I don't quite remember when I fell in love with tea but I do remember the most special moments of me drinking tea. I was eighteen years old and I went to live with my biological mother for four months. I had just met her months earlier and it was awkward for both of us. She and her ex-husband lived a very quiet life in Boulder, Colorado. He was a professor at one of the universities and she was a housewife. After years of drug addiction and being in and out of jail, she deserved the break. I was homeless so she and her husband agreed to let me come live with them. Each evening my mother and I would find a spot in the living room with a cup of tea and a book.

Now, years later, I'm a self proclaimed tea expert. I start each day with a wonderful English Breakfast tea to get me going. As the day progresses, who knows what wonderful tea I will crown queen. But for sure, I have at least three cups of tea a day. And yes, when I can, I have tea everyday at about 3:00 P. M. I love to invite my friends over for tea and cupcakes and so far everyone thinks it’s a delightful experience. I am always in search of the best blend of tea. Yes, I’m a tea snob, I prefer loose tea but I do like some bags also. I have learned not to judge a book by it’s cover. Some bags can be quite nice. And yes again, any Diva knows, what you drink your tea out of is very important.

Tea for me is a way of life. It's wellness for the mind body and spirit. Here, I will explore every expect of tea possible, with a high concentration on wellness. I will review the best teas, the best places to have tea, the best ways to brew tea, the best tea accessories, what tea goes best with what foods, and the list goes on and on. I plan to share my passion for tea with you. And I've been told, nothing I do is ever boring so be prepared to go on this tea journey with me.

RLT Collection Tea Ball Frosted Clear Beads!

Mint Medley by The Persimmon Tree Tea Company

About This Tea:

Until recently I had never drank Peppermint Tea made with loose leaves. And Honestly, I will probably never go back. The freshness of loose Peppermint Tea cannot be denied. When I open the can of Mint Medley, From The Persimmon Tree Tea Company, I feel as if I stepped into a garden of peppermint leaves. It is a perfect blend of organic peppermint and spearmint leaves grown in the US.

Mint Medley has become a favorite and I find myself reaching for this tea tin almost everyday. It is great for on-going nausea. The health benefits and endless. It relieves muscle aches, headaches, migraines, stress. And now that it feels like someone is sitting on my chest and I have a mean cough, I'm sure it will help to relieve some of this congestion in my chest. Mint Medley has been in my tea cup more than any tea as of late. It has really helped with my winter cough, congestion related to this bout of pneumonia. You can read my full review on The Persimmon Tree Tea Company Mint Teas.

RLT Collection AIDS Awareness Tea Ball!

Welcome to my world of books! As an pre-teen books changed my world. I fell in love with the writers of the Harlem Renaissance period and the more I read the more I wanted to read. The fiction of this period was powerful and empowering all at the same time. It spoke to my own degradation and gave me hope for a better tomorrow. It gave me purpose for my own life and the courage to fight the good fight and never surrender.

I love to read! Inside a book I escape into someone else's life. There is something wonderful about turning to the next page of a wonderful story. Something intoxicating about the smell of the book and the story it brings to life. Reading brings me joy, and these days with my health in the balance, I find solace in my books.

I spent hours in my bedroom sequestered with the door closed reading the classics from the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes, Larsen, Hurston, Wright and Baldwin. Books became my escape and my salvation. The fiction of this period was powerful and empowering all at the same time. It gave me purpose for my own life and the courage to fight the good fight and never surrender.

Reading is the one thing that the pain of my life could never take away from me. It was the thing that helped to make it better. And even today, living with AIDS, books continue to be the safest place for me. It’s the one thing that belongs to me that AIDS cannot take away from me.The RLTReads book club will be books that I choose. It’s me sharing a part of me with you that has nothing to do with AIDS. It’s actually in spite of AIDS.

The RLTReads book club will be books that I choose. It’s me sharing a part of me with you that has nothing to do with AIDS. It’s actually in spite of AIDS. I have read hundreds of books from many different genres and I will pick the best of my reads over the years. I warn you, it will not be exclusively white or black, male or female, fiction or non fiction, it will be all of them.

I’m so excited and I’m grateful to everyone who wants to be a part of this venture. We already have 110 Book Club Members. You can email me @ RLTReads@raelewisthornton.com. The Twitter hashtag is #RLTReads. We can make this book club as wonderful as we want to make it. Who says that Oprah has to have the only ownership to a wonderful book club?

This Month We are Reading In My Fathers House by E Lynn Harris

Read along and join our discussion July 19th at 7 pm CST

For more Tea with Rae "Vlogs" Click here to visit her youtube channel

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Murder of Jessica Hampton

Last week today I was waiting on the red line train and very much annoyed that it was delayed. Little did I know that a young woman, Jessica Hampton had been brutally murdered just seven stops behind me.

