By Olga Irwin, Regional Co-Chair, PWN-USA-Ohio
Olga Irwin studied at Youngstown State University and became a licensed social worker in 2009. She was diagnosed with AIDS in 1999. Since her diagnosis she has become involved in the HIV community – starting with joining support groups, which were only offered for gay men in her area. She found more support systems through the Internet, HIV clinics, and Ryan White case managers. Now Olga is a member of Ohio AIDS Coalition, Ohio Community Prevention Group, the Ryan White Care Advisory Board, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Campaign to End AIDS, and also the Co-Chair of Positive Women Network USA-Ohio.
While writing that bio above, for the Ohio Chapter’s page of PWN-USA’s website, and while going through all my Happy Birthday wishes on Facebook on February 16, I was just so overwhelmed with how much support and how many more opportunities are now available for women living with HIV.
I was so used to years of only knowing about a small group of women. I met these women through attending Healing Weekends that were held by Ohio AIDS Coalition. We kept in touch through phone calls and emails, and one of the women became my best friend for at least 13 years. We meet at our first Healing Weekend. We got involved with activities together, and helped each other through everything that life handed us.
This year, the day before Thanksgiving, she lost her battle of almost two years fighting 4th-stage lung cancer. I thought I would never make it through the loss of the first woman I met that had HIV – who was also my best friend. The women that I’ve met through the years all joined together and helped me though this time period, and are still helping me through it in many different ways.
Oh! Sorry about getting off track a little bit, but I could not forget to share how I got started meeting other women living with HIV. Back to my birthday. I personally thanked each birthday well-wisher on Facebook individually; it was over 200 wishes, which took two hours to do. Over the past years the wishes have been more and more; but this year they really uplifted me, because about 70-80 of the wishes were from women that I have met just recently through Positive Women’s Network – USA, and about another 30 were people I have met through other organizations, agencies, and associations with HIV. That is over half! I was in total shock at this.
National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on March 10 is so important, for the main reason that women have a chance to learn about the many different opportunities and services available out there now for women living with HIV to meet other women for support and to share information. In Ohio this year, the PWN-USA Ohio Chapter is having two all-day events for this day – because we as a group know how important and powerful it is for women to know that there are others out there who feel and have the same questions they do, and that they are not alone in this community.
One event will take place in Cincinnati on March 10 …
… and the other event will be held on March 13 in Columbus!
I do not live in an area that has Ryan White Part D programs, but know I would not have met the majority of the women I have met if it was not for the Ryan White Part D programs they were involved with. This program for them is the only source of healthcare that they are able to access. With the potential consolidation of Ryan White Part D into Part C, many services may be lost that would make it so much harder for women to receive care, and get the support they need to stay in care, so that they will then be able to accomplish many things as they live healthy, long lives.
Olga Irwin lives in Youngstown and is the Co-Chair and Strategic Communications Action Team Rep for PWN-USA’s Ohio Chapter.
More Online Resources and Support for Women Living with HIV