A Victoria resident found out they were both HIV positive and had cancer on the same day.
In 2015 Daniel Sands was homeless and often sleeping in Beacon Hill Park. Sands – who is two-spirited and prefers a they/them pronoun – said that for a long time they just felt like they had a flu that just wouldn’t go away, so when they got tested by a street nurse they were shocked to hear the results.
“I was devastated, it felt like a death sentence at the time,” they said for a project made with the federal government called Healthy Canadians.
What Sands didn’t know, however, was that just four years later they’d be in remission for cancer, and that their HIV would be untraceable thanks to modern medication.
“U=U, it’s kind of changed everything,” they said. “As long as I take my medication I’m going to live a long life, a long healthy life.”
The U=U campaign is put forward by the province and the Prevention Access Campaign; U=U stands for undetectable equals untrasmittable. Immediate treatment of HIV/AIDS means that a patient can live a normal life and can’t transmit the disease to someone else.
“Kind of destigmatizing myself and learning the actual medical facts about it really changed everything,” Sands said. “I have a chronic manageable illness just like someone with diabetes—take your medication every day and you’re good.”
Changing the stigma is something that World Aids Day on Dec. 1 aims to achieve.
“Stigma is still a huge issue for people living with HIV,” said Katrina Jensen, executive director of AIDS Vancouver Island (AVI), where Sands now works. “The more we can get education and awareness out, the more we can confront and end stigma in our community.”
This year in Victoria more stories from people like Sands are being shared across the city in the form of “We Are Here” Story Boards seen in Greater Victoria Public Libraries.
Additionally, on Dec. 1 there was a candlelit ceremony at the steps of the BC Legislature to commemorate people who have died from the disease.
Any donations put forward to AVI on World AIDS Day went towards the organization’s Hot Lunch Program, which offers nutritious meals five days per week.
“People living with HIV are often living with compromised immune systems and they need high quality foods,” Jensen said. “But because many people are living in poverty, the rising costs of food make it really difficult for people living with HIV to access.”
In 2018 more than 8,000 meals were served through the program.
For more information on the organization visit avi.org