Jessica who was 25 years old was stabbed by Aurther Jones. As she cried for help and tried to fight back, he contuined to stab her. Once she was on the floor of the train, he slit or throat and turso as by standers looked on. The video of her murder and body went viral and the family asked Facebook to take it down. In the police press conference they believed it to be a crime of Domstic Volience.

Well on Monday one of my biggest supporters reached out to me on Twitter to ask, "Did I think HIV was a reason to murder someone." I was like WHAT THE FUCK? She went on to explain that members of his family was claiming he stapled learning the Jessica had infects him with HIV. She also expalined that I would not find this in standard news, but the topic has indeed gone viral on Facebook

I did my research and learns that people were reporting Authur's Cousion Facebook post as on one end justification and on the other AIDS Education. I was like WHAT THE FUCK? I know I had to do something, but as the week dwedeled on and my throat infection hand with stitches from a freak acceidnt I thought that I would let it pass. As I searched for articles there was still no mention of HIV. So I had decided to just tweet about it and call it a day. 

BUT THEN THIS HAPPEN! I was sitting on the train yesterday, in front of me were 3 young men and beside me were there 2 friends. I'm going to guess the age range was between 17-22. They were laughing and cracking jokes about me crocheting in a cute sort of way and I joined in. Then one of the guys asked his friends, "man what would you have done if you were on the train when dude was stabbing that girl?" I jumped in, "Jumpped on his fucking back" and the conversation began. I explain that at one point he dropped the knife. One brother said, "oh man that was a way in, I would have tackled dude then." Another guy said, "Man I heard he was mad because she gave him HIV." IT WAS ON! Rae the AIDSActivist kicked in, they were listening but wasn't convinced. Then I said, I know what I'm talking about I have HIV for 33 years. They FROZE, I turned and looked each Brotha in the face, can't tell huh? SILIENCE.. Then I said, and this is a bad day with no make up and my hair half combed. My stop approached and I got up, leaving them speechless I said the problem is we are not educated about HIV. BAM! I got off the train leaving them FUCKED UP! 

So let's talk about all of this stigma and mis-education around HIV. Let's talk about Domstic Volience, murder and something gotta change in out Communtiy. I'm having a live FACEBOOK Chat tonight, June 30, 2016 at 7:00 pm CST. You will be able to ask me questions... Here is my Facebook fanpage link. You have to like the page and the dicussion will be there and NOT on my Facebook personal page.

If you want BACKGROUND on HIV infection read my recent blog post, "I Met A Man, Can I Give HIm HIV"

This is what we know for sure...

1) Aurther Jones murdered Jessica Hampton on the Red Line Train as people watched
2) The police are saying it was a case of Domstic Voliece with no mention of HIV
3) Aurther Jines lawyer indicated yesterday that he was Schoniza
4) Auther Jones Cousion posted a Facebook Post staying that Jessica gave Him HIV and he stapped. To explain why he murdered her.
5) people reposted her post and it went viral... With NJ berv

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Tap Into The Resources and Live Well Beyond HIV!

I'll take aging with HIV over not aging at all any day. Now that's some real talk; but I have to be honest, muddling through HIV requires a lot of energy, work and support. Over the years, I've been fortunate enough to have a team of wonderful people to help me manage living with HIV, from understanding my medication to my emotional well being.

I want what I have for everyone living with HIV, that is to create a support system for themselves in all areas of their lives. What I know for sure, is that living with HIV in isolation will create depression, which creates its own set of issues.

You all may recall in my blog post, "Grey Hair and I Don't Care," I talked about the need to access resources as one ages with HIV and the wonderful resource page Well Beyond HIV. Well, I'm continuing to partner with the team over at Walgreens. They invited me over to learn about the services they provide for those living with HIV. I was really impressed with their Specialty Pharmacy and that don't come easy with me. I had a wonderful conversation with Nancy Salman who is the pharmacy manager at the Walgreens Specialty Center on Randolph and State in Chicago; which is one of over 800 Walgreens specialty pharmacies around the country.  Nancy is an "HIV Specialist," and let me tell you, her knowledge matches her spirit, on point. What the heck is an "HIV Specialty Pharmacist?" Glad you asked, it’s a pharmacist who has had additional training in understanding HIV clinically as well as medications, side-effects, adherence, I mean the whole shebang.

For sure at the top of the list of managing HIV is compliance with one’s antiretroviral medication, HAART. Nancy agrees, she said, "The single most important advice for those aging with HIV is compliance and adherence."

Compliance I believe is so connected to understanding your treatment plan. That means not only taking your medication as prescribed but accessing the additional support you may need to make compliance easier. Compliance in most cases leads to viral suppression and that means a longer life span, but muddling through takes not only energy but understanding.

