By Helen Turner, Achieving Together Partner
I am 72 years old.
At age 35, I was a hard-working Assistant Vice President at Bank of America in San Francisco. I felt safe and secure. Like most people at that time, I did not fit the perception of the stereotypical profile of someone who could get HIV or AIDS.
On March 13, 1984 I went to my primary care provider for a sore tongue, sore throat, and cold-like symptoms. After a five-minute conversation and without a blood test, I was diagnosed with AIDS, based on opportunistic infections—Shingles, Candidiasis, and Mycobacterium Avium Complex.
Well, I wasn’t buying it! I did not accept it! I just buried myself in my work. And for three years, I had no blood testing or treatment … I think because of struggles with fear and stigma—stigma that comes from intergenerational trauma, Black family culture, institutional and structural norms, as well as self-stigma.
Finally, on Oct 5, 1987 I was blood tested and diagnosed with AIDS. I had a T-Cell count of 2 and was told to get my affairs in order. My shock, denial, shame, and so much anger led me to a dismal descent into depression, and agoraphobia.
You see, I was INTENTIONALLY given this disease by the man I loved who lied to me. He admitted that he thought the way for us to be lovers and live happily-ever-after was if we both had AIDS.
I wanted to dig a hole, crawl into it, and pull the dirt on top of me.
But ultimately– I WANTED TO LIVE and I chose to learn all I could about this disease. I got into treatment and my faith kicked in. I began to advocate for myself…and then also for others.
I am thankful to be alive and well. Today, AIDS is still living with me – and now, I am undetectable with a T-Cell count of 612!
I am thankful that I have the ability, the will, the gumption, TO LIVE OUT LOUD WITH A PURPOSE, to LEND MY VOICE and BE THE CHANGE to END HIV as an epidemic. I work the faith-based community and engage with all of my networks in the community. I am involved in the Ryan White Planning Council and in both State and National endeavors. As a peer navigator, I take great pleasure in helping others to be proactive in management of their health and their lives. I invite them to be a part of the Achieving Together movement in whatever way they are gifted.
All I have ever wanted was Identity, significance, and Security for myself, family, peers, community… everyone. For me faith is the key because:
- Belief gives me hope.
- Hope gives me courage.
- Courage gives me strength.
And with God’s strength and courage I can do all things!
For more than 20 years, Helen has felt called to do all she can to help eradicate AIDS via evangelism, education, support, advocacy, even activism. She has done extensive volunteer work with multiple local and national AIDS and Community Service Organizations, including Texas Black Women’s Initiative, The Afiya Center (HIV Prevention & Sexual Reproductive Justice), the Ryan White Planning Council (appointed Chair in 2011), and the Texas HIV Syndicate where she has served on the Steering Committee for the Achieving Together planning process. Helen has received many awards, including Volunteer Of The Year (Resource Center’s “Suzanne Wilson Award”, 2020 2012), Leading Women’s Society Inductee (Atlanta’s SisterLove Inc., 2013) “Matriarch Role Model Award” (Family & Leadership Empowerment Network, 2017), Silver Eagle Senior Ministry Awardee (GGMB Church). She is Co-Founder of her church’s AIDS Ministry, Christians Joined At The Heart Against AIDS (CJATAA), and is an adult Sunday School Teacher. Helen is a Certified Public Speaker. Her goal is to reduce stigma and HIV infections, and increase those tested and stably in care. Helen was certified by DSHS Texas Department of State Health Services as a Community Health Worker (CHW), She is a member of the Dallas CHW Network and was Licensed as a Diabetes Educator.
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