Andrea de Lange found out that she was HIV positive when she was just 23 years old and in college. Today at 57, she has found love and is a cancer survivor. This is her story…
Andrea is a Jewish American who was raised in California. Life is good right now, but that wasn’t always the case.
Back when she was in college, she had dated a guy who abused drugs. He was five years her senior and told her that inhaling certain drugs would help her lose weight. She believed him. Since she wasn’t injecting anything into her body it didn’t seem as dangerous. And the idea of revving up her metabolism and losing weight as a result was appealing to her at the time. But his substance abuse had a lasting impact on her life.
“I got infected with HIV because of not using protection with my boyfriend,” Andrea told The Weight She Carries. “Even if I would ask him to wear a condom, he would refuse. And that is how I got infected with HIV. I realized [it] later after we broke up, which was after four years of dating, though it was on and off. I was only 23 years old and HIV positive.”
The news was devastating. Andrea was in a new relationship when she learned of her diagnosis and things quickly went sour.
“I was broken and it was so scary. I was afraid that maybe I had infected my new boyfriend. I told him about my status and everything changed,” she said. “We lived together for another two years but he treated me so bad to a point [where] we could not hug or share items like towels or even touch me. This made my self-esteem go down.”
Then, years later, another health issue surfaced. Andrea was diagnosed with anal cancer which was caused by HPV (human papillomavirus).
It started as a lesion and doctors monitored it for about six years. During that time, it wasn’t growing. Her doctor told her she could either get it removed or leave it alone because there was a chance that it would never be a problem. Andrea chose to leave it alone, but eventually things changed.
“It did grow and was removed. It was supposed to heal after about a month, but it didn’t feel right,” she said. “I went back and discovered that there was a tumour outside of my colon. It was biopsied and was cancerous. The cancer had spread into my spleen, too.”
Andrea had chemotherapy and radiation, which got rid of the cancer in both places without requiring the need for surgery.
The relationship with the man who had infected her with HPV ended, and Andrea immersed herself in learning more about HIV.
Making room for something new
Andrea reconnected with an old friend named Robert from high school at their 20-year High School reunion. By this time, Andrea had been living with HIV for 14 years and had done extensive research about when to tell someone about your status and when not to. In fact, she had written a thesis entitled “The Effect of an HIV Diagnosis on Heterosexual Women’s Intimate Relationships” for her master’s program, and even presented it at an international AIDS conference in Canada in 1996. But she was nervous about telling Robert that she had HIV.
“I knew that if I even kissed somebody before telling them, they could freak out. So I waited about two weeks before telling Robert,” she said. “We went on a lot of dates before I told him. He tried to do romantic things like cooking dinner for me, and one time we went to a restaurant near a beach and watched the sunset over the ocean.”
When Robert called one day to inquire about her feelings for him, Andrea told him about her diagnosis.
“He was very nice and sympathetic about how difficult it must have been for me to keep that a secret,” she said. “He wasn’t sure, right away that he wanted to be more than friends.”
Robert knew the man Andrea had dated prior to him – the individual who had infected her with HPV that had led to cancer. Seeing how desperately he was trying to rekindle their romance made Robert decide to be romantically involved with Andrea. He wasn’t going to let HIV prevent him from being with her.
Today they are now married and living a happy life. He is HIV negative.
“I was able to overcome my fears through sharing my story and volunteering to help those who are HIV positive and those with cancer,” Andrea said.
By ridding herself of her fears, Andrea was able to make room for the life she enjoys today. Never let decisions of your past prevent you from living out loud.
Have you overcome personal struggles to get to where you are today? We’d love to hear your story! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or click on the “Contact” tab on our homepage.
Gladwell Wachira is mother of two boys, a rescuer and a lover of life who enjoys travel and reading.