By William McGregor
Originally published on Advocate.com May 15 2012 7:00 AM ET
My journey to AIDS/LifeCycle 11 began 11 years ago. In the early part of 2001, I got sick with a cough that wouldn’t go away. I was without insurance, so I went months with this cough while periodically visiting the “free” clinic for meds. When I finally got insurance, I got the cough taken care of.
By then I had gotten sicker and lost a fair amount of weight. I probably knew in the back of my mind what was going on. It wasn’t until a recheck with my doctor that all hell broke loose. During the visit I started to get violently ill, not able to catch my breath all the while vomiting everywhere. I knew enough about medicine to know I was going into respiratory arrest. My pulse oxygen at this point was 76%. I ended up in the ER and was told I had pneumocystis and that the only people who get this type of pneumonia were people with compromised immune systems, specifically HIV.
So I consented to an HIV test. The result showed that I was not only HIV-positive, but I had progressed to AIDS. My T-cell count was two. And my viral load was off the chart.
My doctor immediately put me on a cocktail of Sustiva and Combivir. I spent that next month in the hospital. Five years or so later he changed my cocktail regimen to Atripla, and I have been on it ever since. The nine years since my diagnosis were spent waiting to die.
Two years ago a friend of mine was training for AIDS/LifeCycle 10, and she wanted me to join her, but I wasn’t in the right frame of mind or fitness level. At this point my doctor mentioned that I could foreseeably have the same life expectancy of someone my same age who did not have AIDS or smoke.
Given that my viral load has stayed undetectable for more than seven years and my T-cells were over 700, he told me that my smoking would kill me before AIDS would. So I kicked myself in the ass and decided right there that I was going to start living my life. I quit smoking and started riding a bike.
I signed up for this year’s ride in August of last year and have been raising funds ever since. Veteran riders warned me the hardest part of the ride would be the fund-raising. Boy, were they right. My friend introduced me to Team Popular, and I joined a close-knit bunch of friends. My hope is that at the end of the ride, I will have become a full-fledged family member of Team Popular and AIDS/LifeCycle while raising money and awareness for that will help eradicate HIV/AIDS, not to mention walk away with lifelong friends.
This year I turned 40. And I want to do something big to celebrate not only this monumental day but also to celebrate a birthday that I never envisioned living to see.