With the news this week that a man has been declared officially “cured” of HIV by way of stem cell therapy (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/14/hiv-cure-berlin-patient_n_796521.html), I was heartened, to say the least. Immediately, my mind went to two things: one was about what this means for the immediate future of HIV eradication research, and how soon could something like that one, unique man’s experience be extrapolated to the entire HIV-positive population, and two, a more emotional side — How many people that we lost, or that I lost personally, would have loved to have seen this day? This is the day that many said could never arrive, the day that we declare the “c-word” — no, not that one — CURE in HIV.
I wondered what my friends Keith Markin, or Fernando Baell, or Charlie Wills would say about this day. Knowing them, I think it would be a chorus of “it’s about fucking time!” And they would be right. This day does seem a little long-time coming, 30 years into the HIV/AIDS epidemic. And the full day of known “cure” for all still eludes us. But this day does give hope that this very easily could be “the beginning of the end” of HIV as we know it. And, as I sit and recover from my second hip replacement surgery (December 6) due to HIV-related Avascular Necrosis, a bone disease, boy do I “know it” all too well!
But beyond what this news means for the medical, and more specifically HIV medical community, I think about the existential and philosophical aspects of this news. I think about how this defies nay-sayers that cure is “impossible”, just like the nay-sayers circa 1955 or so who said that we would never put a man on the moon. To say it reminds me of, “Never Say Never” might be a little cliche’, but I often think in cliches (as anyone who reads my writing knows).
I think of this news in the context of the time period that it comes to us — the holiday season. More specifically, the Christmas season. I don’t identify as being particularly religious, and I’m the first one to defiantly, humorously, subversively, and just a little bit ragefully challenge the prevailing notion of the implied “superiority” of so-called “Christians” and the general passive or active homophobia, heterosexism, and just plain hate of far too many of them. But if we take the Christian idea, or dare we say “myth” (don’t shoot; it’s just a blog!), that Christmas is representative of the birth of Hope, of Peace, and of a Sun (“son”), what better time of year for news that something as antithetical to Hope and Peace such as HIV could be “cured”, at least once?
The implications of this news extend beyond the medical fascination of it all. It is a parable, a Life Lesson, a historical reminder that things DO change. That the diffculties that seem “un-curable” today may indeed be “curable” tomorrow. Or a thousand tomorrows after that.
It needs to be said that this man’s experience is extraordinary, and the measures used were something that would not be feasible to apply to everyone living with HIV. It’s really still considered a “fluke”. But, that said, I still think HIV’s days are numbered. Polio’s certainly were. The Bubonic Plague’s were. Smallpox’s were. Diseases are just as superficially vulnerable as fashion; they “go out”. HIV has been an unwelcome guest at the World Party for far too long, and you know, it’s just getting to be that time. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.
Whatever your nay-saying is, stop for a minute and challenge the “permanence” of that thinking. Never say never. Let there be a Birth of Hope for you this holiday season. Happy Holidays!