and among HIV-infected men when with HIV-infected partners. Even among MSM following safe sex guidelines by avoiding unprotected penile-anal intercourse, 26% had anal exposure to saliva via use as a lubricant.

    CONCLUSIONS:

    Among MSM, use of saliva as a lubricant is a common, but not ubiquitous, practice in anal sex. The findings provide the rationale for formal investigation of whether saliva use in this way contributes to transmission of saliva-borne pathogens in MSM.

     

    ** It is always better to use water-based lubricants with condoms than to use saliva. It is possible that saliva, when used as a lubricant, is contributing to the spread of some saliva-borne pathogens. So, the next time you get condoms, GET LUBE, TOO!!!!

  • Rectal Chlamydia -- A Hidden Reservoir?

    Many cases of chalmydia, when located in the rectum, have no symptoms. Because there are no symptoms, many people are infected and left untreated -- either because they have not presented for testing, or they present for testing but do not disclose that they engage in anal sex and therefore aren't tested for STIs in the rectum. This can be problematic.

    A recent study was done to determine the rates of rectal chlamydia among gay men in the UK. They also looked at the proportion of infections that would have been missed without routine screening (ie. no symptoms, therefore no testing and treatment).

    A total of 3076 men were screened. They found that 8.2% of the men had infection with Chlamydia (all serovars) in the rectum and 5.4% had infection in the urethra (pee tube). The majority of rectal infections (69.2%) were asymptomatic and would have been missed if routine screening had not been undertaken. 36 cases of LGV (lymphogranuloma venereum) were identitified.

    The data show a high rate of rectal chlamydia infection, the majority of which were asymptomatic. As such, routine screening for rectal chlamydia in men at risk is important as this may represent an important 'reservoir' for the onward transmission of chlamydia (and LGV).

    This is another reason why everyone should be screened routinely for STIs and not just after a possible exposure. You cannot wait for symptoms, to get a test.

    Need to get tested?

  • A Horrifying Story Out of Spain (warning: graphic details)

    A truly horrific story out of Spain. You need to read the article, but in a nutshell, a gay couple invited a guy home from a gay bar, and in the middle of the night the guy stabs them 57 times, puts a blanket over one guy's head, ties a cable around it, and tethers the man's now dead head to a bed post. And guess what? The jury acquitted him!

    First, more on what this deranged individual did:

    There are no independent witnesses, but police and forensic experts say that the murder rampage began around 4:00am. Apparently, Pérez Triviñio was stabbed first but did not die. Piñeiro then stabbed Anderson Luciano twice while in the couples' room, and 22 more times as he followed his victim out of the room, into a corridor and out to the living room - where he died.

    Pérez Triviñio, in the meantime, had locked himself in the room and records show that he was able to call local authorities. The call was cut short when Piñeiro was able to break back into the room and finish him off by stabbing him 35 more times.

    In the living room, he tied Anderson Luciano's hands and put a blanket over his body; in the bedroom, he placed a blanket over Pérez Triviñio's head, tied a cable around it, and tethered it to a bed post. He then emptied closets and threw clothes all over the apartment, poured alcohol and set everything on fire.
    Why did the jury let him go? Because he explained to them that in the middle of the night "the gays" solicited him for sex and he was totally freaked out. Uh huh. He was hanging out in a gay bar, went home with a gay couple, slept overnight, and then when someone suggested sex, he freaked out. He claims they pulled a knife on him. Yes, that was why he had to stab them 57 times, tie cable around one guy's head and tether it to a bedpost like a pinata, and then set the entire place on fire.

    Sad. Infuriating. Too often, not even heard about.

    Spain has legalized gay marriage. So you'd think "we've won!" We haven't. Even after you win your rights - long after - you're still not equal, you're still not free. In the U.S., slavery was abolished after the civil war. The Civil Rights Act didn't happen until 100 years later. And now, 50 years hence, people of African descent still face prejudice and discrimination, even having elected a black president in the U.S.. It takes a long time to purge bigotry.

