Dorine Drake is living her best life. The 52-year-old mother of one has an energetic and infectious spirit and it is evident that she has an inner joy that no one can strip her of.
Scrolling through her Instagram page, you can see just how vibrant her life is in Hawaii, a place she has called home for the past three years.
Also on her Instagram page – her bio, more specifically – are words she boldly proclaims with no reservation to all who view her page: “Infected w/ HIV at 23.”
I had the opportunity to interview Dorine on how she’s been able to keep such a positive outlook on life despite living with a health condition that is largely stigmatized.
“I celebrate today and every day as my birthday,” she told The Weight She Carries.
Dorine grew up as the middle child of six. Since her mother worked a lot, Dorine’s sister was her guardian, and her mother’s sister lent a hand to help raise Dorine and her siblings.
In her early 20s, Dorine met a young man and was smitten.
“When I was a young girl, I dated bad boys. They had to be in the streets, driving fancy cars and looking good, and he was the type that I was looking for,” she said. “We dated for about two years and were engaged to be married.”
Her former fiancé had been incarcerated for five years prior to meeting Dorine and walked with a slight limp due to a gunshot wound he had sustained fleeing from the police, he told her. He was done with that life and used his time behind bars to earn a business degree. It payed off and he was able to get a good job.
One day, he came home and said he needed to go to the doctor because his job was sending him on a trip to Africa and he needed medical clearance before he went.
“He went to the doctor and he came back and he was sad,” Dorine said. “When I asked him what happened, he said, ‘Well, this.’”
He told her he was sure he had contracted the virus from a blood transfusion he received when he got shot back in 1985. It seemed plausible.
“I was in love. I wanted to be true to my man. I wanted to stick by him and so I went to get myself tested. Because we were already sexually active, I already kind of knew what the outcome would be,” she said.
Dorine was diagnosed with HIV as well but felt it was something she and her fiancé would be able to deal with as a couple. By this time, Dorine had a one-year-old daughter and was raising two of her nephews.
“I thought it would be me and my man against the world, but I later came to find out that he was still out in the streets seeing other women,” she said. “I later found out that he lied [about how he contracted HIV] and he knew that he had infected me.”
Dorine left the relationship, became a single mother and supported herself and her family as a hairstylist.But soon, whispers about her diagnosis grew louder.
“I told my mom and she told me not to tell anyone about it. And then I told my best friend and then we were no longer friends. It was really, really rough,” she said.
The stigma was real but Dorine focused on her daughter and knew she had to stay strong. She began dating again and eventually got married. He was aware of her diagnosis since she was always upfront about her status with the people she dated. Things went well in her marriage for a while, but he began to use her status as a weapon against her, telling her that nobody else would want her.
The marriage ended and Dorine found herself drawing strength from her daughter, who in many ways was her lifeline.
“I honestly can say that I have not had any dark days. I had to raise my daughter on my own, so I really couldn’t let her see me break down. That’s the only way I made it through. I’m proud to say that I raised a superstar.”Dorine Drake
Then, at 40, Dorine faced another devastating diagnosis.
During one of her routine visits in 2007, her doctor noticed that her thyroid gland was a little swollen. He wanted to investigate the matter further and determined, after doing a biopsy, that she had thyroid cancer.
“My treatment consisted of my having my thyroid removed, radiation treatment for three days and I have to take a pill for the rest of my life,” she said.
Through it all, her mindset has been key, Dorine explained.
“I decided from the beginning that I wasn’t going to let HIV or cancer beat me.”
Ten years ago, Dorine began keeping a journal as an outlet. The more she wrote, the more her daughter encouraged her to share her writing with the world.
“I had a lot of anger. I went through a divorce, and [also had to deal with] my baby’s father not paying child support. I had a lot of pent-up anger,” she said.
Four years ago, Dorine decided to go public with her story.
“I had moved away from the haters and I had nothing to lose. It was 2016 and I did an article for POZ Magazine. My daughter was an adult by then and she was fine with me having discussions about it. I did face stigma in the beginning, but it was mostly family and so-called friends that I shared my secrets that betrayed me,” she said.
Next, it was time to complete her book entitled “He Knew,” which she started writing 20 years ago. A missile attack scare prompted her to move forward with finishing her book.
“God told me that I needed to write my story so I can help somebody before I die. My book is self-published,” she said. “I’m getting blessings on top of blessings and it was very important that my story was told.”
“He Knew” can be purchased through Amazon.com.
One of Dorine’s greatest joys is seeing her daughter live out her dreams. Lundon Knighten is an actress, singer-songwriter, dancer, director and playwright. She has worked with artists like Usher, Keyshia Cole, Chris Brown, Leona Lewis and Teairra Mari, and has also written songs with major music producers Jim Jonsin, DJ Khaled, and Harvey Mason, Jr.
In fact, Lundon’s work on Usher’s hit single “Lemme See” earned her the No. 2 spot on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
Currently single, Dorine said she is enjoying life to the fullest and will welcome true love when it comes.
“I’ve been single for 10 years now. I’ve fallen so in love with myself that whenever I hear nonsense, I can just walk away. I just keep on keeping on because the less stress in our body the less sickness will occur.”Dorine Drake
Through it all, Dorine has never let her diagnosis keep her from enjoying each day – a mindset she says has made all the difference.
“I say to anyone in a similar position: you are not alone. I used to be in the same state but when you love on yourself, other people see it and you will attract the right people into your life,” she said. “This experience has taught me to empathize with everyone because you don’t know what the next person is going through because I hid my story very well. God knows what we go through, as a matter of fact, I believe that he set it up that way. He knew me before I knew me.”
Since her diagnosis nearly 30 years ago, Dorine has managed to keep her viral load undetectable, meaning she cannot transmit the virus to anyone. For anyone out there struggling to adjust to health challenges or an unfavourable diagnosis, Dorine said focusing on the positive is best.
“My advice would be to go with the flow. Everything happens the way it’s supposed to. Just adjust your crown, ask for help and do whatever you need to do to stay focused and grounded,” she said. “Once I realized that the devil had to check with God before he could attempt to attack us, I became fearless. Don’t worry so much about what others think.”
“Life has taught me that I’m strong; that I’m superwoman and that I’m loved. I have a whole new community of people who love me. They know me and still love me. A lot of people worry that if people find out they’re not going to like me, but I don’t care because I like me.”Dorine Drake
Vimbai E. is a writer, journalist, ghostwriter and the founder of The Weight She Carries. With hundreds of articles publishing online, in print and for broadcast, her love of language and storytelling shines through every piece of writing that bears her name.