For example, there are non HIV medications both prescription and over the counter that interfere with the deliverance of HIV medication in your blood stream and vice-versa. Let's take my drama around being premenopausal. Yep, another issue of aging that will happen for every woman. But as an HIV infected woman it's been non-stop drama. My hot flashes have been so bad I've wanted to strip my clothes and run down the street in the dead of Chicago's winter.

As I try to get a handle on the issues around menopause, I've learned that women with HIV have more difficult menopauses. Even severe hot flashes to the point that it interferes with their daily life style and even compliance to HIV medication. Then I learned that one of the HIV medications that I take actually reduces the levels of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). SHUT UP!

While talking to Nancy I was trying to recall the name of that antiretroviral medication, which interferes with Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and before I could get it out of my mouth, Nancy said, "Prezista" WOW, I really was impressed. I've spoken with OBGYN's that didn't even know that there was an issue with HIV medications and HRT or the fact that women aging with HIV entering pre-menopause needs to be assessed differently. I currently take 3 times the amount of HRT medication to balance the effect that my HIV medication has on my treatment. A more detailed blog coming soon on menopause and HIV.

For sure accessing resources is important and Walgreens pharmacy is a one stop shop. They are culturally sensitive. They have private rooms where HIV infected patients can ask the specialty pharmacist questions not only about medications, but side-effects, compliance and the list goes on.

Nancy says she helps her patients with issues such as compliance to customizing their treatment with other non-related HIV medical issues. This is important because people aging with HIV have about a 20% higher rate on co-mobility issues, such as heart, high cholesterol, diabetes and non HIV related cancers. She says that helping to customize care is important. Especially those HIV medications that cause other issues like Renal Disease.

She also helps her patients access coupons for their medication so they will not have a lapse in treatment. WIN!

For sure this one on one relationship creates a safe and confidential environment for people with HIV. These types of services are extremely important, especially when you only see your infectious disease doctor once every 3-6 months. Having someone in my case, just up the street to answer my questions is important. I know my own experience before I take any over the counter medications, I ask the pharmacist at Walgreens. Now at the Specialty Centers, the pharmacist sits out front. How cool is that to not have to ask for the pharmacist to come up front?

Nancy explained that they stay well connected with their HIV patients, especially those newly diagnosed. That's important because 35% of newly diagnosed patients stop treatment within 90 days. *I know right, I thought the same thing when I heard that stat at an HIV talk about aging with HIV.* Nancy says that they text, call and email depending on the best way to reach each patient.

I have to tell you as I hit senior citizen age, I'm learning that those aging with HIV have their own set of issues. I will be tackling this topic more and more, not only for those of us who have aged with HIV but also that younger people living with HIV will understand what's down the road and what they need to do in those early days to preserve those later days. For sure, the right resources are an important step to living well with HIV. I continue to be amazed at the growth with advancements around HIV in the 35 years since the first cases where reported by the Center for Disease Control.

My biggest advice to those greying with HIV, whether you've been infected for years like me, or a senior newly diagnosed. You cannot do this alone, tap into the resources so that you can live well beyond HIV.

I was sponsored by Walgreens to write this blog post. All opinions expressed are my own.

Friday, June 3, 2016

I Met A Man... Can I Give Him HIV?

I met a man and OMG he was just simply charming. Now I usually don't give my number to random men on the street, but did I say he was sooooo charming?!

Even Chloe liked him, but ummm now that I think about it, Chloe likes everyone she sees. But the fact that he took the time while macking to bend down and speak to my baby girl was a brownie point. But umm that could have been a part of the Mack game to. LOL But unmm I still gave him my number. Did I say how charming he was?

We made it through the first round of "gettin to know" each other. And I'm not sure if we are even going on a date. I try not to make assumptions because that's when feelings get hurt. Now don't get me wrong, I have standards like mutual respect etc. etc. etc. What I'm talking about is not marrying him in your head before you know if he puts the toilet sit down, look at you like you're the only woman in the room and most importantly not some misogyntic butt hole. Like for real for real. But now that I think about it, charming men tend to love women, all of them. What have I gotten myself into? But then again, I try not to make assumptions even about charming men.

 So here I am, I've given my number to a very charming man and we have gotten beyond at least the introduction. Now I have to be honest, this created some anxiety  that I haven't felt in years; Mainly, I got to tell this man that I have HIV but on top of HIV that I'm this super famous woman who goes around the country talking about having HIV. This is not an easy thing. 

It's been years since a man approached me that didn't already know who I was and this sent me back to a place that I haven't been in years. Since my divorce well over 17 years ago, I've learned that being famous with HIV is collateral damage. Even when a man likes you, they are faced with the stigma that comes with dating a person with HIV. And don't be in denial, it does come. Why would he date her? Does he have HIV also? Will she give him HIV? And the list goes on and on. 

