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+TALK

+TALK: ANDREA DE LANGE

She's been HIV positive for over 35 years and is THRIVING! Karl sits down with Andrea De Lange.

The following is a transcript of the conversation between Karl Schmid and Andrea De Lange.

KARL

She’s a cisgendered straight woman and she’s been HIV positive for 35 years, up next.

Hello there, and welcome to “+Talk” on +LIFE where we’re all about turning positive into a plus. My guest today has been HIV positive since she was 23 years old. I’m not gonna say how long that was, ’cause that’d be rude. Andrea De Lange, good to see you.

ANDREA

Nice to see you, Karl. I have no problem saying I’m 58 years old now.

KARL

Well, there you go. Well, by the way, in some ways, is that a sort of a proud badge, considering you were diagnosed when you were 23? Back then, we didn’t expect that we would make it to 58, right?

ANDREA

For me, it’s just amazing. Every birthday is another celebration of being alive.

KARL

So when you were 23 years old and again, I’m not good with the math, but we’re smart enough to know that that was the time when you really didn’t want to be diagnosed HIV positive. What were your prospects? What were you told? Because, also, unusual, for a heterosexual woman to get this diagnosis, right? Or at least for people to talk about it?

ANDREA

Yeah, actually, because I didn’t fit a lot of the stereotypes, I wasn’t diagnosed sooner and it wasn’t until three years later, the test was available at that point, I had tested positive for Epstein-Barr virus and directly across the street from my pediatrician was another doctor who’s specialized in Epstein-Barr. I went to him. On the very first visit, I got a physical and he did an HIV test to rule out that possibility. And I never thought anything of it. And two weeks later, I went back to get a B12 shot. He had me starting to get B12, B12, folic acid, and magnesium shots. And I was just there to get my shot. And that’s when I found out that I tested positive, but he said, “You know, you can stay healthy. You don’t ever have to get sick.” And that was kind of an amazing thing to hear in 1987, that kind of the peak of hysteria. So I feel so lucky that I had him telling me that because I think, you know, those initial words are so powerful and a lot of people were getting death sentences from their doctors when they were diagnosed.

KARL

What does life look like for you when you walk out of that office at 23 to face the rest of your life?

ANDREA

It was crazy. I went home. I had been living with a boyfriend at that point. We were living together a year and I was so worried that I infected him. Pretty much all my thoughts and emotions were not really about me, but thinking I infected him and we had been having unprotected sex for a year. And I did tell him as soon as he got home, all the focus was shifted to him and whether he was infected, which he wasn’t. But it was crazy scary for me. Still, I felt good. I wasn’t sick at the time. I had started going to college and things were going great. I was an art major, loving my classes. And I’m a rebellious person so everybody that said, “You’re gonna get sick and die.” I’m like, “No, you don’t know that.”

KARL

But you shifted gears and went on to major in, you know, get a master’s rather in marriage, family, and child counseling, and you really wanted to help other HIV positive clients. You did that for a course of time. How rewarding was that? And what made you, again, later decide to sort of shift gears?

ANDREA

I really loved working with HIV positive people and trying to encourage them and give them hope and let them know that, I’m kind of like the example of somebody that can be doing well.

KARL

But do you remember the moment when you kind of decided to turn your positive into a plus and what that turning point was for you when it went from, “Oh, boy,” to, “Uh-uh, I’m not gonna let this stop me”?

ANDREA

I was going to Louise Hay, Hayrides in west Hollywood on Wednesday nights. They called them Hayrides. In the west Hollywood auditorium, we sang songs about loving ourselves the way we were. And I got a lot of reinforcement, a lot of holistic oriented people there, so I was among my people there. I was among a group of people that were reinforcing that I could stay healthy.

KARL

How important are groups like that? And how important is it for people to keep doing the work and to get the message of undetectable=untransmittable out there and to be a face and to show that, sadly, more than 50% of the population in this country still thinks HIV is a death sentence.

ANDREA

It’s incredibly important that we get, that U=U message emblazoned onto your shirt, I love that. It’s fantastic, it’s a fantastic message. And there were so many misconceptions back when I was diagnosed in the 80s and 90s, et cetera, about even touching people, drinking from their glasses, using the same drinking fountain, or even sitting on the same chair. And now, you know, my husband’s HIV negative. And for anybody who has any wonder about like, “Oh, she could infect him.” No, U=U. No, I can’t, I’m undetectable. He’s not gonna get sick. He never did get… I never did transmit it, but now we’ve got all the science to back this up.

KARL

Yeah, it’s huge. In the last couple of seconds, I’ve got you, what do you wanna say to other cisgendered women out there, heterosexual women, who may see this, or, you know, and think, “Oh God, well, it couldn’t happen to me. This doesn’t happen.” What do you wanna say to them? And what do you want to say to them if it does happen, not maybe to them, but to a sister, a mother, a friend, a cousin, a relative, what’s your message?

ANDREA

One of my big messages to women is that you need to insist on your partner, your male partner, if you’re heterosexual, that they use a condom. I had gone to planned parenthood. When I started having sex with a boyfriend who infected me, I had condoms, he refused to wear them. So I want to really emphasize that we need to insist on it and be strong and say, you know, “No glove, no love,” you know. And don’t get hot and bothered first, you know.

KARL

Right, well no, I think that’s a good message and it’s a powerful message to say that we all have, not just the responsibility, but the right to make those decisions about our bodies and nobody should dictate otherwise. Andrea De Lange, thank you so much for your time. It’s been real nice to see you and chat with you. And thanks for all the great work you do.

ANDREA

Oh, you’re welcome, and right back at you. So nice to meet you.

KARL

That’s gonna do it for this episode of “+Talk”. Remember, if you want more information about what we’ve talked about or to check our previous episodes, you can go to the website pluslifemedia.com and don’t forget to follow us across social media. We are @pluslifemedia until next time, take care, stay safe. We’ll see you soon.

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