    I'm asking folks to do what they can to help publicize this case, and show support. There's a Facebook group I'd urge everyone to join. There are also protests this Saturday in Madrid, Barcelona, and around Spain.

    It's Spain's "twinkie defense." It's Spain's Matthew Shepard.

    It's Spain's shame.

  • HIV Expert Helen Epstein: A Must Watch Interview

  • Stem Cell Transplant Resulted in Likely HIV Cure

    For a couple of months now, news has been simmering about a patient with AIDS in Berlin, Germany who underwent a stem cell transplant from a donor with a mutated gene. The mutation reportedly "confers natural resistance" to the HIV virus.

    HuetterCNN reports: " The case was first reported in November, and the new report is the first official publication of the case in a medical journal. [Dr. Gero] Hutter and a team of medical professionals performed the stem cell transplant on the patient, an American living in Germany, to treat the man's leukemia, not the HIV itself. However, the team deliberately chose a compatible donor who has a naturally occurring gene mutation that confers resistance to HIV. The mutation cripples a receptor known as CCR5, which is normally found on the surface of T cells, the type of immune system cells attacked by HIV. The mutation is known as CCR5 delta32 and is found in 1 percent to 3 percent of white populations of European descent. HIV uses the CCR5 as a co-receptor (in addition to CD4 receptors) to latch on to and ultimately destroy immune system cells. Since the virus can't gain a foothold on cells that lack CCR5, people who have the mutation have natural protection. (There are other, less common HIV strains that use different co-receptors.) People who inherit one copy of CCR5 delta32 take longer to get sick or develop AIDS if infected with HIV. People with two copies (one from each parent) may not become infected at all. The stem cell donor had two copies."

    Doctors say the dangers of the operation are too great to make it routing - nearly a third of patients die during the stem cell transplants as the immune system is virtually destroyed while it undergoes the process.

    Said Dr. Gero Hutter of Charite Universitatsmedizin Berlin in Germany of his patient: "The patient is fine. Today, two years after his transplantation, he is still without any signs of HIV disease and without antiretroviral medication."

    Watch a clip of the original news conference on the operation here.

    It is important to note that stem cell transplants are very dangerous and close to 1 out of every 3 people die as a result. This new finding will definitely help to direct more research, but should be seen more as an important flicker of hope that antiretroviral therapy like HAART (Highly Active AntiRetroviral Therapy) is not the endpoint of medical research.

  • New Details Emerge at Anniversary of Lawrence King Murder

    It's been one year since 14-year-old Brandon McInerney walked into his classroom in Oxnard, California and gunned down his gay classmate Lawrence King.

    King A brief filed by the prosecution in response to an appeal by teen killer Brandon McInerney's attorneys said that prosecutors had "abused their discretion by charging (McInerney) as an adult." Today, more details have come to the light surrounding that brief.

    Deputy Dist. Atty. Maeve Fox, yesterday: "In the days before the shooting, the defendant tried to enlist others to administer a beating to Larry. When that failed for lack of interest, he decided to kill Larry. It was an absolutely brutal crime, with premeditation and deliberation. He was familiar with firearms and had fired that gun before. He knew what he was doing."

    The L.A. Times reports: "In her statement of facts, Fox contends that King and McInerney had an acrimonious relationship for months prior to the shooting. They sparred with 'typical 8th grade, back-and-forth insults; some sexual, some not,' she wrote. Witnesses said King was usually not the aggressor. But after months of teasing by McInerney and other male students who called him 'faggot,' he had began to retort, according to prosecutors. The day before the shooting, the two boys were bickering during seventh period. When King left, a student witness said that McInerney commented, 'I'm going to shoot him.' Just after that class, another student heard King say 'I love you' to McInerney as they passed in a hallway. The same student then heard McInerney say he was 'going to get a gun and shoot' King, according to prosecutors. A few minutes later, prosecutors allege, McInerney told one of King's friends: 'Say goodbye to your friend Larry because you're never going to see him again.' The prosecution brief also reveals for the first time that McInerney was familiar with firearms, and that he had used that particular weapon in the past during target shooting with his family. Investigators found a training video in his possession titled 'Shooting in Realistic Environments,' as well as skinhead and neo-Nazi books and similar writings from the Internet, prosecutors wrote."

