I have been HIV positive for 32 years. I was also co-infected with Hepatitis C until two years ago when, after three attempts at alpha interferon therapy, the Hep C was cured. Preparing for that third attempt was one of the main reasons I first started coming to Body & Soul. The first time I was on interferon for a year and it was unsuccessful; the second time they took me off it after four months because I tried to hang myself twice – depression is a side effect of the drug.
I came to Body & Soul late in 2012 and was welcomed with a hug by Katherine, who was to be my therapist. We made a plan to prepare for the third round of interferon, which was due to start a month later. I started the therapy two days after Christmas 2013, and it was like being hit by a train. The depression kicked in and brought up a lot of memories of childhood violence and abuse, and the troubled years of addiction and crime that followed. I felt comfortable opening up to Katherine. I was also beginning to make friends with some great people at Body & Soul: members, volunteers and staff alike.
As well as the depression, the physical side effects kicked in and things went from bad to worse. I got a bad flu which turned into pneumonia. No sooner had I got over that than I was struck down with viral pneumonia. Just as I was recovering from that I caught scabies – where that came from I don’t know! I shudder when I look back. But all throughout that year I attended Body & Soul, and looked forward to every Tuesday evening when I could come in, talk with fellow members and have what was usually the healthiest meal of my week.
The treatment was successful and I finished the last dose two days before the New Year. 2015 was to be the year of recovery. I was determined to make up for the rotten previous year by doing everything I wanted to do: I was in a rock choir and we did loads of gigs; my own guitar work got better; I started rehearsals with a drummer friend in a studio; I did an acting course; and I performed in a play based on my life.
Everything was going great and then I noticed bits of bloods in my urine. I left it for six weeks, then it happened again. I went to the GP, and after a couple of days, he said I had The Big C – bladder cancer, to be precise. It was like being diagnosed with HIV all over again; it hit me like a brick. I did what had to be done – turning up for appointments and having treatment – and always kept positive about it, even calling it ‘Colin the Cauliflower-shaped Cancer’. It was a painful experience made less so by family, friends, Katherine and all the guys at Body & Soul. I kept busy throughout with my music, doing the choir gigs, going to Cornwall occasionally for some respite. After four operations, ‘Colin’ was finally evicted. The treatment, which is painful, goes on for another two and a half years, but painful as it is, it is much better than the alternative – death.
A few months ago Body & Soul formed their own choir which was to perform at a big event for funders and supporters. As part of this performance I ended up doing a rap song. I discovered a voice I never had and it’s the voice I’ve always wanted. My own confidence in myself and my voice surprised me, having had no confidence or self-worth for years. The choir’s performance, ending with ‘Lean on Me’, was greeted with thunderous applause. It was a wonderful feeling that after lots of hard work by everyone, we all performed magnificently. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house – even Katherine blubbed!
I reflected that night on all the obstacles I had overcome over the years and in particular the last few years at Body & Soul. I shudder to think what would have happened if I hadn’t had the support, care and love from the guys at Body & Soul. I’m no longer a chronic drug addict. I like to think of myself as a positive, useful member of society and it’s no coincidence that since I started coming to Body & Soul, my confidence, self-worth and character have grown.
Recently I’ve started voluntary work one morning a week at a homelessness charity. Five years ago, I never thought I’d be doing that today. Life is worth living, you know? But it’s up to the individual how they live that life. Me, I love life. I really do. I get my ups and downs but I choose to rise above it. I’m not perfect – who is? I do alright in my own Nic-type way.