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Abby Landy was deeply suspicious something was wrong when, at 23, she developed cold sores for the first time in her life. The busy law student went to see her GP saying that coincidentally, she was so tired she could barely get out of bed. It was a week after she’d broken up with her boyfriend.
The GP dismissed Abby’s concerns but at her insistence, gave her a sexual health screening to be on the safe side – which she now knows does not include testing for HIV. The results were good, but Abby wasn’t getting any better, she could barely stand up and a mysterious rash was spreading over her body.
She took herself to a nearby hospital emergency department and was given a script for an antihistamine and told to go home. But her mind still wasn’t at ease. “I’ve never had a cold sore ever and I was just getting sicker and sicker.”
She called her ex-boyfriend, but far from reassuring her, when he said, “don’t worry babe, at least you’ll remember me forever”, she panicked. “I’d googled the symptoms, everything was pointing in the direction of HIV so I went back to my GP and insisted I have a test. She told me I was an Aussie girl, heterosexual, very low risk, not to worry. But when the clinic called and asked me to come back in urgently, in my heart I knew. My GP was almost in tears when she told me I had HIV. My first thought was ‘I don’t want to live with this’”.
Abby put her studies on hold and moved back in with her family to focus on getting well, she researched the virus heavily and found support groups for women like her, who offered companionship, education and understanding, and with advanced treatments she has recovered well.
“I think going to the support group was one of the best things I did because the women I met were all amazing and I come away feeling as if I wasn’t a victim, I realised I had nothing to moan about and most importantly that I wasn’t alone, other women were dealing with this too.”
Abby has made an impressive recovery. She is now in Sydney working full time as a legal assistant, and is finishing her law degree part time. In between work, study, meeting friends for drinks or going for a jog, she squeezes in time to speak publicly about her experience of being HIV-positive.
"HIV is a human condition, it can affect anyone, it doesn’t discriminate. We all have to be agents for our own sexual health and it has to be on our radar that anyone can get HIV, even young Aussie heterosexuals.”
BY SUE SMETHURST
The Australian Women’s Weekly — Bauer Media. Image by Eamon Gallagher.