Hope and Hype:Some definitions:

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By Laurette

I have always been interested in caring for my body as a whole, using homeopathic and natural remedies, rather than chemical drugs. So after my diagnosis it was natural for me to become increasingly interested in an approach favouring vitamins and supplements, and in following the advice of my Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor. I started to visit a homeopath/naturopath regularly. I was healthy, working, and had lots of energy. At that time, I refused to take any drugs.

I had to stop working when my CD4s were around 200. I was toying with the idea of starting to take Septra to prevent PCP. This was going to be my first AIDS drug and I was delaying making the decision. But then I had a painful episode of shingles, during which PCP was detected, and my life changed. I become a person living with AIDS. I was taking naps during the day, on top of ten to twelve hours of sleep at night, and I couldn't predict what I was going to be able to do the next day.

Six months after my PCP diagnosis, my CD4s had dropped to 117. I was scared of getting really ill. Following my doctors' advice, I started to take AZT and 3TC. After four months of difficult decision-making, I decided to take saquinavir as well.

How did I reach this decision? Lots of talking. With friends who were not taking drugs and with friends who were. People who were already taking combination therapy encouraged me to start: they were really feeling better. Lots of reading. Endlessly tossing around my ideas with my HIV-friends and with my partner. Going to all the meetings in town where doctors reported back from various AIDS conferences.

Now on top of twenty vitamins and supplements per day, I am taking fifteen new pills. My medications must b taken with food, and the saquinavir with grapefruit juice, three time a day, eight hours apart. Ideally I get up at 7 am, take my meds with breakfast and juice, then again at 3 pm with some food and juice, and again at 11 pm, with some food and juice. Imagine! Before, I always tried to eat two hours before going to bed. I never drank sweet juices and especially not with food. Now when I leave home, I need my little pill box, my container of juice and a snack.

So that's my routine: a very structured day. Obviously, my timing is rarely eight hours on the dot. After a while, you realize that you just do your best. You don't panic if you are an hour off.

The first months on combination therapy were very uncomfortable, and even after six months I am still dealing with the side effects: bloated belly (I don't fit into some clothes anymore), constant gas, daily nausea. Every day I take herbal remedies to clean my liver and kidneys which are weakened by these drugs.

But in exchange for all this I have my energy back, all my HIV-related symptoms are gone, my CD4s are around 300, and my viral load went from 596,000 in January last year, to undetectable after 6 months of therapy.

I do not feel that my philosophy of health has changed. I wanted to do everything possible to recover a normal life.

Laurette was diagnosed with HIV in 1995.

Protease Inhibitors: Drugs that affect HIV proteinase (an enzyme that allows HIV to infect cells). They include saquinavir (Invirase©).

CD4: The "receptor" of HIV that allows the virus to get inside the cell. Once inside, the virus hijacks the control centre of the cell.

PCP (Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia): a fungus added to pneumonia that infects people with weakened immune systems.

Septra: Antibiotic for the treatment of PCP. Side effects can include nausea, decreases in white blood cell counts, rash, fever and elevated liver enzyme levels.

AZT & 3TC: Drugs that are supposed to block the creation of enzymes that allow HIV to take over a cell.

Viral Load: Tests that measure the amount of HIV in blood.

Antivirals: Drug treatments that slow down or stop the process by which the virus makes copies of itself.