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HIV, day to day: The truth about consequences
By Sebastian Saenz
2015-10-14

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Luis Cano's life might seem ordinary, but Cano—who happens to be HIV-positive—wants to send a message about his life.

His life has had its ups and downs, just like everybody else's. He grew up in Torreon, Mexico, without a father, but with a mother and siblings. He helped them, he fell in love, he danced at the best Folk Ballet of Mexico, he got his BA in sociology in the University of Coahuila, and his professional life was quite fulfilling for a while. He taught inmates and farmers to read and write, and he worked with indigenous groups in remote locations for the Mexican government until the mid-'90s, when the political crisis forced him out of the country.

He got to California in his 30s with a tourist visa. He worked at a family restaurant for a while, but at first he missed his country and his job. He knew he had to study and get credits to get a permit to find a better job, which he did eventually, as a teacher assistant, in 2006. He worked in kindergardens, elementary and junior high schools, teaching everything from math and U.S. history to dance. He also fell in love again with other men, he came back to Mexico for visits and he made what he called "mistakes." These mistakes can be made by anybody, but the consequences for his case were deeper; he sees it as "winning the lottery."

When he was living in Las Vegas, he became friends with the wrong people, who led him to drug use. He told Windy City Times that "people not only become addicted to the drugs, but to the false friends that come along with them." And there were more consequences. One day he got bronchopneumonia, which almost killed him. That is when he discovered he was HIV-positive. He thought his life was over: He lost a lot of weight, spent a month in a hospital and wanted to go back to Mexico and die. However, his heart remained strong, and the support of his family was even stronger.

His aunt and role model, Josephine, encouraged him to fight for his life. She herself has survived several difficult diseases ( including cancer ) and surgeries, and took care of him for months in Chicago, until he gained some weight back and was able to walk again. Nowadays, Cano lives with her, her mother and their dogs—and he is immensely grateful with her for taking care of him, for remaining strong, for sharing her financial resources, her time and her energy. Cano is now in better shape—to the point where he is practically undetectable. In addition, he is a legal resident, and he has started working again in small temporary jobs in factories or as a waiter—flexible options that are not hard on his health.

Nonetheless, even though the virus is not the death sentence it was in the '80s, and the government helps people with HIV, he has argued it still has consequences. He has to take aggressive and expensive medications three times a day. He recently needed surgery to take away an infected fragment of his intestines. He also had to change his medications because they severely altered his digestive system. He has to deal with a list of more than 40 different pills and see which are the best for him: Some medications may cause allergic reactions or affect some organs, others are for patients with very particular characteristics, and some cannot be taken if other specific pills have been taken before. He deeply regrets not having been careful enough.

Cano is, in most ways, like most of us. He watches the news, goes grocery shopping, pays taxes and likes Meryl Streep, Ricky Martin, Brazilian telenovelas and Forrest Gump. But he also sees himself as a guinea pig, a statistic. He said he does not know if he should trust the pharmaceutical industry or his doctors ( who he said tend to contradict among themselves ). However, Cano added that he no longer lives in denial or depression and that he enjoys life and tries to stay productive.

Cano—who feels that promiscuity is dangerous—said that real human relationships are precious, that being humble is vital, that education and information can never be enough, that faith ( in oneself, one's family and/or in a supreme force ) may bring rewards and that the Latino community must keep strengthening with education.

For HIV services, visit ProjectVIDA.org; for specific legal issues, see AIDSLegal.com .


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