Prior to the cover of Essence, there was no need to tell a man that I had HIV until we had been on a few dates and I've made sure he wasn't crazy crazy. It was always about, do I think this man is worth my energy, worth me and once I reached that point, I would have the "kitchen conversation" sitting at the table with my clothes on explaining that I am HIV positive; answering all of his questions and explaining the ramifications of what dating a positive woman means for him. But back then it was a mutual secret. Remember, those first 7 years I told like 5 people that I was positive, other than the men I dated.

So the "kitchen conversation" is important. I've always believed that a person should be informed so that they can make what they feel is the best decision for their life. Everyone has that right, even the right to not date a person who is living with HIV. That goes for whatever the reason, stigma, risk and even I don't want to be bothered with dating a person with a chronic Illness. 

But today the "kitchen conversation happens a lot earlier for me.  I almost have to have the, "I am a public figure" conversation. Now what if I don't tell him right away, and we bump into someone who recognizes me? People come up to me often in public, and what if THAT PERSON who says. "Ain't you that lady with AIDS" bumps into us having dinner. And once I tell him my last name and he googles me or send me friend request me on Facebook, it's a wrap. Like, being this public person flows into every area of my life. So much pressure being "THAT GIRL." Now for sure, I wouldn't change a thing. God has given me a gift and I would rather use my gift  and be single for the rest of my life if that be the case.

Now again, I have no idea if this is going anywhere. Shoot, I'm writing this blog and may never talk to him again. But this situation got me to thinking about  being infected and dating with HIV in 2016. 

 Its crazy that the risk of infecting a person is so very very low today, unlike it was let's say even 17 years ago. But the stigma is at a freaking stand still. Its like people can't move beyond 1994 when I was on the cover of Essence. So I thought that I would take this opportunity to update you on the risk factors of dating a positive person and the new medical advancements. If I never talk to this man again, well at least he got me to write a blog for you, and y'all know I've not been that inspired to write very much as of late. So it's all good. 

OK! Let me lay it out for you. I'll give it to you in lay terms as much as I can. I have also provided links.  It's a tad long, but its good information, and I'm going to ask all of you to share this blog on your Social Media sites.

1) A person who is living with HIV man or female who's viral load is undetectable is very unlikely to transmit HIV to another person. Let me say it this way, even if you do not use a condom or the condom breaks, if the person living with HIV viral load is undetectable the risk of infecting another person is significantly low. Scholars have been playing it safe, and saying 96% safe.  My former doctor, whom I trust with my life,  said to me and I quote, "it's zero infection Rae" 

The latest study was 30,000 sexual acts with a positive and negative person and Zero inflections. WHAT THE HECK DOES ALL OF THIS MEAN???? Glad you asked. It means that a person in treatment with an undetectable viral load both in their blood, semen ad vaginal secretions, CANNOT transmit HIV. Now let me expand viral load.

A) Viral Load is the amount of HIV that has copied in your body. The more it copies, the sicker a person is likely to be, and the greater risk there is of infecting their partner. 

Thirty-Five years into the AIDS pandemic, treatment is remarkable. There are 32 different HIV medications, which we call antiretrovirals and five different classes of antiretrovirals. Taking a combination of antiretrovirals is often referred to as HAART. When a person takes HAART medications it actually reduces the HIV virus from the body and blocks copies of newer resistant strains when the virus copies. This viral suppression means that a person will less likely develop AIDS Related Complex or even transition to AIDS. 

If  a person has already transitioned to AIDS, like in my case, HAART therapy will suppress the virus from doing any new damage to my body. But the damage that has already been done to my immune system cannot be reversed. ( that's why I have more health problems then the average person today with HIV) 

The success of HAART is why its important for people to be tested at lest once a year. Being diagnosed early, getting into treatment, complying with treatment and staying in treatment will prolog your life and the quality of your life.  Furthermore, this alone will reduce the new cases of HIV. About 38% of newly diagnosed persons with HIV are infected by a person who did not know that they were infected.

B) There are some factors in transmission of HIV with an undetectable viral load, such as, other sexually transmitted diseases, menstruation, and the level of virus in a woman's vaginal sectarians and male semen. Usually, HAART medication reduces ones viral load in both blood, semen and vaginal sectarians, but there are some instances where this has not been the case. Read here

C) An Undetectable Viral Load does NOT mean that you no longer have HIV. Yes, HIV is still in your body, but in very small amounts. The smaller the amount the more difficult it is to transmit HIV. Undetectable is optimum.

D) What if a persons Viral Load goes up? Well it then means that the risk factor of infecting someone goes up, and this also increases their chances of disease progression. So for example, back in 1997 my viral load for 400,000 thats a lot of virus, My T-Cell Count was 8 and I was very sick. During this time the risk of me infecting someone was far greater then today. 

E) Why does a person Viral Load increase? Drug resistance. HIV in your body has developed a resistance to the medications, whether it's one in your combination, or all? 

