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@JJhumantorch: Positive and paying it forward

Prior to knowing his HIV status, @JJhumantorch – who had a dry cough for almost three to four months – relied on the Internet for information about HIV, “like any clueless person normally do,” he admitted. But after testing HIV positive on September 15, 2013, his life changed; though he now hopes to help other PLHIVs know that “we are all in this together. You are not alone. Let us continue spreading awareness.”

This is part of “More than a Number”, which Outrage Magazine launched on March 1, 2013 to give a human face to those infected and affected by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in the Philippines, what it considers as “an attempt to tell the stories of those whose lives have been touched by HIV and AIDS”. More information about (or – for that matter – to be included in) “More than a Number”, email editor@outragemag.com, or call (+63) 9287854244 and (+63) 9157972229.

@JJhumantorch found out his HIV positive status only last September 15, 2013. “I remember I started having a dry cough for almost three to four months before I got tested. I consulted several doctors and tried several medications, but nothing seemed to work. I was also negative for TB,” he recalled. And then “the last pulmonologist I consulted gave a comment that I have a very low resistance. That statement made me worry and suspect that I am seriously ill.”

Not unlike many before him, @JJhumantorch started going online and begun to read anything about HIV, “like any clueless person normally do,” he admitted. “I bookmarked the site ‘LIVING with HIV in the Philippines: The official site of The Project Red Ribbon Care Management Program’. The articles I’ve read each day made me suspect even more, and I told my boyfriend that I wanted to get tested. He rejected my suggestion and told me that it’s just cough. I tried convincing him every week but he kept saying no. Until it came to the point when I thought that if I will do nothing, it might be too late.”

@JJhumantorch could clearly recall going online again on September 14, 2013 after watching Lihis. “It was a Saturday. I took Pozzie Pinoy’s (@pozziepinoy) number and texted him that I wanted to get tested and needed assistance. There was no immediate response, so I decided to add him on Facebook and send him the same message, only to find out that he was online, accepted my friend request, and started chatting. He then assigned Marky Manlangit, @blckmnstr, to assist me to get tested on September 15, Sunday, at the RITM Satellite Clinic (in Leon Guinto, City of Manila).”

@JJhumantorch was there as early as 10:00 AM the next day. “My BF kept texting me every hour asking about the result. I ignored all his texts that time because I wanted to tell him in person and not through text. So after lunch, the result came out. I was H1 H2 Reactive. My testing counselor, Philip Tanpoco, @philtanpoco, was very comforting. I cried but wasn’t thinking it’s the end of everything. Instead, I was thinking more of how to bounce back.”

It was already evening when @JJhumantorch returned home. He texted his BF, asking him to come home, which he did. “Then I told him. He was sad and shaking with fear. And I couldn’t help but feel more upset. So I did a little bit of HIV 101 so he won’t panic. I convinced him to get tested the following Sunday and he agreed.”

The following Sunday, on September 22, @JJhumantorch’s BF was shaking so badly inside the counseling room that his counselor called him in for support before he gave the result. “My BF cried while I was shaking because I didn’t know what his reaction would be. He just said: ‘I’m afraid’. It crushed me to pieces and I started to cry as well. We hugged each other tight. He was not mad. We went home and just cried the whole night.”

After all that happened, @JJhumantorch remains glad that “despite of this condition, my BF and I still have a positive outlook in life. We are both lucky that we don’t have any opportunistic infections (OIs). At least, that’s a consolation. And we’re thankful to our Father Almighty. We became closer and more loving to each other.”

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Since he tested HIV-positive, @JJhumantorch said that “I felt that I needed to start helping as well.” And so he became a volunteer for hub assistance (under Gerald Santos, @gerald_santos_ at RITM-ARG in Alabang) of The Project Red Ribbon Care Management Program. “I felt that it was my calling and purpose.”

A few weeks after he tested positive, @JJhumantorch decided to tell his family. “I called my mother. She got upset and immediately wanted me to go back to our hometown. I told her I can’t. My hub is in Alabang, and I can’t leave my BF. We promised to face this together,” he recalled.

Unfortunately, @JJhumantorch got sick during the 15 day trial period of his ARV. As of last checking, “my CD4 is only 234, while my BF’s is 622. I kept vomiting and was confined in the hospital twice. That prompted my mother to fly to Manila. She went to our apartment and told my BF: ‘Please, kukunin ko muna ang anak ko (I’ll take my child with me)’. We cried. The following day, I immediately resigned from work. I told my Red Ribbon family that I’ll be going home and won’t be able to volunteer. Pozzie Pinoy then made me as one of Red Ribbon’s online managers (under Yomi, @yomiyoukai) so I can still continue assisting. I was honored and thankful for their trust.”

While in his hometown since November 2013, @JJhumantorch continued assisting other PLHIV. “It kept me sane. I answer people’s inquiries on Facebook and Twitter. I also do referrals for testing, et cetera.”

On February 2 this year, @JJhumantorch finally came back to Manila. “I’m currently looking for a new job. Hopefully, I can start volunteering again once I’m working,” he said.

@JJhumantorch admits that “being a PLHIV is hard. I have not disclosed my status to everyone. Only my family and selected few trusted friends know. There are days when I feel down and even want to stop volunteering and (being part of ) the advocacy. But still, at the end of the day, I know that there are still a lot of PLHIVs who needs help. Awareness should be pushed everyday.”

For other PLHIVs, @JJhumantorch says that “we are all in this together. You are not alone. Let us continue spreading awareness,” he said. “Pozzies know me as Human Torch @JJhumantorch. I am HIV positive and I will continue helping. I am paying it forward and won’t stop.”

@JJhumantorch is on Facebook. Or you may follow him on Twitter.

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