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Thursday, December 1, 2016

World AIDS Day 2016


On the eve of World AIDS Day 2016 a historic vaccine trial has launched in South Africa that could very well change the tide of AIDS.

Today it's extremely rare for a child in the United States to be born with HIV. Sadly, we can't say the same for other parts of the world, like Africa, where my youngest son was born, and subsequently orphaned by AIDS. It's hard to fathom, that here we are in 2016, with medicines that can totally prevent a mother from transmitting the virus to her child, and yet children, moms, entire families are still dying of AIDS in other parts of the world. The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Foundation is trying to change that.

Diagnosed in 1996, after the birth of my second child, I carried the HIV virus for more than ten years without ever knowing it. I had no symptoms. Our diagnosis came as a total shock.

I get pretty emotional when I think about those early days. They were difficult. The medicines were many and they came with side-effects. Once upon a time my children had to take eleven to thirteen pills a day to keep the virus undetectable. Today, they take one pill a day. They are all "undetectable" and their immune systems are healthier than the average child. We are living in remarkable times, for sure, and not a day goes by that I don't thank God for the advances that have allowed my children to thrive. Back when my husband and I were starting a family, it was unheard of for a woman to get an HIV test. Things are different today. Just the other day I saw an HIV test on the Walgreen shelf. That one test could save someone a lifetime of grief.

This World AIDS Day I am thankful for so many things, but I am especially thankful for the many doctors and researchers out there who are working to end HIV/AIDS. They are true rock stars in my eyes.

Hold on to hope. Educate yourself. Get tested. Get involved. We will see the end of AIDS.

To learn more, tune to WNYC The Takeaway (9:30am today) to listen to myself and leading pediatric expert Dr. Donna Futterman talk about recent advances made in the treatment and prevention of pediatric AIDS.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

"Dear Lucky Agent" Contest

Me, Gaga-Baby, and Blackie in San Diego around 1974

As a girl I moved around a lot. By the time my eighteenth birthday rolled around, I'd lived in five states and attended thirteen different schools. I was always the new girl, which was not an easy thing to be as I was incredibly shy. It was during this time that I fell in love with books. Books were my refuge, my escape. The first book I remember falling in love with was Where The Red Fern Grows. After that, Little House on The Prairie, the whole series, and of course Judy Blume ruled as I embarked on my teen years. 

When I was twelve years old, my sister, who was ten years my senior and already living on her own, gifted me with a diary for my birthday. That gift changed my life. Finally, I had a place to confide all of the things I'd kept inside. I wrote in that diary every single day. Some of the stories I wrote were true and some were fiction. In school, while I failed miserably at Algebra, I received A+'s in English and essay assignments. More than anything, I loved to write. 

Still, it wasn't until I was twenty-nine and taking a creative writing class that something I wrote garnered the attention of my writing Professor. Soon after, I had my first short story titled, "The Lost Story" published in The Tale Trader. I was floating on air.

I continued to write stories, fiction as well as non-fiction, and had some success, but me, write a book? I had all these stories and ideas, but was I up for the challenge? I decided to give it my all. I wrote my first book in 2011. A semi-finalist in The William Faulkner Novel-In-Progress Contest, the story was picked up in 2012 by the second publisher who read it. Unfortunately, that publisher, after a short stint with POD, went out of business. Thankfully, they rewarded me with the rights back to my novel, and although I was deeply saddened, I was not defeated.

I've been writing stories all of my life, some true, and some fiction. I will always be in love with the process of writing novels. I adore the challenge as well as the creative process of bringing characters and story to life. It's what I was born to do. In fact,  I've recently finished my second novel. It's a story I've wanted to write for many years--one that had to simmer. In other words, I had to grow as a writer. That said, this is an exhilarating time for me. I'm just beginning to query agents with this newest endeavor. It's exciting and challenging at the same time. In order to garner agent interest, much like a book jacket, you must entice them in 300 words or less! No easy feet, but it can be done if you work hard. 

I tend to write fictional stories that emcompass real-life issues that effect us all, like love, family, and those once in a life-time moments that can suddenly change everything. Of course I always pull for the underdog, and some of my stories but not all of them delve into the subject of HIV/AIDS. It's a tough topic but one I feel compelled to write about.

Stories will always be around. They teach, they entertain, they enlighten, but perhaps most of all they unite us in a shared human experience like nothing else can. Stories bring us together.  

Thanks for allowing me to share my own story with you today. We all have a story. So believe in yourself and believe in your story. This is after all, NANOWRIMO month. And if you've been engaging in your own love story with words and have written a novel, here's a link (and a chance) to have your story heard.   The Writer's Digest  "Dear Lucky Agent" Contest. Good wishes and good luck.

