Joe walks so others won’t go through what he went through.

During December of 2011, I began to experience flu-like symptoms that only got worse by the day. I was terrified to get tested because of what I thought HIV/AIDS meant. In my mind, I thought if I ignore the symptoms, they would eventually go away on their own. But, about three weeks later, I was able to build the courage to get tested. As sick as I felt, a part of me still hoped that things would be okay and that the results would come back negative. I remember my little sister driving me to get my results and the urgent feeling of wanting to know. At the same time, I didn’t what to know the outcome. That day, January 19, 2012, I was diagnosed HIV+. Before my diagnosis, I thought HIV/AIDS was a terminal disease assigned with an expiration date to your life. Because of my culture and the stigmas associated with the disease, to some extent, I felt it was punishment for my life choices.

Being 27 years old at the time, I had no clue what to do next. I felt weak most of the time with a great deal of anxiety 24/7. Of course, I had the stress of not knowing what was going on with my body and what the world was going to think of me. Would I ever get to date again? Would I have a job and be able to go to work like everyone else? I always say it would have been nice if HIV came with a book of instructions. As supportive as my family and friends were, it was hard to accept their support because I felt no one could actually relate to what I was going through.

The day of my first doctor’s appointment came and as optimistic as my treatment sounded, it was hard to believe that they could fix me up and back to feeling 100% again. While in the waiting room, a nurse came in to introduce himself and chat with me a bit. I went on complaining about everything I was feeling and how complicated things were. He said, “Whatever it is that you are feeling, and anything that is wrong with your body right now, they will give you treatment. With that one pill, everything will magically disappear. I promise you that!”

I simply just wanted to feel better, even if it was a small improvement. During my appointment, I learned about numbers that were foreign to me, but discovered my complete diagnosis consisted of a very high-viral load and a very low CD4 count. After the initial waiting period for my treatment, I had my first dose and felt my energy levels change. Since then, everything that I thought I was never going to be able to do, I have done. I have continued to challenge myself and some of my great accomplishments have happened after my diagnosis. And since then, I have learned that the nurse was right, with time and treatment, everything did magically disappear.

Today, I am here supporting this cause standing tall and walking AIDS Walk Los Angeles so that others don’t have to go through what I went through. And because of organizations like APLA Health, I got my second chance in life, and don’t have to go through it alone.