'I have HIV and ... I'm engaged'
EUGENE, Ore. - For better or for worse.
In sickness and in health.
It is a hefty promise for anyone to make.
But for Jacob and Steven, it means a little bit more.
"I'm elated," said Steven, Jacob's fiancé. "We just booked the chapel today, so we're a little bit rosier than normal."
They met in 2014.
It started with a simple flirtation.
"He commented on one of my pictures saying I was a cute guy," said Jacob.
And a significant revelation.
Jacob told Steven he had HIV the very first time they talked online.
"When you have HIV, you have to tell everybody," Jacob said. "Especially people you love and respect and want to be intimate with."
Jacob's HIV status didn't put brakes on his relationship with Steven.
"You never want to hear that from someone but I am a bit older so I've gone through a lot of it," said Steven. "It's not a death sentence anymore. I know there are ways where you can be safe."
About 10 years ago, when Jacob was first diagnosed, his outlook was different.
He was just 22 years old and married to his first husband.
"We were driving on the Bay Bridge and I thought about driving off of it with him because he infected me," Jacob said. "But I didn't. I went and got my results and fell into a deep depression."
Depression - and eventually a divorce.
But an HIV prognosis in the 21st century looks a lot different than it did in the 80s or the 90s.
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With time, Jacob bounced back.
"I saw a doctor, and she let me know: You're not going to die. Here's some medication; one pill.' I was lucky." Jacob said. "A lot of people aren't lucky enough to have just one pill a day."
That one pill has set the tone for Jacob's life.
The HIV Alliance says serodiscordant relationships - relationships where one partner does not have HIV - are possible if the couple takes the proper precautions.
"The person living with HIV would take their medication every day, and if they do, they would have a suppressed viral load making them less likely to transmit HIV," said Renee Yandel, Executive Director of the HIV Alliance. "And then the person who's HIV negative can also take pre-exposure prophylaxis, and that's also taking a pill every day to prevent themselves from being infected."
Steven takes the "prep" medication every day.
"Whoever you fall in love with is whoever you fall in love with," he said. "If that person happens to be HIV positive especially in this day and age, now you're just giving yourself excuses to not be with that person. There's something else or another reason you don't want to be with them, for me."
"I feel on top of the world, the happiest I've ever been in my life," said Jacob.
As for Jacob, his HIV levels have stayed low enough to keep him from developing AIDS.
"If you tested positive today, life could be very manageable for you," he said, "but let's try not to test positive."
While life is mostly normal for Jacob - he has a job, a social circle, and a fiancé - it remains challenging.
He said there have been those people who have turned their backs on him.
"The stigma behind it. It's gross, it's dirty, it's not as politically relevant right now," said Jacob.
The dialogue for HIV has changed with time, but it is a conversation worth having.
"No I don't think today when you get a diagnosis that you're looking at a death sentence," said Yandel. "It's sort of just living with HIV versus how am I going to die."
For Jacob, living with HIV does not mean living alone.
The next chapter is just getting started.
About this series
In 2012, over one million people in the United States were living with HIV. That is the most recent information from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
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.
This mini-series continues next Wednesday, February 24, #LiveOnKVAL. We meet Joelle, an HIV Alliance volunteer, whose brother was taken by HIV almost 17 years ago.