I recently had the pleasure of attending the Wellness Summit in Iowa.
While I have attended many such retreats in the past 12 years this was by far “the best ever”. The size was good, the atmosphere informal but informative. I did not feel like I was “back in school”. It was persons living with HIV/AIDS relating to one another and sharing their stories. This interaction was promoted by the great speakers, presentations, and activities that were planned.

While new to this geographic region I felt as if I were part of a greater family! This is, I feel, a most important part of living, not just surviving with this disease.

While many of us have interactions in our home communities it is venues like this that really lift spirits, give hope, create bonds, and greatly help to promote a “positive outlook” toward our lives and living.
Many thanks to all the sponsors for helping make this possible.

GREAT JOB to all who worked so hard to put this together.
What happens when your 
doctor tells you are HIV+?​
 What now, am I going to die?  Where do I turn, am I alone, what’s next, what will people say about me?  These are just a few of the questions I ask myself the day I went to the doctor.  My family doctor didn’t know a lot about treating HIV, but did get me scheduled to see a specialist.  In the meantime, which I had to meet with the state department of health, my first thought I would be branded with an HIV on my forehead.  Was I ever wrong, Turned out that was the first positive step I had? 

There was no stigma, we only talked about me.  I was sent away feeling a lot better about myself.  I made contact with Jeff the Leader of the PITCH group in Cedar Rapids.  He told me about the wellness summit, at first I was going to pass because I didn’t know a lot about this.  Only being diagnosed for a month, I was still in shock. 

 I am so glad that I went.  Right from the beginning when I walked into the room, I could feel the love.   When you hear reports that HIV isn’t just a gay disease, it is true, there were men and women from all walks of life that shared one common thing, and we are all HIV+.
 One of the best things I got out of this was, understanding my inter-strength.  This helped me in so many ways.  Not starting my meds yet I got so many tips that the doctors couldn’t tell you.  We talked about stigma, I have not had my first taste of it yet, but when I do I can go back to the one of the sessions and remember what we talked about. 
We had a work shop called the round table that was the most beneficial workshop, it allowed us to ask questions that you would be afraid to ask your doctor, and not to be judged, because everyone has been there or will be there.  How to have HIV and love your family, is easier what I learned was that I have a loving supporting family, and how to love them back.    Not only did we have workshops but we had fun time, I made my fist card for my partner, we learned about yoga (and no you don’t end up looking like a pretzel) to put it all together everything. 
Well it has been a little less than 6 months since I found out I was positive. I have started my meds about two months ago, I was put on Atripila, I was told the side effects would last about a month or so, and luckily mine was very minor.  I just had some realistic dreams that I didn’t know if I was dreaming or awake.  I know what kind of food I can eat later in the night before I take my meds.   On a good note, I couldn’t gain weight no matter what I did.  Well I have gained close to 20 pounds; I have more energy than I have in a long time.  I’m riding my bike about 30-40 miles a week, working on the house, working full time, and still have family time.  I refuse to give into the diseases, and will be taking my life back the way I want it.
I have made new friends, through the PITCH group and consider them my new family.  I can’t wait till the next wellness summit.  I want to be able to help other people that have the same problems that I had coming into this.  And to offer my help that everyone offered to me.
Tim's Testimonial
It was nice to just get away from computers and social media for three days. Saw a Deer in the woods that made all the difference in the world. I can have one of the more difficult diseases, but when you see a deer in the woods at camp Wesley Woods it makes the trip all worthwhile. So for those three days, it was not like having this problem bothering me anymore. A relief. Plus you are surrounded by many years of experience (you’re not alone) with this disease. It reinforces that you’re going to be living with this disease for many years.  - T.S.
My name is Laura.
I’m 52 years young and have been living with HIV since 1998. In these last 13 years, I have been judged & ridiculed by people, discriminated against in public places, and I’ve just felt left out. Being a heterosexual woman who contracted HIV from my fiancé (who did not disclose his AIDS status until his death 6 months after my diagnosis); I have had a difficult time finding a place to fit in life.

My two sons were impacted by the stigma of my diagnosis to the point that they begged me not to tell their father, whom I was divorced from. They lived in fear that they would be taken away from me if he knew. They weren’t afraid of me and HIV, they were afraid of ignorant people judging me and them.

HIV/AIDS is not just in the homosexual community; it doesn’t discriminate or judge as humans do. HIV does not see color, creed, or socioeconomic status.
My name is Brian O'Gary and I was diagnosed with HIV.

I debated whether I should be so direct when introducing myself, but, experiencing a weekend at the annual PITCH Wellness Summit, I am more confident today in being able to forthcomingly identify as a person living with HIV.

In short, the Wellness Summit is an extraordinary experience that I recommend to any Iowan who wants to learn more about the living with HIV/AIDS.
In the days preceding the retreat, I found myself growing increasingly apprehensive; I more than once thought about calling the summit organizers and informing them I would not be able to attend.  Let's face it - living with HIV/AIDS can be a trial.  Fighting the public stigma, struggling with self-scrutiny, maneuvering the inevitable financial pitfalls, and the accepting the truth that one's illness is, momentarily at its best, chronic, often an insuperable burden to bear.  And it's intimidating to take a step out of the box and learn from perfect strangers who live the same day-to-day struggles as me.

Fortunately, these fears were for naught because the planning committee did an astounding job organizing the weekend.  All people present were welcoming and accepting because of their shared experience.  During the weekend, I was able to attend a number of seminars, ranging from building self-esteem and identity-creation to managing medicinal side-effects and engaging in safe sexual practices.  I learned about taking care of myself and becoming a self-advocate.

As a Wellness Summit, I expected to learn more about living with HIV, but I did not expect to have as much fun as I did.  Between morning games and campfires at night, there was ample time to get to make new friends and catch up with old ones. We had plenty of downtime to socialize and everyone was open and willing to get to know one another.
Aside from the seminars and the games, it was the opportunity to hear from people like myself which made the weekend most memorable.

Most of us do not have the regular privilege of talking to those who walk our same path; as a community, people living with HIV have the additional struggle of being able to commiserate with others who share a similar experience.  Through hearing the stories of others, I recognized that people living with HIV are intermingled with the general populace:  we are your neighbor, your coworker, your mother, your partner. The Wellness Summit afforded me realization that I am not alone; Iowan people from all walks of life are affected by a shared condition.  In many ways, the retreat was validation of a life I have no choice but to live.  I am grateful for the experience and I sincerely look forward to going again next year.

Brian O'Gary