Ron’s Resilience – A Story About Accepting and Overcoming the Challenges of Living with HIV

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Ron Van Der Boon, 49, was lying in a hospital bed after suffering a week-long vicious cold, a cold that not even $100 worth of cold and flu medicine could treat. He happened to be watching ENDGAME: AIDS in Black America when a resident doctor came in and said, “oh, you’re the patient with AIDS.”

Ron was certain it was a mistake, he’d been so healthy before this. Surely it was just a strange assumption based on the documentary he was watching. Yet the irony was true. The next morning, he was told he tested positive for HIV, a diagnosis that Ron says was a second chance at life.

After his diagnosis, he was assigned a family doctor at Nine Circles Community Health Centre, a resource he had been without for five years. For Ron and other people living with HIV, regular visits with a physician are an important part of staying healthy.

“I have been a client of Nine Circles Community Health Centre for almost 7 years and in that time have participated in numerous education sessions, workshops, and drop-in groups. I am undetectable. With monitoring, testing and regular visits with my doctor and primary care nurse, I feel healthier than I have ever been,” says Ron.

Being undetectable is a great achievement for people living with HIV. Undetectable means that when a person living with HIV takes their prescribed medication, their viral load can be suppressed low enough that the virus is undetectable in their bloodstream. Being undetectable means that it is not possible to pass HIV to a partner through sexual contact.

Unfortunately, not all people living with HIV can reach an undetectable status. Sometimes, it’s differences in biological make-up, but often, the reasons are rooted in other social determinants of health. For example, since viral suppression is only achievable through proper treatment, issues arise when people cannot afford their medication.

Nine Circles has a long history of advocating for fewer barriers to HIV medication, along with helping people access STI/HIV testing and offering people living with HIV many resources. Programs like Coffee Talk, the Lived Experience Advisory group, Standing Strong, the PHA Fund, and the food bank help people like Ron thrive. Nine Circles also offers mental health support, access to social workers and a dietitian, and health care services to people living with HIV. Ron is grateful for these services. He says that Nine Circles has helped him greatly and doesn’t know of another clinic in Winnipeg that offers the same types of programs and services for people living with HIV.

Ron is a part of the Lived Experience Advisory group, where he and others living with HIV are able to share their experiences with each other and the public in an effort to stop stigma. They’ve worked on projects together like the 10 Things Manitobans Living with HIV Want You to Know campaign.  One of the things funds raised through the Red Ribbon Walk & Run support is honoraria so people with lived experience can be compensated for their expertise, time and travel.

Ron has valued the opportunity to provide feedback. “While the current services provided to clients meet my current needs, there are still opportunities to enhance the experience with new, innovative service delivery,” he says.

He offers possible ideas like teleconferencing between patient and doctor, extended hours of services and expanded community services.

Ron has seen less people at workshops lately, which he thinks might be related to a decrease in offerings that reduce the barriers people encounter in order to participate, like bus tickets and food. Groups used to get funding through other avenues but now these types of supports are funded exclusively through donations.

“While I understand that money is tight, I also understand that when you take away those things, the motivation and ability to participate for many people diminishes considerably,” says Ron.

Like other people living with HIV in Manitoba, Ron faces two main challenges: making Pharmacare payments and dealing with stigma.

“I find it challenging at times to make my Pharmacare deductible payments. Making payments up to $14,000 per year does not allow for any meaningful retirement planning,” he says. “If I have one complaint, it is this; Pharmacare coverage should be equal in every respect to every entitled Canadian citizen, no matter how little or how much you make in income.”

Ron says, “The stigma attached to being HIV positive is an issue I silently struggle with every day. This stigma can lead to isolation and feeling unsupported, which can have a significant impact on one’s physical and mental health. Being insulted, rejected, gossiped about and excluded from social activities does play into the psyche one can have.”

Finding a romantic partner has also proved to be a struggle since his diagnosis.

“There is no doubt in my mind that having HIV affects my love life. Since being diagnosed with HIV, I have become more reluctant to try and find the perfect female companion. In my mind, I have developed a phobia, a fear of rejection because I am HIV positive.”

While Ron acknowledges these struggles, he’s confident in maintaining his mental health and fighting stigma by accessing resources and support.

“I do not let stigma create any thoughts of shame or self-doubt. I seek education about my condition with my doctor, primary care nurse, support workers, educators, mental health experts, television programs and the internet. I do not isolate myself and I reach out to those individuals [family and friends] who can provide compassion, support and understanding,” says Ron.

Ron is hopeful for the future saying that “with more public education and stories like mine, hopefully, one day we can eliminate the stigma associated with being HIV positive.”

Help people like Ron thrive by registering and raising funds for the Red Ribbon Walk & Run. Our programs and services rely on donations to continue to support people living with HIV.