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Forget everything you think you know about people living with HIV.

Becky Mitchell, who contracted HIV in her 40s, talks about being HIV Positive

Becky Mitchell, who contracted HIV in her 40s, talks about being HIV Positive

Becky Mitchell is a picture of health – she teaches gym classes four times a week, always eats her five fruit and veg a day, and loves to cycle.

In the summer of 2012, Becky had found a new lease of life after splitting with her husband.  She eventually met someone new and, after a few months together, they started having unprotected sex.

But not long afterwards she received an email from her partner’s ex-girlfriend that changed her life forever.

Story via Metro

Diagnosis

We got together and were really careful to start with. After a few months, he said he didn’t have anything, and I figured, we’re in our 40s – who lies about these things? So, as the relationship got more serious, we stopped using condoms.

A few weeks later, I’d been feeling ill for a couple of weeks, and had noticed a rash on my chest, but didn’t think anything of it. Then I got an email from his ex-girlfriend, telling me he had HIV and doesn’t take his medicine properly.

I thought, oh my god, I’ve got to go and get tested. The doctor suggested I wait a month so I went back in on a Monday to get the test. On the Friday after work, I was back in the doctor’s about a completely different thing, when my doctor got a phone call while I was in the room. It was my results.

The doctor told me there and then that I had HIV. My first response was, I haven’t got time to be ill! I knew I couldn’t let this stop me running or cycling. I asked the doctor if I’d still be able to do all of that – he assured me I would, and he phoned after the weekend to check I was alright. As it sunk in I felt shocked and upset – I knew there was no cure.

But my passion for fitness helped me come to terms with my diagnosis – I carried on teaching spinning, kettlebells and leading running groups. I knew I wanted to get on with my life as normal.

Telling friends and family

I told a couple of friends straight away and left it a little while longer to tell my mum and brother.

It was particularly hard for my mum. What can your mum really say? She had a typical mother’s reaction – she just felt powerless, saying, ‘I can’t take this away from you, there’s nothing I could do to make it better.’

Friends would say to me, ‘How on earth could you have HIV? You’re so fit and sensible.’ But that’s the thing – it can happen to anyone. HIV doesn’t discriminate, it could happen in your first sexual relationship or in older age.

My friends understood that being HIV positive is not the same as ‘AIDS’; that I was not going to die. But they did have questions – they’d always say ‘sorry if that sounds stupid’, but I’d never blame them for not knowing the ins and outs of HIV. I wouldn’t have known myself if it hadn’t happened to me. I knew it came from a point of them wanting to be better informed and wanting to know I’m alright.

Treatment

I’ve never felt like an ill person or a victim. Within two weeks of starting my treatment, it had suppressed the amount of HIV in my blood to ‘undetectable’ levels. And I’ve stayed undetectable ever since. I feel superhuman!

It definitely helps that I was diagnosed early and that I’m fit and healthy. Who knows what is further ahead as I grow older with HIV, but I’ve really not had any issues or side effects.

Support

I knew I couldn’t deal with this on my own, I needed to speak to people living with HIV. I joined the Terrence Higgins Trust forum that evening and got a lot of my questions answered by people who really understood.

I’ve also had lots of support from Terrence Higgins Trust’s Bristol office who have been fantastic. You shouldn’t feel alone – there is community out there, ready to support you if or when you need it.

Dating and relationships

After my diagnosis, I was traumatised by my experience and glad to be on my own – I have always been comfortable by myself.

Every now and again something comes along and I’ve dated people, usually meeting them through friends. I’ve never had any negative feedback from dates about my HIV status, probably because most people already know about it as I’ve put it out there in the media. I find once it’s out there and I’m open about it, it doesn’t cause an issue. It’s the fear, silence and taboo around HIV that fuels stigma.

I decided to be really open about my HIV status as the more it’s out there, the more we can normalise it and improve public awareness.

I want people to know that HIV doesn’t define me as a person; I’m the same woman, just stronger and wiser.

Have you ever been tested?

