A senior moment: sero-conversion late in life

I’m a senior citizen and a gay man living with HIV. I’m not the only gay HIVer of my generation, of course, but I’m perhaps different from most in that I wasn’t diagnosed with HIV until I was in my sixties. That happened 18 months ago. Then a year later, I retired from the workplace. I’d been employed without a break for almost 45 years, including 26 years with the same employer, a luxury that’s unfortunately only a dream for a younger generation. Learning how to live with HIV and how to grow old gracefully are the issues that now frame my life.

Being diagnosed with HIV in 2010 was not as scary as it would have been if I’d received the news in the 1980s or early 1990s, as many of my friends had. That’s because I knew that it was no longer a death sentence but rather a chronic illness that could be managed effectively with medication. But it was a wake-up call. Clearly my life had changed irrevocably, so I was going to have to evaluate what I’d been doing and plan for a different future.

I’m fortunate in having a physician who’s experienced in treating patients with HIV. For years, I’d been going to him for HIV tests every six months. When I visited his office in February 2010 complaining of a sore throat that wouldn’t go away, along with a nasty rash that had developed all over my body, he immediately suspected a seroconversion illness, which it proved to be. He provided me with much reassurance along with helpful information about the effects of the virus on my body and on my overall health, lifestyle changes that would be necessary and my options around treatment.

I knew the exact date – just three weeks prior to the beginning of my seroconversion illness – that I’d been infected because I’d had sex only once in the previous two months. Because I’d been infected so recently, my doctor and I decided that I’d go on antiretroviral medication right away. Apparently, there’s a growing body of research that shows that if treatment is started shortly after seroconversion it’s likely that less permanent damage would be done to the immune system. So far, my meds are proving effective: I’ve experienced no side-effects, my CD4 count is within the normal range and my viral load is undetectable.

Because I believe that knowledge is power, I read as much about HIV as I could find, both in print and online, particularly around treatment issues and other aspects of managing my health. A few months ago, I discovered Positive Lite [a Canadian online HIV magazine] and have been inspired by the personal stories of the women and men featured here. When I wrote about this to the guys who run the site – Brian Finch and Bob Leahy – they suggested that I make my own regular contribution to it. [You can find John's articles on the Positive Lite website here.]

In my posts I plan to blog about what it’s like learning to live with HIV later in life, about adjusting to no longer working and living on a pension income, about my support network, my life in Toronto, my passions and peeves and my successes and failures. I know my HIV story is not unique – there’s an increasing number of men who are seroconverting in middle age or later – but it’s not something we hear a lot about. So an important motivation for me to write about my experiences is the hope that what I have to share may help others who’ve been diagnosed later in life and to let them know that they’re not alone. Wish me luck!

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Starting treatment

By Christopher

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This story was first published on the Positive Lite website. Thanks to Positive Lite for giving permission to reproduce it here.

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