F) Why does a person develop resistant to HAART therapy? Typically failure to comply with ones treatment is the reason resistance sets in, but not exclusively.

  • When a person does not take their medication as prescribed; missing dosage, stopping and starting at random all of these can cause a resistance. BUT if a person does what they are supposed to do then the chances of resistance is low. Of course their can be just plain old drug failure, but if a person is in care their doctor is on top of it.  

  • For example, my viral load gets tested every 3 months. And BTW my Viral Load has been undetectable for 13 years and staying steady, thanks be to God, but ummm I do what the fuck I'm supposed to do too. POW!! If you don't do good, you can't expect good results!

G) Ok I know, I know what you are saying, nothing is full proof. I agree, that's why condom use is still important.  Plus I'm not trying to get Zike from anyone. BOOM! But we have come a long way from those early days when risk factor was so much higher. I'm going to also remind you that female to male transmission has always been very low. Its like 20-1 that a woman will infect a man.

2) PrEP is also a medical breakthrough in HIV Treatment and Care!

What the heck is PrEP! I'm glad you asked. Its a pre-exposure prophylaxis; a once a day antiretroviral that a person who is not infected takes to prevent HIV infection. Yep, one pill, once a day. I've covered this topic in my Charlie Sheen blog here. But the bottom line, PrEP does prevent HIV. I think a person must determine for themselves, based on their lifestyle if they should consider taking PrEP Now that I'm back in the groove. I will write another blog about PReP in the next week or so to give you my detail thoughts, in the meantime you can learn about it here.

For sure we have come a long way in thirty-five years. What I want for you, is to advance your mind with the medical advancements. This staying stuck and not embracing these new and exciting advancements around HIV is like ummmm still trying to use My Space. This staying stuck also perpetuates stigma. If you continue to relegate AIDS to be this horrible death sentence that it once was, you continue to deny those living and thriving  with HIV the beautiful miracle of life. Keeping HIV in a time warped continues to push the paradigm of hopelessness. Does that impact our dating, you damn right cause who wants to date someone who society believes is a walking death sentence!? Come on y'all, help a sista out, change your mind and your ass will follow....

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Grey Hair And I Don't Care: Aging With HIV

In ten days I will turn 54 years old. This will mean that I have lived 33 years with HIV and 25 years with AIDS. Although I was infected in 1983 I didn't learn of my HIV status until I donated blood in 1986. I've told this story a thousand times and over.

When I transitioned to AIDS twenty-five years ago, I had no expectation to live. At one point my T-Cell count was 8. Good treatment for HIV/AIDS had not been developed. It was a sad and scary period in the AIDS Pandemic. But I fought for my life and so did my HIV doctor. I did everything that was asked of me, but some days it was a bitter pill to swallow, literally. At my worst I took 32 pills a day and the side effects were not pretty, but I survived that ugly era as did many others.

Aging with HIV is one of the hottest topics around this disease. When you think about it, long term survivors like me are aging with the disease. The first documented cases of AIDS in the U.S. were in 1981, which makes HIV 35 years old. This means I've been infected the span of this disease, short of two years. For sure, my life is a miracle because so many died. A couple of weeks ago I had an opportunity to meet six other long term survivors, the stories we shared brought us to tears and laughter, but that's another blog post.

Like me and so many others, we not only have a story to tell, we also put a face to this disease with historical perspective. For sure the greying of AIDS, includes those of us who have lived and aged with HIV whether it’s been fifteen or thirty years, but it's also the population of new infections among the 50 and older. About 15% of new cases represent that age group. This makes it important to tell our story not only to provide hope for those living, but as prevention for those seniors who believe HIV only affects the young.

Last summer I had the pleasure of speaking at an event sponsored by Walgreens. Well Beyond HIV is an awesome exhibit featuring men and women living with HIV who are fifty and older. This traveling art exhibit was curated in collaboration with The Graying of AIDS. It was life size inspiration to witness other peoples’ stories of aging with HIV.

In those early days of our diagnosis many of us lived in isolation for fear of being judged. Thirty-Five years into this pandemic, I will admit that things have changed some, this bold exhibit is one example, but stigma continues to be an uphill battle. I firmly believe that medical technology has advanced quicker than our attitudes about HIV and those living with HIV. Well Beyond HIV provides a forum for people over 50 living with HIV. It is a place not only to create community but to provide tools for living well with this disease.

Aging with HIV has its own set of issues and we have to utilize all the resources that we can. Back in the early days, resources were slim to none. We had to make do the best way that we could. And let me tell you, traveling that road was like walking in a dense forest. Lord, and the days of hiding the few HIV magazines we had like, Positively Aware and The Gay Men Health Crisis. We were starving for information and once we got our hands on it, we coveted it as if it was our last meal on a deserted island.