    A vigil is being held today in Ventura, California. The vigil begins at 6 p.m. at 856 E. Thompson Blvd., Ventura.

    In memory of King, we revisit Ellen Degeneres' powerful, emotional statement about the killing. Watch it

  • HPV, Anal Cancer, and Gay Men

    There has been much talk about the role of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) in the development of cervical cancer. With the new Gardasil vaccine that protects against 4 of the major disease causing strains of HPV --- 2 of them cause 70% of all cervical cancers and two cause 90% of all genital warts --- HPV has hit the public's radar.

    The vaccine is one of the safest and most effective vaccines currently on the market for any vaccine-preventable disease. The vaccine works if it is given before a person is exposed to the HPV virus, which is why it is currently being targetted to young women 9-26 years old.

    There is very little information out there about the role of HPV in other types of cancer, including anal cancer. While anal cancer is relatively uncommon in the general population, it is 35 times more likely to occur among men who have sex with men. And the rates among HIV+ men and women are even higher, as HIV infection can increase the likelihood of HPV progressing to cancer.

    Here's the catch: Currently, the Gardasil vaccine is only approved for use among women aged 9-26 years of age. The initial research only focussed on this particular gender and age group. There is research currently under way to look at the vaccine effectiveness amongst men, and it is widely believed that it will prove just as effective in men. Which is why some doctors are prescribing the Gardasil vaccine to men who have sex with men and to young boys. There is no reason to believe that gender will affect the immune response to the vaccine.

    In our area it may be difficult to find a physician willing to prescribe the Gardasil vaccine "off-label" (prescribing a drug when it is not approved for a particular use or prescribing it to someone for whom the drug is not yet 'approved'). This is not the case in  Toronto. There is an HPV clinic in Toronto who will prescribe and administer Guardasil to men who have sex with men. An appointment is required, and a person does NOT need a doctor's referral to get one. The second 'catch': You will have to pay for it yourself. It runs about $160.00/dose and three doses are required over the period of 1 year (Total of about $480.00).

    If you are interested in learning more about HPV and men who have sex with men, click here.

    An interesting article arguing for the need for anal pap smear screening for gay men (basically the same idea behind cervical pap smears that women get at regular intervals to detect HPV-associated changes in cells which can lead to cancer)

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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The Soldier Within

 

By Church Mouse

How does someone cope with the dreaded news of being HIV positive and keep moving forward?

It is 1991, AIDS is thought of as something that only gay men were getting, and certianly not women and children. I don't remember if any of the celeberties talked openly about AIDS or maybe that came much later. Rock Hudson was the first I remember hearing about.When the movie Philadephia came out, I couldn't bring myself to watch it I was living with my own fears. In the weeks and months that followed our diagnosis I sought out support. I called our local AIDS committee and the gentlman on the other end of the line listened patiently while I spilled my story of diagnosis and the doctor's callous response. This gentleman, knowing that he probably wasn't going to get this timid mouse through the agency door for support, offered to meet me at a local coffee shop. This started me on the road to meeting other PHA's and on to telling my story publicly.

I am still working at this time in a factory making styrofoam plates for resturants.The stress of keeping part of my life secret was taking it's toll and I came down with phemonia. The flu is just the flu, unless you are positive. Then it can become a "what if''. As for work, I made the biggest mistake I could have. Because of fear of rejection, not knowing who I could confide in, and fear of seriously injurying myself, I quit my job instead of taking long term leave, therefore losing my benifits.

Over in our personal life, it took me along time to persude Gordon to get tested. I think that he felt that once the words were spoken it would become a reality. Since niether of us had any serious infections at this point, we decided to wait, but ultimately he did get tested. We waited an agonizing five weeks for his results to come back.