Some people think taking a HIV test is scary, but honestly it shouldn’t be. The condition is entirely manageable.  If you test positive, early detection, monitoring and effective treatment means that your life can largely carry on as before.

Incredible medical progress has been made in the last 20 years and HIV treatment is now very effective. If you are diagnosed with HIV before it has damaged your body and you are put on effective treatment, you can expect to live as long as anyone else.

HIV is no longer the death sentence it used to be and people are able to live, healthy and happy lives like they did before. However, this is thanks to the amazing progress we have made in treating the condition and we can only begin to do that when we make the decision to get tested and keep on top of our health.

Late HIV diagnosis in Leicester is 13.8% higher than the average for England.  It’s a scary prospect to some and no one takes that for granted, but by taking the chance to be tested, you could be buying yourself years of life.

For more information on HIV Testing, please visit our website where you can find information about testing with us or other places in Leicester/shire and around the UK.  We also have information about testing for HIV at home.

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Why we shouldn’t be scared of ‘The Test’

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 14:  Prince Harry has blood taken by Specialist Psychotherapist Robert Palmer as he takes an HIV test during a visit to Burrell Street Sexual Health Clinic on July 14, 2016 in London, England. Prince Harry was visiting the clinic, run by Guy's and St Thomas NHS Foundation to promote the importance of getting tested for HIV and other STDs.  (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Prince Harry takes a HIV test during a visit to Burrell Street Sexual Health Clinic.  Prince Harry was visiting the clinic to promote the importance of getting tested for HIV.  (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images).  Click here to read about Harry’s fight against HIV and his mother, Princess Diana’s Visit to LASS in November 1991. 

Some people think taking a HIV test is scary, but honestly it shouldn’t be. The condition is entirely manageable.  If you test positive, early detection, monitoring and effective treatment means that your life can largely carry on as before.

Incredible medical progress has been made in the last 20 years and HIV treatment is now very effective. If you are diagnosed with HIV before it has damaged your body and you are put on effective treatment, you can expect to live as long as anyone else.

HIV treatment aims to lower the amount of HIV in the body to undetectable levels. Global research, known as the PARTNER study, has found that HIV cannot be passed on when the virus is undetectable. In other words, if someone is on effective HIV treatment, it is extremely unlikely that he or she will pass on HIV to anyone else.

This is a massive breakthrough. It means that if everyone with HIV were on effective treatment, we could finally stop the spread of HIV. Until then, it is essential to use condoms to protect yourself.

For some people the idea of being tested for HIV is as simple as making a note in a calendar, an entry which sits comfortably beneath a dentist appointment and above a mother’s birthday. For others, the idea of making that appointment, or taking that long walk to the clinic, is one of the most nerve-wracking experiences they can imagine. However, in an age where the numbers of people diagnosed with HIV are increasing, has our natural fear of the unknown become a luxury we simply can’t afford?

Many years ago it was a scary disease. We called it AIDS and it became a name associated with sin and death. The massive number of infections, particularly in the gay community, were staggering, and as the death toll slowly crept up, nations across the world panicked. It’s impossible for any society to come through such a dark time and emerge unscathed, and so the fear of a silent killer left a scar on our cultural memory which has never really healed, and even in 2016, the mere mention of HIV and AIDS still has a way of stopping conversations.

Thankfully, things have changed since then and treatment for HIV is better now than it has ever been. People who have the condition are now finding that their lives have not changed completely, and they are still able to live as long and do all the same things they could before. It’s true that they now have a few additional concerns to think about but with the help of medication, HIV is now manageable.

HIV is no longer the death sentence it used to be and people are able to live, healthy and happy lives like they did before. However, this is thanks to the amazing progress we have made in treating the condition and we can only begin to do that when we make the decision to get tested and keep on top of our health. Late HIV diagnosis in Leicester is 13.8% higher than the average for England.  It’s a scary prospect to some and no one takes that for granted, but by taking the chance to be tested, you could be buying yourself years of life.

