I am a retired RN and 58 years old. I was diagnosed in July 2002 while I was living in a battered women's shelter in Winston-Salem, NC. The person who infected me was my boyfriend of two years. He failed to share that he had been involved with an HIV positive female prior to our relationship. Even though I'm an RN, when I started losing lots of weight, cancer came to mind, not HIV. As our relationship took deadly turns due to his uncontrolled temper, he almost beat me to death. My son came to my rescue and removed me from the violence. I entered the women’s shelter and went to see a doctor. When he suggested, "Lets do the test,” the lights went on. I knew! Though I did not become an avid advocate at this point, I did begin another long-term relationship that lasted seven years.
As that relationship started weakening, depression set in. I stopped taking my HIV meds. By May 2008, I was deathly ill. I developed trigeminal shingles (the worst of all shingles). I was also diagnosed as having AIDS. My boyfriend took great care of me, but the relationship never fully healed. He was going through some personal issues in December 2009 and he locked me out of our home. I lived in my car in 15-degree weather for 2 weeks. Then fate intervened.
I was rescued by AIDS Care Services in Winston-Salem. I lived in their transitional housing for a few months. I became a spokesperson in our support groups. I became a board member of our consumer advisory board through my infectious disease clinic. I became even more avid about speaking out. I applied and was accepted into the final AIDS Alliance Consumer Leadership Corps Training program. I also applied and was accepted as part of Treatment Action Group's "What would you do for a Cure" advocacy campaign. This allowed me to go to Washington DC last fall and meet with my state legislators and encourage them to continue or increase funding for NIH research into HIV and Aging. I started advocating on Facebook (WandaBrendleMoss), which led to people all over the world contacting me about living with AIDS. Next, I started advocating on Twitter (@wandabrendlemos). I am a member of POZ Army and have been interviewed by the Winston-Salem Journal, The Chronicle and did an interview on Fox8 with Brent Campbell on World AIDS Day 2011.
Thanks to my social media connections...I was encouraged to take a huge leap of faith...considering I had NO financial means to do so...I applied and was accepted as a volunteer at XIX International AIDS Conference 2012, in Washington DC. There I was able to meet my powerful sisters, Maria T. Mejia & Vickie Lynn Brinker. I was able to connect with Positive Women's Network...Sonia Rastogi, Naina Devi, Mary Bowman, Nancy Duncan, Susan Mull, Tami Haught, Barb Cardell. Attending conference and meeting in the flesh so many sheroes and heroes (Bob Bower just to name one) was life altering! It left me with desire to find money to truly travel and share ....HIV can and does infect "A Girl Just Like Me!" unless we educate!
Why do I speak so openly? Because I do not fit the picture of what people think AIDS looks like. I am a heterosexual, white female. Where I live, white women are more or less led to believe that they are not at risk, which is absolutely incorrect. The reality of HIV/AIDS is any person who is having sex, whether LGBTQ, heterosexual, married, single, regardless of race, finances, etc., is at risk. So I fight every day in hopes that no one else will ever have to say, "I am HIV positive".
Why Wanda wants to be a part of A Girl Like Me: I never truly was able to be a "girl". Being infected with HIV at age 48 ... then diagnosed with AIDS at age 54, I've discovered there IS a Girl like Me...everywhere I look. I live her out loud everyday, every way. Becoming part of "A Girl Like Me" hopefully will lift up other "seasoned" women who may have similar stories, to begin to understand our lives a no where near hopeless, useless or any other kind of "less!"