Published: November 21, 2008
Olga Irwin, a straight, white female in Youngstown spent three years after her diagnosis in denial. Olga told people she had leukemia, lupus, hereditary blood disease and cancer -- anything to explain her doctor's visits and pill bottles. It's been years since she opened up about contracting HIV from a promiscuous boyfriend but much of her family still keeps their distance. Her sister will not let her swim in the pool with her niece and nephew, she said.
The fatigue and weight gain caused by HIV medications took a toll on Olga's self-esteem. She continues to experience waves of fear that she is prematurely dying. In response, she said she dyes her hair, flirts with younger men at bars, and overspends on concert tickets. Soap operas and a house full of animals help her combat those negative feelings, she said. Olga is currently pursuing a degree in social work from Youngstown State University.
"You feel like everyone can see it (HIV) inside of you. I want to help other people cope with that," she said.