Following her HIV diagnosis, Connie Shearer, 42, spent years feeling less than human due to misconceptions and stigmas surrounding the disease.
But from the moment she walked through the doors of Aid for AIDS of Nevada, a service organization for people living with HIV/AIDS, she says she has been able to reclaim her dignity.
“They’ve helped me with everything from medication to mental health and emotional support,” Shearer says. “I’ve felt so depressed before because of the way people treated me. [AFAN has] empowered me.”
The nonprofit, which provides support for more than 4,000 Las Vegans, offers case management, personal guidance counseling, health education, financial assistance, nutrition guidance and transportation.
“Contrary to what everyone may believe, there are still many families—including men, women and children—who are affected by HIV/AIDS,”–Antioco Carrillo, AFAN executive director
“Contrary to what everyone may believe, there are still many families—including men, women and children—who are affected by HIV/AIDS,” says Antioco Carrillo, AFAN’s executive director.
Everything changed for Shearer when she was diagnosed in 1996.
“My doctor gave me a timeline of diagnosis to death,” she says while sniffling back tears. “He gave me 12 years. I just wanted to spend that time with my daughter.”
Shearer’s daughter was only 18 months at the time, so the thought of not seeing her grow up was heartbreaking. “I shut down,” she says. “All I could focus on was working and spending as much time with my daughter as I could.”
She kept in contact with her doctor and did regular checkups to try to keep healthy—eventually starting medications. “Each February [the anniversary of the diagnosis] passed, and I would tell myself I can make it one more year,” Shearer says. “And after another year passed, I would feel more secure in my health.”
After year 12, she knew her prognosis was wrong and that she would survive much longer. She began thinking about leaving Indiana and eventually settled on Las Vegas after suffering carbon monoxide poisoning. “I wanted to be someplace dry because it was better for my lungs,” she says.
With $14 left to her name, Shearer didn’t know what to do. That was when she found AFAN.
In 2013 she landed at a weekly motel, but her new bills zapped her money. With $14 left to her name, Shearer didn’t know what to do. That was when she found AFAN.
The organization didn’t just assist her with food when she was in need. Over the years, it helped her as she worked to rebuild her life. She was supplied with a much-needed bus pass as well as given free mental health services through AFAN, which included seeing a therapist and joining a women’s support group. “That has helped me through everything I’ve faced since,” she says.
Now, with more stable footing, Shearer is trying to end stigmatization of HIV/AIDS and promote the resources of AFAN to people living with the disease.
Little by little, she has learned there is power in her story, and she has decided to be more forthcoming about sharing it. Among many things, Shearer is using her story to encourage people to get tested. Beyond that, she hopes people living with the disease are inspired to believe that anything is possible.
“We have self-worth,” Shearer says. “We are not our diagnosis.”
Aid for AIDS of Nevada’s annual Black & White Party
August 19 at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. Last year’s event raised more than $140,000, with all proceeds going to AFAN services. 7–9 p.m. VIP reception, 9 p.m.–1 a.m. main event, tickets start at $65, afanlv.org