“I was only 22 when I was diagnosed. I was young and I felt it. But everyone’s just trying to learn how to live, and now I’m just learning how to live a little differently.”
Jessica was diagnosed with HIV at the age of 22 when she visited the doctor to have her lymph nodes examined. What seemed like a mundane check-up quickly turned into a life-changing event.
Even more difficult than learning her status, however, was breaking the news to her family. Jessica recalls the uneasy silence her parents responded with compared to the brash reaction from her siblings. “My mom was really quiet. My dad, too. But my siblings — they freaked out. I had to hang up the phone because they were so upset.”
It was not until much later that Jessica learned a romantic partner intentionally withheld his status from her. Perhaps he acted out of fear of judgment, she now wonders. The stigma and shame that shadows the disease inspired Jessica to take action. “The first HIV awareness event I put on was at Sunset Bowl in Waukegan, and it was a simple Q-and-A. I invited my family and friends to ask me whatever they wanted about HIV and AIDS.”
Upon returning to Chicago after several years outside the city, Jessica found herself constantly answering questions about her status. “When I moved back, I ran into many people from my past that didn’t know I was now HIV-positive. I wanted to get family, friends and people I grew up with involved in the cause.” Last year, Jessica created her very own team to participate in AIDS Run & Walk Chicago. She and some of her closest friends and family joined hands to raise awareness and funds aimed at raising awareness about HIV.
Jessica recalls feeling uplifted while at Soldier Field for AIDS Run & Walk Chicago for last year’s event. “I felt secure and supported by so many people.” This year, #TeamJessica will once again #BandTogether on Saturday, Oct. 1, in support of an AIDS-free generation.