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  • Living with HIV: One Woman's Inspiring Story

  • In honor of AIDS Awareness Month in December, we spoke to HIV/AIDS activist Penny DeNoble, who takes a brave stand against the virus—and inspires others to do the same.
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  • What do you do when you find yourself afflicted by a insidious, incurable disease like HIV/AIDS? According to Penny DeNoble, an HIV/AIDS activist and former schoolteacher from Denver, Col., you fight back. You fight back with every tooth and nail, because it’s the only way to survive. “Throughout my journey, I’ve learned that the more I tell my story, the more healed I become and the more I fall in love with myself all over again. The more I feel equipped to fight. To fight another day,” Penny says. It’s been more than 15 years, but Penny can still vividly recall the moment she was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 1986. In the mid-1980s–an era when little was understood about the inscrutable disease, and even fewer treatment options existed—a diagnosis of HIV was a de facto death sentence. “I was paralyzed. I was shocked,” Penny remembers. At the time of her diagnosis, Penny’s husband, Billy DeNoble, was dying of AIDS. A former illicit drug user, Billy acquired HIV via the sharing of contaminated needles and lived with the virus for many years without knowing he was infected. By the time he began to experience symptoms in 1985, the virus had progressed to AIDS and was ravishing his body. “[My husband] infected me, unwillingly,” says Penny, who hadn’t known about her husband's previous drug abuse. In spite of that, Penny didn’t harbor any resentment towards her husband. When Penny called Billy and told him that she had tested HIV-positive, “It was the hardest phone call I ever had to make in my life,” she says. “I felt fear and sorrow, at having to share [that news] with him,” Penny reembers. “He wept and apologized profusely, knowing he had passed the virus on to me. But I reassured him that it was okay, that I forgave him.” Billy DeNoble died of AIDS just three days after his 36th birthday, on July 14, 1986. After grappling with the one-two punch of the shock of her diagnosis and then the subsequent death of her husband, Penny found herself shrouded in stigma, shame and despair. In the 1980s, many misconceptions about HIV/AIDS existed—chief among them that AIDS was primarily a gay man’s disease—and Penny faced profound discrimination from her community, her friends and even her own family. “Once my social community learned of my diagnosis, they disowned me. When I would go out socially, they would whisper and point fingers at me. No one would come up to me and ask me how I was doing, what I was feeling,” Penny says. “It was hurtful to the core.” [caption id="attachment_117808" align="alignnone" width="493"] This article originally appeared as on Spry Living
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