Thursday, May 10, 2007

Criselda Kananda (For Dazed & Confused : Japan)

In The Words Of God's Favourite Daughter: "I have turned an HIV positive diagnosis into triumph by refusing to let the virus rule my life. I was seven months pregnant in 1998 when I discovered that I am infected with HIV. After a miscarriage at five months the year before, as a happily married woman at the time I was looking forward to the birth of my second child, to be a companion to my first little girl, who was six years old at the time. And then I got a phone call at work. It was my doctor, reporting on the routine tests he had done recently. “I’ve got good news and bad news,” he said. “The good news is that, all the tests bar one were fine - your baby is amazingly healthy, considering. The bad news is, your HIV test came back positive.” At the time, “It sounded like Japanese to this Xhosa woman. Who’s never been to nor does she understand the language. How can you say I’m well and alive, my baby’s healthy, but I’m going to die?” I dropped the phone in shock, then phoned back immediately. The doctor asked me to come in and see him.

In a state, I drove to the doctor’s office, thinking, what will happen to me? What will happen to my six-year-old? The first thing I asked the doctor was, “How long do I have to live?” the answer was bleak: two years maximum. As to the unborn baby, the doctor said if I insisted on having her (instead of an abortion at seven months!), she would live six months. It felt like it was the end of life, today, talking about the sense of fear and fate that is natural after such a diagnosis. For some time, I chased cures - if anyone said they had the answer, I would rush off and try it. But then my innate common sense and my nursing background kicked in, and I started to reflect on what I was doing and how I was speeding up my death by being negative.

First of all, I realised that life is a death sentence - we are all going to die. I started praying, and I went to my nearest church. The pastor there told me something that really helped me: he said, the one thing He knew well is that God loves me. I needed to know that - that somebody loved me. Like so many others at this stage, my head was full of self-blame and evil thoughts. Once these were cast out, I started to read up on the disease.

"My focus shifted to learning how to live with the virus. I needed to understand the virus, to know the monster I was dealing with. This made it possible to plan on how to live life with the disease. I am appalled that so many people are put on drugs the minute they receive their positive diagnosis. While I do not dismiss antiretrovirals - I say that of course, there comes a time when the immune system can no longer cope, and drug intervention becomes necessary - I have realised that there are few, if any, health workers out there able to tell you how to live a healthy life and avoid going on the drugs for as long as possible. It is very difficult to find information about living healthily with HIV. HIV can be managed, just like other chronic diseases and conditions. If one has hypertension - high blood - it doesn’t mean that person has or is going to have a stroke; if you have diabetes, it doesn’t mean you are going to lose a foot to gangrene.

"Health workers teach people with these conditions how to eat, how to exercise, and how to manage the conditions associated with their illness. Why, I ask, are we not doing the same for HIV? HIV = Aids = death. Doesn’t make sense to me. I have turned the acronym HIV around, making it stand for Health Is Vital instead. Today, I am well informed about how to eat well and manage any opportunistic infections that might present themselves, all of which, I point out, are very treatable and curable - if I don’t respond to them as the first signs of doom.

"The mind, I believe, has a profound impact on how we respond to a positive diagnosis and to living with the infection, so I have spent a lot of time working through my own personal issues. These include understanding the effect my own parents’ divorce had on her, and the effect of growing up as a black girl under apartheid. We were raised to know that, as a black person, you were a lesser being. I had to lean to love myself as God loves me.
This is a very sensible approach - there is a lot of scientific evidence that what you think and feel has a huge effect on how your body reacts and how healthy or sick you are. My husband and I unfortunately divorced during this period, but it had nothing to do with HIV. I am not willing to lay blame on anyone for my infection, because I understand that my sexual health is my responsibility. My ex-husband had not put a gun to my head and ordered me to marry him. I chose to marry him; I chose not to ask about his status.

Today, as a talk show host, managing director of positive-talk and as a motivational speaker, I pass on to others the lessons I have learned on the road to wellness:

  • I inform myself - Each of us, whether infected or not, needs to know as much as possible about the virus to keep ourselves well. We need to do the work as individuals, because everyone has different needs and different lives - for example, what do you need to do to protect yourself from infection (if you’re HIV-negative) or stay well if positive, when you’re in an abusive relationship? Your needs will be quite different from those of a happily married person, or someone who drinks too much, or someone who works far from their family, or someone who works for the police... everyone is quite different. You’re the only one who will know what information you need and what is relevant to you. The world has deliberately or naively empowered HIV to kill us through lack of knowledge.
  • Learn tolerance - We need to be tolerant of different views and beliefs. Don’t judge how others manage the disease. My way of dealing with things may be different from yours, but that does not mean it’s worse. Just ensure that you deal with it factually.
  • Fight poverty and hunger, which is one of the major indicators to whether people with HIV live or die - We’ve spent billions on HIV and AIDS, and YET people are still hungry. Poverty and hunger are a crime against humanity - all of us should work together to ensure that no family is without food.
  • Learn as much as you can about healthy lifestyles - We need concerted drive to inform people about good nutrition globally. I look into people’s gardens and I see more grass than vegetables. I believe we should grow our own food and not just rely on commercial farmers. We need to understand why we eat - not for fun or to fill our stomachs, but for health. We need to learn how to cook well, instead of cooking all the goodness out of our vegetables as we tend to.
  • Redress the imbalances in the world - This is a big goal, but without it, we will not be able to effectively tackle HIV, we need to narrow the gap between those who are well off and those extremely poor. The past has resulted in imbalances in literacy, in access to information, in knowledge, as well as in wealth and health. For those who are sitting pretty at the top of the pile at present, it is equally important: If you’re a manager, and you don’t tackle these issues now, in ten years’ time you’ll have no-one to manage. The legacy of our past has a lot to do with the way HIV has taken hold in the black community in particular. Black people were taught not to question authority. So now, when we are told we have two years to live, we believe it” instead of asking questions and finding out how we can live longer. We have not really acknowledged what the past has done to us - black and white. The world looks up to South Africa for its humanity, but how humane are we really? With all the rage and anger around, what kind of country are we breeding? True tolerance will come when we fix what Apartheid did in South Africa and then we can successfully educate.

"My philosophy on HIV is to focus on the three R's:
  • Be Responsible for your own life
  • Respect myself
  • Respect others.

nd I have also developed another meaning for Aids: instead of Acquired Immune Deficiency, I define it as: Am I Doing Something? It is my belief that we are all in this together, and we must all take responsibility for fighting the disease. My approach has definitely worked for me. Today, I glow with health. And my little daughter, the one who, the doctor said, had just six months to live? This year is in Grade Two and she is such a blessing in my life. She tested negative because I used information to make relevant choices. I seldom become ill, never been hospitalized nor am I on any medication. HIV is a viral infection like the many viruses we know, It can be managed, my life is proof!"



Blogger botle said...

To: Criselda- i am very greatfull and i do thank God for who you are and what you are doing for others. you didnt choose to be selfish into helping others but you continued helping others. May God bless you, restore your strength always, may He protect you and guide you. i love you for who you are.botle

Blogger vuyo said...

Criselda. At 20, I find myself in the same position you found yourself in 11 years ago. I aaplaud you for creating awareness about living poisitively, not only are you saving yourself, you are saving the lives of those who were ready to give up and hand their lives over to death. i was a child, i did not understand the consequences of my actions but i am ready to accept responsibility and fight this battle to the end. I have a man by my sde weho has accepted me for who i am and i just pray to god to give him amandla when I become a burden for him that is to heavy to carry.

I thank you again and at a point in my life, i hope our paths will meet.

Your sister in faith


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