GET A HIV TEST AT LASS

Our Rapid HIV testing service is available Monday-Friday between 9am – 4pm.  You do not need an appointment.

The test is performed at our office on Regent Road, Leicester by qualified and experienced HIV testers.  The process usually takes around 20 minutes.  If you’re unsure, or would like to speak to someone about HIV Testing, please call us on 0116 2559995 or pop in and see us.

The test is free to ‘at risk groups’ and always confidential.  If you’re not at risk, we can refer you to an alternative service who will be able to provide you with a free HIV test.  You can still test with us for £20 or you may prefer a free Home Sampling kit or buy a Home Testing kit from BioSure for £29.95.

Other places which can test for HIV

SHACC (Sexual Health and Contraceptive Clinic) in Leicester.  They offer information, advice and screening for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) as well as HIV in GP settings.  For more information or to book an appointment Phone 0800 75 66 277 or visit shacc.co.uk

St Peters GU Medicine Clinic provide Free, confidential services including STI testing including HIV tests along with A full range of contraception including Post Exposure HIV Prophylaxis – PEP/PEPSE Tel: 0300 124 0102 or 0800 318 908 or visit them online at leicestersexualhealth.nhs.uk

Trade Sexual Health offers a rapid HIV testing service for LGB&T individuals.  Contact them on 0116 2541747 or visittradesexualhealth.com for more information.

There are lots of places where you can get a HIV test if you’re unable to use services in Leicester or Leicestershire.  Visit NAM, they have an online portal which can help you find a service in your area.

Thanks for reading, let us know what you think in the comments below, or you can find us on FacebookTwitter or Instagram!

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What’s stopping YOU from having a HIV test?

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  • Have you ever had sex without a condom?

  • Have you ever had a HIV test?

Two simple questions, two simple answers.

If you’ve ever had sex without a condom and never had a HIV test, how do you know you’re HIV negative?  That’s the drive behind National HIV Test week which commenced today.

Regular readers of this blog should know what HIV is all about since it’s what we write and share about but what about people who know very little about HIV and why it’s important to get tested?

Put simply, HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) gradually attacks your immune system, which is your body’s natural defence against illness.  If you were to become infected with HIV, you’ll find it harder to fight off infections and diseases.  It’s a progressive disease and unfortunately, it’s incurable but if caught early and given the right treatment, you’ll be fine.  Although you’ll need to make sure you watch your health and stay in touch with your doctor.

A lot of people think HIV is a death sentence, that’s simply not true (click this link to find out why) but if left untreated it will cause you some problems so it’s best to get tested for HIV at least once in your life, just to be sure.  There are many others who test regularly for HIV to keep their health in check.

About a quarter of people who have HIV don’t realise they have it, and it’s very likely that untreated HIV will be passed to other people.  That’s why we’re inviting YOU and everyone (in Leicestershire) who reads this post to have a HIV test.  If you can visit us, great – we’ll be happy to give you a confidential test or if you prefer to test confidentially at home, that’s ok too!

This National HIV Testing Week think about the best HIV testing option for you.

We’re can’t tell you which is the right one, because that’s down to your personal preference.  If you’d like to visit us, head on down to 53 Regent Road, Leicester. LE1 6YF (Here’s a map) or call us on 0116 2559995.

Our Rapid HIV Test will provide your results within 60 seconds from a simple finger prick test!  We use the Insti HIV test produced by BioLytical laboratories. The test is 99.96% accurate from 90 days after  contact for detecting HIV 1 and 2 antibodies.

If you prefer to test privately, in your own home, click this link for a home sampling kit.  It’s easy to home sample, simply drop a small amount of blood into a vile and post it off to be tested.  You’ll get the results in a couple of weeks.  This service is only for people who live in Leicestershire.

Not from Leicestershire? – No problem those lovely people at NAM have built a HIV test finder service.  Head on over to: aidsmap.com/hiv-test-finder to find out where you nearest HIV test centre is.

So, you have all the information you need to have a HIV test, what’s stopping you from having one?

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