I was diagnosed with HIV in 2003 which was when I was in the UK and studying international travel and tourism at South Chelsea College in London. I was diagnosed when I was writing my exams and actually failed the last exam because of it. That was 17 years ago but even today I remember what a difficult time it was.
I’m 50 now and starting to think more about ageing with HIV. From speaking to my friends, I know that women living with HIV can experience the menopause at a younger age or have symptoms, like hot flashes or heavy bleeding, that are more severe. I’ve had heavy periods since my teens so I don’t know if I’m going through the menopause or not, but I haven’t had my period for over a year and sometimes experience vaginal dryness which could be early symptoms. But until recently I haven’t thought about the menopause because my doctor never mentioned it to me.
I think it’s important for women like me who are living with HIV, and reaching a certain age, to start thinking about the menopause and talking to their doctor about their symptoms, especially if they are more serious. But I know what it’s like to be afraid to speak to your doctor.
About three years ago my knee became swollen and I was in constant pain. I told my doctor about it many times but she was so focused on my HIV that it took a long time to find out that I had arthritis, which upset me a lot. Looking back, I was right to keep asking questions because my HIV can lead to things like swollen and painful joints and stop me from exercising which I know is important to keep me healthy.
I think some people – including myself – are afraid to ask their doctor questions because of language barriers, but it can help to have somebody to go with you and explain to the doctor exactly what you need. That’s why I wanted to take part in the photo shoot for the …Treating Me Right? campaign because there are so many people, like me, who don’t know how to talk to their doctor or are afraid to ask too many questions, especially if they don’t think they are related to HIV. I hope women who see my poster and are worried about the menopause are encouraged to speak to their doctor about it and are not afraid to do so.
by Charity Nyirenda