It's All About Life.
The Four A’s recognizes that everyone is linked by a common thread. This thread is interwoven and intersects in many ways: the thread of being HIV positive can tie to the thread of knowing and caring for someone with HIV which ties to learning to protect ourselves and our loved ones from transmission.
We meet every individual where they are in their life's journey and respect that we are all tightly connected by this common thread.
The Common Thread: Living in Alaska with HIV and AIDS.
I’m not ready to die. Not even my disease can do me in before my time. When I found out I had HIV I thought my life was over, but now I realize it had just begun. I’m still here.
Today, I try to keep a healthy mind, body and spirit. These are the three things that help me fight my disease. My message to victims is:
Hold on Brother. Life is worth living -- even with HIV.
There is help. Seek it out and live a better life.
D.B. has survived with HIV for over 13 years. Anchorage resident since 1990.
No more hard times -- only promises of love, hope and happiness. That’s what I found out when I got sick. Before, times were hard, it was always a struggle. After AIDS, nothing seems as hard anymore. I put my faith and trust in God, and he gave me a second chance. I promised God that I would carry the message to others that there is hope and there is happiness.
Kathy and her partner Alan were both HIV-positive when they met through Four A’s. They have lived together for the past six years, and both now have “full blown AIDS.” Kathy stays busy with volunteer work “for the cat world” by helping Alan make cat stands and other furniture for cats. “I love animals, I love people, and I love life,” she says.
Faith is my stronghold. What I do, I do because God’s love is with me.
“And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.” -- Revelations 22:1
Sarah Carter contracted HIV through blood transfusions in the 1980’s. She is President of the Lady’s Auxiliary at Abundant Life Ministries in East Anchorage. “I have abundant life,” she says, “filled with abundant love.”
HIV & AIDS do not discriminate. Not even Eskimo Power could protect me. I’m a 43-year-old Alaska Native man who has been living with HIV for nearly half my life. If I could do it all over again, I probably wouldn’t have been so casual about sex and the use of drugs. It’s been a terrible price to pay for a few hours of fun.
Raised in Alaska, Leslie lived in San Francisco during the height of the early AIDS epidemic. “In the early 1980’s, it was very new,” he says, “and we didn’t know what HIV was. I went into denial when AIDS came on the scene. I didn’t want to hear about it.” Today, Leslie’s message to others is: “Be safe. Don’t waste time. Enjoy life and get the support you need.”
In Anchorage, all of us with HIV have the scarlet letter “A” on our chests. I hear, “stay away from that person, he has HIV.” But it’s not the victims people need to fear -- it’s their own lack of knowledge. By placing the stigma on victims, people think they can protect themselves– but only self-control and safe sex can do that.
Paul moved to Anchorage two years ago from Boston, where he was a radiology technician for over 25 years. He has been HIV-positive for 20 years. “When I left Boston,” he says, “I had 37 people on my list of friends who died from AIDS.”
“There’s no excuse.” That has to be my message about AIDS. Because I just hope that people act smart, so that nobody else contracts it. AIDS needs to be stopped. So many times it’s preventable, but people don’t care.
My life with HIV & AIDS has had good times. Kathy and I met and are happy together. But living with AIDS isn’t something I’d wish on anyone.
There’s no excuse. - Alan
Alan contracted HIV over 20 years ago and was diagnosed in 1992. “I knew I had it for years before being diagnosed, but I was in denial,” he says. “I went from a gay lifestyle to a drug lifestyle before realizing I had to straighten up or die.” He and his partner Kathy met through Four A’s and have lived together for six years. Both now have “full blown AIDS.”
HIV is tough to live with but not impossible. I take a lot of pills in one day, but you do what you have to do to survive. You also have to fight the stigma. You have to deal with people’s beliefs about what HIV and AIDS mean, and you have to hide who you are because of other people’s ignorance and fear. - D.B.
D.B. was diagnosed with HIV in 1991.
I’m still alive because I live in this country. Anywhere else I’d probably be dead.
My spiritual network and friends keep me going. All of the long-term survivors I know have given up their disease to a higher power.
AIDS = Anti Intergradation of the Divinity of the Soul. A spiritual journey will keep you alive!
Paul finds the natural environment in Alaska uplifting and healing. “We saw a moose on the lagoon today and it lifted me up,” he says, “no matter how often it happens it affects me that way. The spirit of the Last Frontier keeps me strong.”
I’ve always been a strong person, a survivor. You have to be happy in this life. You need a positive attitude -- it’s key to surviving. But you also need knowledge and support -- and love.
I’ve been very fortunate to have a loving relationship despite being HIV-positive. It has taught me a lot about compassion, and given me hope that as a person I can shine past this illness -- that there’s more to me that HIV. -- Greg
Greg (L) and his partner Jose (R) moved to Anchorage from New York in July 2003 to help care for Jose’s aging mother. The father of two adult children, Greg has survived with HIV for over 10 years.
Someday there will be a cure. In the meantime, the point is to stop AIDS before it spreads to others, to get the knowledge it takes to stop the disease.
For me, the experience is not just about coping with the disease. It’s about reaching everyone who needs help avoiding the disease. Because once you have HIV, there’s no turning back--only holding it at bay. We need to help ourselves and help others before there is no help.
Tony is an Anchorage man with HIV.
It’s not been easy living with HIV, but the great support network of people who love me has made it a little easier to get along. I never realized that returning to Alaska would be so great -- that the people here would be so warm and giving.
Thanks to groups like Four A’s, I feel like a part of a caring community. It makes it easier to handle people who don’t understand this illness and can’t find compassion for those who suffer from it.
Leslie was raised in a village in Northwest Alaska, where his family still lives. He recently returned to the state after spending 19 years Outside. When asked to speak about the stigma of his illness, which has led him to protect his identity in this exhibit, he wrote: “Mine eyes are like Alaskan lighthouses, capable of seeking out a sinking ship of fools, lost in their own cold, icy waters.”
You have to say ‘yes’ to life and love. There’s always time for love. When I learned Greg was HIV-positive, it didn’t change the wonderful person he was to me. I could walk away and pretend HIV doesn’t exist, or I could care for a person who has been more than I could ask for in a partner. There is a Buddhist teaching that I find helpful: ‘Life is difficult…accept it as it is.’ Greg and I have been through a lot together, but we still feel blessed.
Jose (R) lived in Anchorage as a child and returned in July 2003 with his partner Greg (L) who is HIV-positive. Jose has three adult children who know and care about Greg. “What gives us strength is that we don’t have secrets,” he says, “and we are very comfortable with who we are.”
I’m not putting my face behind a mask, but facing the world. When I was first diagnosed, I told everybody. My mother said, “Girl, I’ve never seen such nerve.” But being afraid of what people think of you is like putting yourself in a bottle--cutting yourself off from life.
I am not my illness. I’m a good and strong person with a lot to give others and a special calling because of this challenge life has given me.
Sarah was diagnosed with AIDS in 2000 and given only months to live; she is now diagnosed HIV-positive. She works full time as a community outreach and education coordinator for the Four A’s. “We’ve got to get out there and reach people.”