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Tricia Cabrera: A Dabawenya’s positive life

HIV-positive transwoman Tricia Cabrera realizes – and keeps her going – the power of staying positive. “Nandito na ito – HIV positive na ako (This is already here – I am already HIV positive),” she said, “so I might as well be positive about life.” And this is the lesson she is sharing to others in the community, too.

This is part of “More than a Number”, which Outrage Magazine launched on March 1, 2013 as a move eyed 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, or call (+63) 9287854244 and (+63) 9157972229.

It was in 2004 when Tricia Cabrera, now 38, tested HIV-positive. Four years earlier, in 2000, Tricia went back to Davao City, and “I had a live-in partner at that time for approximately five years. We didn’t have money then, so my partner sold blood to Red Cross – binabayaran kasi ang mga nag-do-donate noon (people who donated blood received payments then). On the fourth time he (donated blood), he tested positive; he came home, and just told me he’s positive. Parang wala lang – hindi naman malalim ang kaalaman namin tungkol sa HIV noon (It wasn’t cause for panic then, maybe because we didn’t know much about HIV then).”

Tricia recognizes, though, that she may have infected her then partner; and that she may have been infected in the early 2000s, because “I was a sex worker at that time – in Metro Manila, sa Makati City,” she said, “so (I must have been infected) by a customer from work.”

Tricia went to an NGO in Davao City, and after waiting for one month, her result was released: she tested HIV positive.

Bumagsak ang mundo ko (My world crumbled),” she said. “Tanong ko sa sarili ko: Ako ang breadwinner ng pamilya ko; bakit ako pa? Kaya ko ginagawa ang mga ginawa ko, para rin sa pamilya ko. So bakit ako pa? (I asked myself: I am the breadwinner of my family, so why me? I was involved in sex work because I had to feed my family. So why me?).”

When she had her baseline tests, Tricia’s CD4 count was 358 – but then, she already had infections, “like rashes at namamagang lymph nodes sa kili-kili ko (like rashes and swollen lymph nodes in my armpit).” So she was given the option to start taking anti-retroviral medications (ARVs), which she did.

Her live-in partner, who refused to take ARVs, eventually died from AIDS-abetted complications.

Tricia, on the other hand, started feeling better. “Nawala lahat ng infections ko (All my infections disappeared) when I started taking ARVs,” she said.

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What Tricia realized – and keeps her going – is the power of staying positive. “Nandito na ito – HIV positive na ako (This is already here – I am already HIV positive),” she said, “so I might as well be positive about life.”

With a more positive life, Tricia proudly claims having CD4 counts ranging from 786 to 1007.

As a transwoman, though, a challenge for Tricia was when she was told to stop taking hormone replacement, as it could have adverse reactions with her ARVs. “Uunahin mo pa ang ganda kesa sa buhay mo (You’ll prioritize your vanity over your life)?” she laughed.

And then there’s the lack of representation, since – as Tricia noted – when there are HIV-related gatherings, the transwomen who live with HIV are represented by men who have sex with men, so that their trans-specific issues are not necessarily tackled.

Tricia now works as a community health outreach worker, helping spread awareness about HIV in Davao City.

A key lesson she wants those who are HIV-negative to learn is the need for acceptance, “na sana mawala na ang (that hopefully disappearing will be) stigma and discrimination,” she said.

As for other HIV-positive people, Tricia wants to instill responsibility. “Be responsible for yourself – have a healthy lifestyle and all,” she said. “But be responsible for others, too. When you can, share (even) basic information about HIV, as it could really help in the fight against it.”

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