Sincerely,

Suzan

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Nest





When I first began writing Red Ribbon Diaries, my children were small. I was a new adoptive mom, juggling life, kids, and a career without so much as a compass to keep me pointed in the right direction. But you know what? There is no one right direction when you're a mom. You have to take a multitude of turns, some of them hard lefts with your foot mashed on the gas in front of oncoming traffic! But no matter the road, you do what's in the best interest of your kids. Am I right? That's just what moms do.

We fix things. We kiss bruises. We do our best, always, and sometimes our best falls short. Maybe the prom dress needs a stitch or two, or the lunch money gets left on the counter, or how about the time you washed the boy's white football uniform with his sister's red pajama pants? Sorry, Yonas. But  hey, your kids love you regardless, and you love them back. After all, you're a family, be it through adoption or some other miracle, it doesn't matter. The common denominator we all share is love, and love moves mountains, love grows kids into exceptional adults, and if we're lucky, love even brings them back to the nest every once in a while, after they're grown.

I am a lucky mom. I've been blessed with chocolate face kisses, sticky high-fives from a jelly-fingered two-year-old, bleacher-butt, gray hairs, late night, teenage hellion, God-loving, walking down the aisle, tears in my eyes OMG that beautiful bride is my daughter...moments. Thank you, God, for those moments.

Should your path lead you here, you'll find many stories, some happy and some sad, about my family and about my life.  HIV isn't an easy disease to bear at any age, let alone grow up with, and this blog became a wonderful place for us to share our story. This blog gave us a voice--a place to laugh, and even cry if we needed to, but perhaps most importantly, this blog became a source of inspiration to so many people. The letters and support that have poured in over the years have meant so much to our family. Thank you!

I hope you enjoy the stories I share here and find within them something to take with you on your own journey of love and miracles.

Sincerely,

Suzan




Tuesday, July 5, 2016

To Test or Not To Test...THAT is the question.

My husband took an HIV test today. 
Testing Guidelines 

This coming March my husband and I will have been married for twenty-nine years. This isn't his first test. To err on the side of caution, I ask him to take an HIV test every few years. In case you didn't already know, I'm HIV positive and my husband is not. I often say that it's not the people with HIV you need to worry about, it's the ones that don't know their status that are cause for concern. Why? Because not only is knowing your HIV status vital but also the best way to prevent the spread of HIV.  In fact, HIV is totally preventable. 


It gets better. Did you know that taking an HIV test can be as easy as going to your local drugstore? 

It's true. It's never been easier to test yourself for HIV and you can have your results in as little as twenty minutes, in the privacy of your own home. Really. READ DIRECTIONS, SWAB GUMS.

AND Twenty minutes later...
My husband's result is NEGATIVE!

So what if your result comes back positive, you ask? A positive result is not the end of the world. Today, antiviral medications drive the virus to undetectable levels. I'm proof that with good medical care you can live a normal, healthy life and pose no risk of infecting your partner. Yes, you can have sex. You can even have a healthy child, if you choose. The only thing better would be a cure, and even that's not as far fetched as we once believed. So be brave. Take the test. 

To learn more about mixed status couples, HIV prevention and pregnancy visit: https://www.avert.org/learn-share/hiv-fact-sheets/mixed-status-couples





Wednesday, March 16, 2016

God's Plan + Cardio


I counted the years yesterday and it's mind-blowing. I've been a mom for over half of my life! And the real kicker? I'm almost fifty and have a fourteen-year-old. Enough to make your gills quiver, isn't it?  

But seriously, every child needs a parent, biological or adopted, to love them unconditionally, and I knew I could do that. I've always loved being a mom, and a wife. That's what makes me the happiest in life. 

The thing that makes me the most unhappy is the worry that came with being a parent. Even before I was diagnosed with HIV, I remember feeling this sense of urgency that I just HAD to survive, HAD to be there to raise my children. Then there were the dark years, after my children and I were diagnosed, where I just hoped to live long enough to see them through--whatever God's plan.

HIV was quite the curve ball. Good thing I have the husband, family, and friends that I do. They carried me through those difficult days and for that I'm forever grateful. 

So what do you do when life throws a curve ball? I'd like to think that I'm an expert by now. I'm not. But I am a good study, and I have picked up some valuable tools along the way. They are:

1. In all things be brave, honest, and kind.

2. There is no substitute for prayer. 

3. A little laughter goes a very long way.

4. Love will conquer everything.

5. Don't sweat the small stuff. 


Today, I aspire to see my children through to a cure and science is backing me up. I will, one day, see my babies (now 25, 20, and 14) HIV-free! This calls for a high round of cardio, am I right? 

So long for now. Putting on my snazzy Nikes and off to conquer a hill or two... Whatever it takes.