Spotlight on Women's Health
An Interview About Living With HIV/AIDS: Maria Mejia
March 02, 2015
There is life and love after an HIV diagnosis. That’s the message Maria Mejia, an activist and woman living with AIDS, wants to share in honor of National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NWGHAAD) on March 10.
As an ambassador for NWGHAAD, Maria is joining the Office on Women's Health to shed light on the impact HIV/AIDS has on women and girls. Because there are women all across the country who are affected by HIV/AIDS — just like she is — she feels passionately about putting a face to the disease. She offers support and hope to reduce the stigma, and increase knowledge about HIV/AIDS preventive, care, and treatment. Maria talks about living with HIV/AIDS.
Maria Mejia is the co-author of From a Warrior's Passion and Pain, a real-life account of her 25-year battle with HIV/AIDS. She wants to send the message that she is far more than just a condition. Today, Maria lives in Florida with her wife Lisa. She continues to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS.
Q: How long have you been HIV-positive?
A: I have been living with HIV for almost 26 years. I was infected at 16 and diagnosed at 18. It was 1991. After 10 years of not getting treatment and refusing it, I was diagnosed with AIDS. I also had cancer in my uterus.
Q: You waited nearly 10 years to start receiving treatment. Why?
A: I was afraid and young. At the time, they were giving large doses of AZT [an anti-HIV drug also known as ZDV, or zidovudine]. It was my only option, and they wanted me to sign a waiver that said it could damage my internal organs. I was scared.
I almost died because of the decision not to take meds.
Q: Why did you finally decide to get care?
A: I was diagnosed with AIDS with a T-cell count of 39. I also had cancer in my uterus. This is why I decided to get on medication. I just wanted to live. I was given one month to live if I didn’t start my medications. I am so glad I chose to live, because I love life. I was a caterpillar that turned into a butterfly that is going all over the world spreading the message of hope! My mission is simple: Give hope to the hopeless and save lives by sharing my life story. I also have accomplished many important things. I have the love of my life, Lisa; family; and friends that love me. Most importantly, I love myself!
Q: What’s your advice to women and girls who have been recently diagnosed with HIV?
A: I want them to understand that there is life after HIV/AIDS. The most important things are to love yourself, take your medicine, and live a very healthy lifestyle. I have come so far! I will never give up. You have to fight till your last breath. On hard days, I know my spirit is stronger than my body. I am a very spiritual human being, and this helps me keep on trucking.
Q: What do you think is the biggest misconception about living with HIV/AIDS?
A: The biggest misconception is that you are going to die! That your life is over and no one will ever love you with this condition! This is far from the truth. You can live a full life with HIV/AIDS. I may be living with AIDS, but first I am a woman. Just follow your treatment plan and do not let a virus define you.
Q: You were young when you were diagnosed. Has your status affected your romantic relationships?
A: I have been blessed! No one has ever rejected me. I am upfront, and I have learned to have high self-esteem. I also pick people that are educated about the disease. You can teach people how you want to be treated. Never settle.
I am very happy and married to the love of my life, Lisa. She is my soulmate and partner in life. We have been together for eight and a half years and she is HIV-negative.
Q: What do you think needs to happen to reduce the stigma around HIV/AIDS?
A: People have to start coming out of the HIV/AIDS closet. The more we come out and show our faces with no shame, the more we humanize this condition. No more shame! No more stigma!
Q: Why should women and girls know their status?
A: Women and girls should take control of their health. Know your status for yourself and for the person you are involved with. Getting tested helps you take control of your health. If you happen to have HIV, you can get treatment and live a long life. If you are negative, you can take steps to remain that way.
Q: How can others show their support of women and girls living with HIV/AIDS?
A: It is important that people support us and get educated! This way they can teach their communities and maybe we can get to zero new infections. This is my dream.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
A: I am honored to be one of the women chosen to be an ambassador for NWGHAAD 2015. My mission in life is simple: Give hope to the hopeless and prevent new infections. Together, we can work to end the stigma and get to zero new infections. I urge everyone with HIV/AIDS to take their medications and use condoms!
Remember, we are more than a virus. HIV/AIDS is not a moral condition; it is a human condition.
The statements and opinions in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health.