This year, "A Time For Heroes" raised 1.3 million dollars to help in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Their ultimate goal is to halt mother to infant transmission throughout the world. It's a big bite to chew but if anyone can do this, it will be them. Because of early testing during pregnancy and access to anti-viral medicines mother to infant transmission is now quite rare here in America, but unfortunately this is not the case in other parts of the world where infants are still being born at record numbers infected with HIV. It's a vicious cycle that needs to stop.
Mitchell, my fourteen-year-old son spoke at this year's event with his sister and brother by his side. As he recounted our family's struggle and ultimate triumph over HIV I couldn't have been prouder. It was a shining moment for our family and an important step of courage for Mitch.
We've only been open about our disease for a couple of years now. Coming out was a big step for our family, one that we gave much thought to before we openly disclosed. If you are also considering disclosure and children are involved, here are some things that helped us tremendously:
1) If you're going to come out, don't tell just a few people–it's better to come out big! This was perhaps the best bit of advice given to me by a counselor at St. Jude's Children Hospital. When you come out big, it's a one-time shot; everybody knows, therefore rumors and gossip are squelched.
2) Disclose to your child's school and offer to speak and educate about HIV. The Red Cross offers a wonderful educational pamphlet about HIV in schools that proved to be a valuable tool for parents and staff.
3) Make sure that you and your children have a close network of support around you. It's important to have family and friends who know about your situation and wholly accept your child regardless of HIV.
As a parent, it was very important to me that my children grow up without the shame, or the undue stigmas that are sometimes associated with having HIV, and I knew that in order for them to do that, it was up to me to show them that they had nothing to be ashamed of. It took a lot for me to get there, but get there we did. And the acceptance that we've received from our schools, friends and community have been overwhelming. There isn't a day that goes by that I'm not filled with gratitude. It's because of people like you, who care, that my children have been made whole.
It is always my hope that by sharing our story we are able to help others who may be grappling with issues surrounding HIV/AIDS. I'm here to say that you can live a normal life...people will love you regardless, so when given the opportunity to use your life, your hardships and victories to make a difference–do not let fear dictate–let the choice be yours alone.