Today, there is so much information available on living with HIV. What makes the Well Beyond HIV Tumblr page a great place is its focus on the 50 and older community.  Yes, this birthday is yet another milestone and I'm so proud that I didn't give up on myself.  I'm excited, grateful and humble to still be alive. I think grey looks good on me *flips hair* and I feel like I'm moving into a new phase of my life. I have so many dreams for myself and I'm putting those dreams into action every day I take a breath. Like Queen Bee said, "Ima keep running cause a winner don't quit on themselves."

I was sponsored by Walgreens to write this blog post. All opinions expressed are my own.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Here's to Doctor's Keeping the Care in Health Care!

Today on National Doctor's Day and I started thinking about my own doctors. Honestly, in those early days of HIV I didn't even tell a doctor. When I finally told my gynecologist at the HMO in the middle of the exam, he said to me, as he was looking up my vagina, "You are to pretty and to smart to end up with HIV. What did you do?" I felt so small in that moment, and that caused me to shield my HIV status for another year. Then I only told my internist at the same HMO because the doctor who was in charge of the HIV study that I was in at the National Institute of Health wanted me to take AZT. It was a big mess and I was just praying to stay alive.

The doctor patient relationship is so very important.  Having had doctors on both end of the spectrum, I know this to be true. After my first year with Dr. Cohen, I realized that all doctors were not equal and most importantly, you have to advocate for  yourself.  When a doctor does not feel right, then find someone who does. 

Years ago when I had just starting to speak a woman told me that her daughter had just been diagnosed with HIV and the doctor told her she only had two years to live. This mother wanted to know what advice I had for she and her daughter. My response was matter of fact, "Get a new doctor." When your doctor only sees your illness and not the person with the illness the relationship is already at a disadvantage. 

I fundamentally believe the relationship that you have with your doctor can either add value to you're healing or add to your demise. At the top of the list for me is mutual respect. If your doctor does not respect you, they cannot hear you and if they cannot hear you then that cannot truly heal you. Shit, if you don't hear me, then you are not treating me. #Fact!

I remember a girl told me that her sister who was HIV positive kept complaining about low abdominal pain. After the usual "female" round of test the doctor dismissed the problem. Over and over she kept complaining and over and over the doctor kept dismissing her eventually suggesting that she was exaggerating. The woman finally found a new doctor who heard her loud and clear. When it was all said and done she had CMV of the uterus and death followed. They missed this diagnosis because CMV an AIDS related infection typically occurs in the eyes with people living with AIDS.

Stereotypes and or the doctors opinion of the patient is important in the treatment of the patient. Human should be any doctors starting point, not who they are or what they do for a living. I have a friend, a doctor who landed in the prestigious hospital where she practices. She was near death and it took three days for a doctor, in fact an intern to say, "Maybe what we are looking at is HIV/AIDS." They all looked at him like he was crazy, certainly not one of their doctors would have HIV. As the story was told to me he said, "Well did anyone test her?" Her t-cell count was 6. 

Feeling empowered around your health care choices allows you to take ownership of your well being. If your doctor takes that away from you, then you will always struggle to stay on top of the game.

No for me,  I didn't really start getting quality care until I transitioned to AIDS. I landed at County Hospital with no health insurance with Dr. Mardge Cohen the founder of the Women and Children HIV Clinic. I've talked about her on my blog before. Even when my t-cell count was 8, I was a size 0 and HIV medication was mediocre she never told me that I was dying. I've said often that she fought for me when I couldn't fight for myself. When she retired I was lost, but only in my mind LOL because she made sure that I landed with a doctor who's values and knowledge was equal to hers. Dr. Audrey French has fought for me just as hard as Dr. Cohen in these last 9 years.

In the 24 years since I've transitioned to AIDS I've had doctors who care and practice medicine because they care and that has made the difference in my life. They have fought for me and it's made me want to fight for me.

 In October I had the pleasure and honor to be with Dr. Cohen as she was awarded the Humanism Award in medicine from the Arnold P. Gold Foundation for her work in HIV. Not only was she the founder of the Women's and Children Clinic at Stroger Hospital (Cook County) she has an HIV/AIDS clinic in Rwanda.

Since retirement from county, she continues to run the Rwanda Clinic and practices a couple of days a week at the Boston Health Care For the Homeless.

She and Dr. French are also the lead investigators in the Women's Interagency HIV Study, the largest and longest running study looking at Women with HIV. Most of our understanding on Women and HIV has come from the WIHS study and I'm proud of both of them and proud to be a part of their legacy.

At the end of the day, your health depends on not only a good doctor but one who sees the human first and the illness follows. One who hears you and works on your behalf. This is your body and you have a right to have a voice. Any doctor that makes you feel less then, well I say they don't deserve to treat you. And don't tell me that it's easy for me to say being famous with HIV. I go to the Core Center in Chicago, which is where most people in the area are treated for HIV with no health insurance. In fact you couldn't get me to leave, well unless Dr. French retries then I'm lost again. So find you a doctor that is willing to be your partner in the treatment of your illness, whether it's HIV or a stomach ace.

