'I have HIV and I'm a mom'
Watch the series "I Have HIV and ..." #LiveOnKVAL this February.
EUGENE, Ore. - This is Jessica. Take it or leave it.
She shows no self-doubt. Her beliefs are printed clearly on her skin for everyone to see.
"This my red ribbon. It's for HIV and AIDS. In it is my diagnosis date, 3-17 of '95. To go along with that, nothing happens by mistake. That is my motto. Everything happens for a reason," said Jessica, showing two brightly crafted tattoos on her arms.
Things were not so clear when Jessica was diagnosed with HIV more than 20 years ago.
Back then, HIV was still a relatively new illness.
Her initial reaction:
"Death sentence," she said. "I thought I was going to die."
Already a mother of one son, the idea of death steered Jessica further from life.
She was using cocaine, crack and meth at the time.
Her son was living with his father.
The addiction was stronger than ever before.
"I gave up. I didn't seek help or medication for years to come," she said.
But while addiction tightened its grip, so did something else: Love.
Jessica's second child was born.
"It took for my second one to say, 'You have blessings, you can survive this, you can still live'," she said. "That was my second wake up call, my rock bottom saying, 'There is a God. There is a fight."
Ten years after being diagnosed, Jessica was finally seeking treatment for HIV.
A few years after that, she would fight off her addiction.
"My giving up point was I went to DHS in St. Helens and I said, 'I need help', and I gave up my kids, and I went into treatment," Jessica said, "and here I am today: I have my kids."
Fast-forward to 2016.
Jessica is sober. She's the mother of three kids, who are all HIV negative.
"I wake up, I go to work. I come home, I cook dinner. I try to spend time with my kids, and I take my meds, and I start all over," said Jessica.
The "meds" aren't easy. HIV patients may take several pills a day, lending to incapacitating side effects like fatigue, irregular bowel movements, and vomiting.
At their worst, they can cause other illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and neurocognitive problems.
"There's times where the meds would make me not feel good. I'd go off my meds, it's a battle, I'd give up. I'd get really sick," said Jessica.
"When she gets sick it can be really scary. I remember one Christmas she got really sick and i got really scared but she pulled through," said Sierra, Jessica's daughter.
The meds - tough as they are - keep Jessica alive and healthy, but the HIV Alliance says we cannot get too comfortable in our fight against the disease.
Infection rates are still growing.
"I think one of the reasons is that people have gotten complacent about HIV, so they don't see it in the headlines, they think they can take one pill and they'll be fine," said Renee Yandel, Executive Director of the HIV Alliance.
In 2012, over one million people in the United States were living with HIV. This is the most recent information from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Oregon Health Authority says almost 7,000 Oregonians are currently living with HIV, and that number is still growing.
Jessica takes her meds, despite the side effects. She has a purpose every day.
"My conclusion is I got this to teach my kids' generation. To be safe. To learn," she said.
Because for Jessica, everything happens for a reason.
The HIV Alliance urges the public to get tested, and to practice safe sex.
You can help the fight too, by volunteering, donating and just getting educated.
Watch #LiveOnKVAL Wednesday, February 10, for the next installment of this series.