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Though people no longer discuss AIDS as much frequency as they once did, the terminal illness is still out there and still being spread. It’s still taking the lives of siblings, wives, husbands, cousins, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, neighbors, men, women and children. There is still no cure. It has silenced future leaders. It has destroyed entire families. Therefore in the honor of my brother, William, who lost his battle to this dreaded disease I will share the following information. If he were here He would want you to know:

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome:

  • Acquired means you can get infected with it;
  • Immune Deficiency means a weakness in the body’s system that fights diseases.
  • Syndrome means a group of health problems that make up a disease

Being HIV-positive, or having HIV disease, is not the same as having AIDS. Many people are HIV-positive but don’t get sick for many years. As HIV disease continues, it slowly wears down the immune system. Viruses, parasites, fungi, and bacteria that usually don’t cause any problems can make you very sick if your immune system is damaged.

I recall the very first time my older brother said he was HIV positive. It seemed to suck all the air out of the room. My mother stared at him. I thought for sure that I was hearing things. This was the mid 1980’s when the mere word would send chills down your spine. At that time we only understood it to be a disease that guaranteed certain death. After he left the house that evening, my mother cried tears of great sadness. She wanted so much to not believe anything that he had told her. My dad sat in silence. It was then we started getting as much information as possible.  My brother did well the first few years until he caught a cold. That cold was the beginning of the end of any normalcy that we would ever see in him. The infections, the t-cell drop and the shingles all made rapid appearances. It was only then did we learn that living life to the best of your ability was the key.

We tried as much as we could to encourage him and keep him going. I recall my very last visit with him. He was lying in his hospital bed and I asked him was he going to be at it this time. He looked at his window and said, wistfully, “I am not sure but I am gonna try.” A smile crossed his face. Later that night I went home and my phone rang. It was another friend of mine. His voice sounded so solemn. It was crystal clear when he said to me. I just lived in a world of denial. My brother first and now my close friend. This could not be happening!  I told him he needed to clear  what ‘it” was. “I have it honey bun” I of course not knowing what “it’ was questioned him. All he said was “It” in reply. I knew right then that I was in for a ride. The difference between the two was that while my brother’s immune system almost immediately started to fail, my friend’s did not. My brother died battling the disease. My friend fights it everyday. Its been 15 years since my friend’s diagnosis that he was HIV positive.

What did I learn from them both? Those people in your life that are battling it need your love and support. It can happen to anyone at any stage of your life. Live every moment to its fullest. Today as we recall all the lives this disease has stolen remember to live smartly.

{For more from Oretha Winston follow her on Twitter}

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