Drummond Marais: Living an Exceptional Life with HIV
When were you diagnosed with HIV and how did you react?
I was diagnosed HIV+ at the age of 55, in 2005 – Strangely enough, the news came as no shock to me (perhaps I had subconsciously expected it?) and I refused to give in to the predictable ‘victimhood’ mentality…I did not see it as a ‘death sentence’ and continued living my life with a positive attitude;
Conversely, my life-partner, who was 46 at the time, did not handle the ‘news’ very well when he was simultaneously diagnosed in 2005…he experienced a period of deep depression and hopelessness, a mental attitude that gradually corrected itself during the following year as he embraced a more positive outlook.
In the states we hear a lot of negativity about HIV in Africa, how’s your life in Africa?
I don’t believe the current government of South Africa views HIV as a particularly high priority. There is definitely a lack of meaningful HIV medical research being done in this country. And although we have the world’s largest percentage-concentration of HIV+ ‘victims’ within our southern hemisphere population, the ART drugs (made freely available by the government) are often in short supply, so poor disadvantaged and indigenous patients occasionally have to go without treatment. Fortunately, my life-partner and I (both HIV+) receive our three-monthly ARV regimens through a US-AID sponsored organisation called ‘ANOVA – HEALTH4MEN’ which operates on a fairly small scale within a few of the major centres in this country. ART programmes are provided by this organisation free of charge, for which my partner and I are immensely grateful. However, there remains a great deal of social stigma surrounding HIV infection, especially within the outlying rural areas, and most people tend to keep their HIV status a private/secret matter. Tell us about your book that highlights your HIV journey:
My book ‘A POSITIVE JOURNEY’ (published 2011, by Xlibris Publishers) is a part-journalised, part-narrative record of the emotional, spiritual and medical processes that my partner and I encountered after being simultaneously informed of our HIV+ status, back in 2005…it describes the evolving stages of our mental acceptance of the virus, my partner’s almost-fatal encounter with PCP and TB (which was subsequently ‘cured’), and our early ART treatments – my book contains a message of HOPEFULNESS to other HIV+ people, whilst attempting to alleviate some of the ignorance and social stigma that is propagated within our HIV ‘negative’ populace.
You’ve been on a HAART regimen since 2008, do you have a healthy T-Cell count?
Due to his chronic experiences with PCP and TB, my partner (now 52) went on to a HAART regimen late in 2008, with a T-Cell count of only 21 – his health has dramatically improved since then. His current T-Cell count is in the region of 230, with an ‘undetectable viral load’, and he leads an active, healthy life once again;
I am 61 years old, and only went on to a HAART regimen halfway through 2009, when my general health suddenly began to fail, with a T-Cell count of 48 – likewise, my health has since improved positively, although my current count is still just below 250…unfortunately, I have recently been obliged to cope with an ‘opportunistic’ invasion in the form of melanoma and lymphatic cancer, and because my T-Cell count remains so low, local oncologists will not even contemplate the use of Chemotherapy. So it seems probable that this particular disease (cancer) will finally be the cause of my demise.
What advice do you have for those unhappily living with HIV?
HIV, just like any form of cancer, requires an extremely POSITIVE mindset…one cannot allow victimhood to take control of one’s consciousness – I offer a message of HOPE to those who are unhappily living with HIV…it should NOT to be viewed as a ‘death-sentence’. The amazing efficacy of ART treatments / HAART regimens is truly ‘miraculous’ and these drugs provide the HIV+ person with a ‘second chance at life’. But above all, a positive mental attitude is essential when living with HIV. My partner (52) and I (61) both continue to lead very FULL and ACTIVE lives…he enjoys full-time employment within the challenging realms of Information Technology – whereas I continue to work as a freelance actor, author and artist. Thanks to our wonderful relationship and sustained ART treatment, our lives are immensely fulfilling!