My Journey with HIV & Surviving Cervical Cancer

Photo by Precious Shongwe

Precious Shongwe, a mother of two who is living openly with HIV, shared with The Weight She Carries how her journey with HIV has been.

My name is Precious Shongwe. I am from Eswatini, a woman openly living with HIV and a mother of two adorable kids: a boy aged 16 and a girl aged 9. I am also an activist and a cervical cancer survivor.

I was infected with HIV during my teenage years and take full responsibility for it because it was all consensual.

During the time I got infected, there was a lot of stigma surrounding HIV. And to make matters worse, I was supposed to disclose my status to my family who had no idea I was already sexually active, so I kept it to myself for a long time. With the help of a healthcare worker, I adhered to treatment and received counselling. Over the years, through the help of ICW, I gathered enough courage to disclose to my family and friends in 2008.

As I continued working with various organizations like Doctors Without Borders, I openly began to speak out about my status, and it has created a strong passion in me to work closely and actively with the youth.

My family has been very supportive from day one. I have become more of an educator to them whom they come to for information.

Stigma has also reared its ugly head at times, and the most painful encounter I had with it is when we were having an argument with a female family member who knew about my situation.

It was in a public place, and she openly stated that I was going to die very soon in front of my kids who at the time had no knowledge of my status. It hurt me deeply, and I am still recovering from the trauma still.

After the incident, I sat down with my kids and told them everything and took them to a psychologist to help them come to terms with what had transpired.

To be honest, it is a rollercoaster ride because day one, you fully accept your status, and the next day, you are just an emotional wreck who is trying to grasp the reality of one’s life. What has kept me grounded and has given my life meaning is my job. I work closely with young people and craft programs that help them accept, seek treatment and adhere to it. I practically hold their hand and take it step by step with them because I am living proof.

Experience with Cervical Cancer

It was back in 2013 after my second child that I noticed that something was wrong with me. At first it was irregular periods, which the hospital treated with contraception, stating that my hormones were imbalanced. This went on for [a while] whilst the symptoms got worse.

I had abdominal pains, bleeding occurred, pain during sexual intercourse. What really jolted me to action was when I bled during sex. I requested for screening to be done and was referred to a private institution because issues surrounding cervical cancer were still not addressed during this time.

It took me a while to finally collect my results because I know a lot of women who were living with HIV who had contracted cervical cancer and died. At this point I thought I was going to die as well. I had deteriorated to the point of losing weight, losing my hair and bleeding every other day.

My advice to any woman who is sexually active is to get a pap smear done yearly if you are HIV-positive or biyearly if you are negative. Always watch out for signs such as bleeding outside the normal period days, pain during sex and aforementioned symptoms.

My parting words to those living with HIV is that rather than trying to find who infected you, it is better to accept the situation and move on from it. Even before you disclose, make sure you have come to terms with it. Seek counselling and adhere to treatment so that you are able to defeat it.

Remember, you are me, and I am you. We are in this together.

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