"I'm a survivor!" These are the words of Denise
McDonald, who is indeed a survivor. Born deaf and weighing only
three pounds, Denise has endured much pain and many challenges
in her brief 54 years. She has struggled through two bouts of
ovarian cancer, had her breasts removed due to cancer, and is a
woman who is HIV-positive.
Denise is originally from Elgin, Illinois. She and her family
(dad, mom, two sisters, and a brother) moved to Arizona in 1973
to find allergy relief. She also found a job working with
children, using sign language, in a deaf education program in
Yuma. Surgery partially restored her hearing; however her dream
of working for the Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind was not
to be fulfilled due to HIV and diabetes. Some days her body just
won't cooperate with what her mind would like to do. That is
Denise's biggest challenge today. For example, a dream trip to
Disneyland turned into a bad dream. She was able to walk around
the park the first day, but afterwards, her loving and
supportive husband of eight years, Michael, had to maneuver her
in a wheelchair—not a fun option for either one of them.
Denise's HIV is a result of a blood transfusion during the
time when AIDS was first becoming a public health issue and the
blood supply was not adequately monitored. Her current HIV
medications involve 12 pills in the morning and 8 pills at
night. She realizes that others living with HIV take much more
medicine than that, and considers herself lucky to be on such a
minimal regimen, and fortunate to live in a country where HIV
medications are available.
Denise's previous marriage dissolved due to her physical
health. Her husband had decided that he could not face spending
the rest of his married life caring for someone who could be so
incapacitated at times. Reluctantly, they divorced. Denise has
one son, and a grandson. When asked how her son handled the news
when she was diagnosed with HIV in 1984, she sadly replied that
he does not talk about it. Denise's own reaction was one of
disbelief. She was stunned to find out she had the same disease
as Ryan White. She remembers seeing a 60 Minutes
television program that featured a woman who had AIDS. Every
three months there was an update, but eventually the woman died.
It took Denise two weeks to cry as she realized that this could
happen to her.
Despite the curves that life has thrown her way, Denise
derives pleasure from participating in water aerobics, baking,
and cross-stitching. She has also discovered a web site chat
room devoted to HIV/AIDS (www.13km.com)
that she finds supportive.
Denise has been involved with TIHAN as a volunteer in the
office, but is most excited about being utilized as a speaker in
faith communities, sharing her personal story about living with
HIV. She hopes to reach out to the people in the pews and
hopefully change their attitude about HIV/AIDS. Several years
ago, Denise experienced a spiritual crisis when the church she
was attending forbade her to sing in the choir because they
feared she might bleed on the other members, and they even switched their glass
communion cups to plastic disposable ones. Denise tried to
provide HIV education to the congregation, but they weren't
ready to listen. Eventually, she left that church.
TIHAN's Poz Cafe lunch program is one of the things that
keeps Denise going. One of the reasons that Denise loves Poz
Cafe is because it involves volunteers from various faith
communities coming together to learn about HIV, and have a
hands-on service project supporting people living with HIV/AIDS.
These volunteers help make Poz Cafe a safe place, a haven, where
she can interact with her peers and does not feel isolated and
alone. "HIV can feel isolating at times, so the
socialization with TIHAN's volunteers and others living with HIV
is so important to us," Denise says. "Poz Cafe
provides that social link that is critical to me. And my
favorite part of all is the hugs I get and I give at Poz Cafe.
It makes all the difference."
—written in part by Valerie Golembiewski
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work of TIHAN, please click
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donation by phone. You can also mail your check, made payable to
TIHAN, to 2660 North 1st Avenue, Tucson, Arizona 85719-2911.
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