Hey, I’m Joe –
A 65 year old Italian American man living on Long Island. Having lived in NYC for a long time, I relocated to Suffolk County 27 years ago shortly before being diagnosed with HIV. I don’t drive which can be a struggle getting around, but I have managed to make it work. I have reinvented myself in recent times, and currently work within the HIV community as a peer mentor. I began taking medication for HIV when I was first diagnosed because I was dying. I was comfortable being a guinea pig and volunteered to participate in a clinical trial study for an antiretroviral therapy (ART) drug going through its final clearance. I was motivated to help others like myself in need of this life-saving medication, regardless of whether or not it would actually benefit me. At one point I was very ill, and thanks to my medication, I’m not. I’d like to keep it that way, and the funny thing is that HIV is the least concern of my health problems.

Living with HIV has historically been portrayed in a negative and somewhat stigmatizing way. To me, the U=U movement injected positive messaging; a much needed change for the HIV community. U=U stands for undetectable equals untransmittable, which means that when I take my ART medications the way my doctor prescribes, I’m unable to transmit HIV to others sexually. That fact is very important to me. The first medications I took were hard on my stomach in the beginning, causing some nausea and heartburn. Fortunately, I didn’t experience many of the side effects mentioned with the new medication I’m currently taking. In the 25 years that I have taken my medication, it has gone from being difficult to being very simple. I went from 6 pills a day to just one pill a day! I do miss a dose occasionally but overall, taking my medication has become a habit which I am thankful for. For me, taking ART medication was not an option— it was the last best hope!