Living a double life was becoming impossible. It was time to share with family and friends. Deep breath......that's right Church Mouse just blurt it out!Outstanding!!!! Now you got the nieces all crying.Ooopppsss! My oldest neice asked, "how long I have you known?" "A year I say". "Oh mouse, you should have know that we are here for you and always will be no matter what."

Mother was not so easy. I took backup - my support worker from my agency - under the guise that we were just up for a visit. Mother wanted to talk about her garden, wanted to know where my friend was from, talked about the weather, who had a baby recently, etc., etc., etc. I was procrastinating. I didn't want her to blame my partner and I know I put her in an awkward position by bringing a stranger into our home with bad news. Each time my mother turned away to do something in the kitchen, Linda kept motioning me to go ahead....and her motions were getting more exaggerated each time. I would have started laughing if I hadn't commited myself to doing this. After I explained my situation, mother's body language told us that we needed to give her time for it to sink in. Since she wasn't making eye contact and she told my dad that I had a blood disorder.We made our exit.

Our families stood by us. Their support was amazing. I know how hard it was not to want someone to blame.When it came to friends, Gordon's experiences were not as good.One of his good friends walked right out of his life. Another time, Gordon was working on a job landscaping and when he told the boss he had an appointment in London, the fellow suggested in a very scarcastic manner and in front of everyone, "he must have AIDS!" (That's were the HIV specialists were.) Go figure! How did he know?

Mostly we handled HIV together the two of us like soliders pressing on into battle.Winston Churchhill once said, "knowledge is the key to winning a war," so we armed ourselves with knowledge and support and kept on moving.

7 comments (Add your own)

1. Megan wrote:
Church Mouse,
Thank you so much for writing your story. I am enjoying and learning so much by reading your story and appreciate the eloquence of your words.

One thing I notice is how supportive the people at the AIDS Committees in the early 90s must have been. I was just talking to a colleague about how our jobs would be vastly different if we were working in the same agency 20 years ago. It must have been a difficult job, but what an impact they had.

Mon, September 19, 2011 @ 10:01 AM

2. ChatJunkie/WayneB wrote:
Hearing the stories from people like you, the long time survivors is so overwhelming sometimes. I have to sit back and think, would I have made it to be a long timer. You are strong, brave people and because of you, everything is better for all of us today.

I find your story so fascinating and I'm so glad you are able to tell it. The strength it took to go through those days has brought you to where you are today as well.

Mon, September 19, 2011 @ 12:58 PM

3. Church Mouse wrote:
Thankyou Megan there are so many,many people who entered my life for a reason but have moved on to other opportunities I enjoyed meeting everyone of them.CM

Mon, September 19, 2011 @ 9:09 PM

4. Herbie wrote:
Dear Church Mouse,
What courage it must have taken to share your diagnosis, especially with those you are closest to!!!
I am glad that you were able to arm yourself with both knowledge AND support.Looking forward to your next blog.

Wed, September 21, 2011 @ 8:46 PM

5. Pat in Kincardine wrote:
I can't even imagine, Church Mouse, what it must have been like waiting weeks for a diagnosis and telling family members. Supporting each other is how you made it through, I'm sure. Others are going through this same experience every day and through your blog, you are reaching them and supporting them and encouraging them. Perhaps they are waiting for test results or are getting up the strength to tell family and friends. I came across a quote by an unknown author but it fits you, Church Mouse. It goes like this -
The world is big and I am small
Just simply nobody at all
My world is small, but if I try
I CAN do something by and by
To share a burden, bring a smaile
Or help someone to climb a stile.
Keep up the good work, Church Mouse and soldier on!

Wed, September 21, 2011 @ 10:49 PM

6. Church Mouse wrote:
Thank-you everyone!I have a little plaque that I can see every morning when I open my eyes it says:If you're handed it you can handle it!CM

Mon, September 26, 2011 @ 8:30 PM

7. Sweet Pea wrote:
Dear Church Mouse
I admire your courage to be able to share your stories with such eloquence. Your stories inspire and give us the courage to deal with our own pain! Look forward to many more

Thu, September 29, 2011 @ 4:30 PM

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