Thank you to all the doctors who work to keep care in healthcare. And a special thanks to my doctors, Dr. Mardge Cohen and Dr. Audrey French who have been my primary care doctors.  I must not forget my  gynecologist who specializes in women with HIV, Dr. Helen Cejtin. She is also one of the investigator in the WIHS study. By the way, when my lower abdominal pain continued, she continued to search for the answer until she found it. For sure,  I was blessed at the right time in my HIV infection with the best doctors and this has made the difference between life and death...

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Tap Into Your Own Power!

Today is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and my message is unwavering. We have to tap into our own power. We have to make the decision to put ourselves first, love ourselves first and absolutely love ourselves more than wanting and needing a man in our life.  

Now don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with dating and love and all that good stuff. There's even nothing wrong with sex. Studies show that people who have sex are happier beings. 

It's just, the decision that you make about your life and body should be rooted in self-love, not the love or desire for love that you have or want from another. If I've learn one thing from other women in the twenty-two years that I've been educating about HIV/AIDS, it's this, the only person that will keep you safe in the end is you.  If I had a dollar for all the stories women have told me about what they thought about their relationship that was not true, I could get me a cute designer bag. 

We make decisions everyday about our lives, based on what someone has told us that we believe, what we assumed and even what we hope for our future. When we should be making decisions on what we know to be true, for sure. We plan our future down to the last "T" but when it comes to dating and love we sometimes get so caught up, that we start making decisions that leave us vulnerable. 

Let me use this example, if your employer told you that your job was going to end. They don't know the date, but for sure, it was not going to last.  You would start looking for another job in spite of the fact that you continue to go to work  everyday. You wouldn't keep hoping that the job wasn't going to end, you would prepare yourself. In fact, even if six months had passed the stress along of waiting for the ball to drop would make you get the hell out of that place.

But if a man tells you that he does not want a relationship, yet he keeps calling, texting, soaking up your space and diving into your goodness, you would rationalize that he eventually will come around. "He must like me," you say to yourself, "but maybe he's afraid of commitment." His behavior makes you  think that one day he's going to say, "I want you as my woman for real" *blank stare* But the man done told you that he does not want a relationship and he meant that shit. That's why he has never introduced you as his women, in spite of how he treats you in private . You keep holding on waiting and wanting and losing a part of yourself with each passing day. Ladies, I'm a witness that the idea of a healthy relationship does not make it true. Just like when the boss say that they are closing the doors, coming to work everyday does not change that fact.

I keep asking why we make these decisions for ourselves that our unhealthy in search of what we think will make us whole. When in fact the only thing that will make us whole is living from our soul.  We live from our soul when we make decisions that lift us up in every single way, mind, body and spirit. Oprah says all the time, that we are responsible for ourselves and that is a truth I will bank on. Yet we surrender ourselves in the name of love.  It really is up to us to take control over our lives and our bodies. Our body belongs to us, our life is our own and some of us treat our designer handbag better than we treat ourselves. 

My suggestions to take control over your life and body.

1) Insist on Condom Use. Every time you have sex without a condom you put your life against that sexual experience and for sure there is no sex worth your life. I promise, if you tell him, no condom no sex  and mean it, he will adjust. If he doesn't want to adjust, you have to not only ask yourself but also give an honest answer, is sex without a condom a risk I'm willing to take? Am I prepared for the consequences of what I don't know?

The reality is this, it's 2 to 1 that a man will infect a woman with HIV and 20 to 1 that a woman will infect a man. Furthermore, over half of the cases of women infected with HIV are through heterosexual sex. We continue to have unprotected sex a decision that is made on what we think we know or we do it in the heat of the moment. Passion will not save your life, neither will your assumptions about your partner. For sure, If the penis ain't in your pocket you have no idea what it's doing when it ain't with you. I say often, "I hope what you think you know about your partner is true."

2) Everyone who has ever had sex needs to be tested for HIV. When people say they don't want to know, I say that's some stupid shit. Why wouldn't you want to know about a medical condition that can be treated and with an early  diagnosis and virus suppression you could live a long life.

It's 2016 and every 10 minutes a person still becomes infected with HIV in the United States. Furthermore 38% of newly diagnosed HIV cases are of people that were infected by someone who did not know that they had HIV. Testing along can reduce the cases of new infections.

I have HIV and I insist that my partner have an HIV test. First off, I don't want to live in that kind of ignorance for him or myself. Most importantly, I am not trying to get re-infected with a different stain of HIV. What I have is more than enough.  By the way, a man can't tell me he got tested a year ago and let it ride. I have no idea what you have done with your penis in the 12 months prior to me. 

