by Maria Cruz, PWN-USA Philadelphia
I am a HIV positive recovering addict, and live a wonderful life. However, the wonderful life I live now wasn’t always so bright. It was during my incarceration that I first learned that I was HIV positive.
I saw other women getting tested in the jail facility that I was housed at so I wanted to be tested as well. I knew that I was at risk because I was a prostitute and a drug user. The test came back positive.
I was devastated. I cried in my cell because I felt that my life was over as I knew it. I had no one to turn to; I was feeling depressed, and thought that I was going to die. Back then I didn’t know of any resources, clinics, or treatment available for people living with HIV. In spite of this I was grateful to found out about Philadelphia FIGHT and I have learned a lot through my experience at Philadelphia fight. I enrolled into the TEACH classes and successful graduated from them. I now am a member and advocate with the Positive Women‘s Network-USA.
I am a co-coordinator of PWN-USA’s Philadelphia chapter where I serve as the Latina community. I speak to Senators and law makers on the issues that affected me and others living with HIV like more funds for programs such as housing, medical care, and the needs of the Latino community like more educational programs on HIV within the Latino community. I have not let my HIV status hold me back for being involved in the betterment of myself and helping others that live with HIV. As I always said “the disease lives with me I don’t live with it.” I continue to move forward.
It’s so important to me to educate the people in my community about HIV, many Latina women just don’t know enough about the disease and they don’t know their risk factors. My job is to talk to them, pass on the information that I learned through the TEACH outside classes and to inspire them to stand up and fight for their health and human rights.
I understand that it is difficult to face this disease, but I know that if I stick to what my doctors and my other care providers tell me, I will get to see my three grandchildren grow up. I was diagnosed over seventeen years ago and am very happy with my life now. I have my children and my mother back in my life, I am engaged to be married, I’ve been drug free for almost five years now, and I have a rewarding job that allows me to help others.
Maria Cruz is PWN -USA– Philadelphia’s Latina Coordinator. She is based in Philadelphia, PA.