“It feels really good to give back”
Albert was born in a family of six children. He lived in Montreal, completed a degree in Interior Design and studied at McGill and Concordia. He was 25 years old when he had some lymph nodes removed from his neck because the doctors thought he had cancer. As it turned out, Albert was HIV positive. It was the mid 80’s and his family was dealing with a lot at the time, so Albert decided not to tell his parents and siblings. “When I got my diagnosis after three months of waiting for the results, they put me in front of the camera, because they wanted to see people’s reaction to the news. I just wanted to know, so I agreed,” says Albert.
The fear that people would find out would follow Albert for decades. He started volunteering at an AIDS hospice in Montreal, which was opened by two women who offered their home for free, as there was no government support for people at that time. There were four people in the hospice, and Albert wanted to know more about HIV. “I thank my survival on those people. I saw them going through horrible treatments. I saw them as guinea pigs and I saw them getting ten times the amount of medication they are giving to people now,” he recalls.
During those years of fear and hiding his status, Albert fell in love. “My partner was and still is HIV negative. He knew about my status. I told him about three weeks into our relationship, and he told me he needed a couple of days to think. He came back and said ‘Let’s take it one day at a time,’’ Albert remembers, adding that they separated when he was 40 years old.
But he still didn’t disclose his HIV status to others. “I wouldn’t tell my dentist because I was in fear he wouldn’t see me anymore. One time, I had to see a doctor in Montreal and the doctor took sexual advantage of me. I think that was because I was HIV positive and I was in fear of not being able to get medical help. I’ve never talked about it. I never said anything, but I want to now. I think people should know that that we were not respected.”
Albert moved to Vancouver and later to Calgary. Ten years after his HIV diagnosis, he became ill with lymphoma. “That was kind of ironic. You think you have something, but you don’t, and then you actually do ten years later. The doctors explained that my immune system had to work extremely hard to keep me alive. Within three months of taking the medication, I was undetectable.”
Albert is now 56 and a talented artist. He started painting and drawing after he was diagnosed with cancer. The side effects from medication and a severe reaction to radiation left him dealing with long-term chronic pain and mobility issues, so painting is somewhat difficult and takes time. Albert donates art to charities and has donated beautiful pieces of art to Splash of Red, a fundraiser in support of HIV Community Link, for the last couple of years.
He takes care of his sick mom and volunteers in the Peer Support program at HIV Community Link as a Peer Navigator. ”I might struggle with health issues and chronic pain and stigma, but there are people out there struggling with drug addiction, abusive relationships and HIV. It was good to open my mind and not be judgmental. They are still people and they need help.”
Albert encourages everybody to support the work of HIV Community Link. “I’m grateful to be part of this organization. It feels really good to give back; I’m hoping I can reach somebody that needs help,”