Testing for HIV is one of the best things that you can do for yourself. Staying in that ignorance could mean  how long you live or how soon you die. If you test positive  the better off you are in terms of life expectancy. The earlier they suppress the virus the healthier you will be. I know you think you know, but honesty, you don't know until you  take an HIV test. Living in what you think you know rather then what you know for sure is not a healthy lifestyle. I bet you know how much that handbag is that you want so you can get your money in order. *Blank Stare* But you don't know your HIV Status?

3) Have a talk with your partner. I find it so strange that when we talk about sex, we leave out some of the most important things. We know what position he likes best and that is important, and what you like it is equally important. But have you sat down and talked about HIV testing, condom use and other sexually transmitted disease. Have you even opened the door for the conversation? So many people are living with herpes and HVP, not in secret, not just HIV. You must to be willing to have an adult conversation about sex and how it happens with your partner. It makes for a healthy start to any relationship.  

So how to you talk about sex? At the kitchen table with all your clothes on. You cannot talk about sex, condom use in the moment of passion.

4) If you are infected with HIV. Get into treatment and care and STAY in treatment and care. I know it seems like an overwhelming burden. You send me messages about your struggle. But if I can do it for 33 years so can you. Think about this, when I was diagnosed there was no treatment, then came AZT, then can DDI then came more and more and more. I kept doing what my doctors asked of me and it saved my life. I want you to live a good life and the earlier the virus is suppressed the better off you will be.

a) Take your medication as prescribed
b) Talk to your doctor, ask questions, Co-partner with your care.
c) Get a support system. YOU CANNOT DO THIS ALONE
d) Get into some kind of therapy. Depression is very common with HIV and you don't need anything working against you
e) Find you a spiritual outlet
f) Find a community for yourself via social media. There are many people who follow me on my different social media sites who are positive and my post inspire them to keep going. Community is very important. YOU CANNOT DO THIS AlONE!

At the end of the day, I want women to  know that we have so much unspoken and untapped power! My challenge to you today, whether  you are infected or affected is to tap into the power within you, for a better you! Namaste

In honor of Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day the Office of Women's Health is sponsoring a blog hop. Please check out  the blog post of my partners for today.

Rae Lewis-Thornton Diva Living With AIDS Blog (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook)
Charreah Jackson,  Essence (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook)
Karyn Lee,  Red Pump Project (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook)
Dr. Hazel Dean, Black Doctor  Twitter, Instagram, Facebook)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

RLT Reads Book Club Is Back! Check Out Feb and March Picks!

Finally! RLT Reads Book Club is back up and running. I've missed those lively discussios so it's about time that we do it again. My online book club was orginally formed in 2011 and we had our discussions via Twitter and my blog.

 But Goodreads has created a wonderful space for book clubs so I've moved us to Goodreads. If you are not a member please JOIN. It's also connected to your Facebook page so give Goodreads permission, it's all good. Make sure that you Friend ME on Goodreads and Join the RLT READS Book Club

Let me tell you a tad more about the book club

The genres we will read are mostly for, by and about women, both fiction and non-fiction . We will unpack "a woman's story" each month as a way to understand the paradigms that are both real and those forced upon women. We will tackle, sex, dating, love, race, gender, self worth and misogyny. While we are dealing with important topics some of the books chosen will be fun.

I am an avid reader and want to share my love for books and expose you to many different authors. I will moderate and choose the books each month. But overtime I will seek others to moderate as well as, conduct open polls on the monthly selection. 

All of our discussions will be via goodreads and they will start at the beginning of each month and remain open for the late comers thru the following month after the read close date.

RLT Reads Book Club is open to anyone who would like to join me in the monthly book discussions. 

My perspective is always provocative and I want to push the envelope with every read. I've chosen the first two books. In February we will tackle Toni Morrison's a mercy. I know some of you have a hard time getting through Morrison's book, me included. I thought that we can push each other. I chose a mercy because it's black history month and slavery is always a good issue to tackle.

For the month of March the book is CoRregidora by  Gayl Jones. I learned about this book from reading an article on Toni Morrsion in the New York Times Magazine. While Morrsion was an editor at Random House she discovered Jones manuscript. After reading Corregidora for the first time she said, "that no novel about black women could ever be the same after this." With that siad,, I believe Corregidora is the perfect pick for Women's history month.

Back to back, we will tackle Toni Morrison, her own writing and what she believes is great writing from another author by and about black women. I'm excited! Please recommit to the book club. At one time we had 111 members. We WELCOME new readers too. The discussion will run the entire month but will remain open thru the following month for those who require more time for reading. 

This is where you join RLTReads. But you also have to be a member of goodreads, join HERE And again my page is on Goodreads is Rae Lewis-Thornton. See ya on Goodreads in February! Namaste

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