Monday, November 30, 2020

World AIDS Day Reflections on Why


COVID-19 cancelled the 2020 AIDS Vaccine 200 but it did nothing to halt your generosity or its impact on the progression of vaccine development. Even without an event, you gave in a big way. Donations to the Emory Vaccine Center by way of the Puget Sound Riders contributed more than $5,600 of the $46,000 raised this year for HIV/AIDS vaccine research. The steady input of support and tenacious research on this fatal, mutating virus that presents in many ways around the globe contributed to the rapid development, testing and delivery of coronavirus vaccines and provide ongoing feedback to bring us ever closer to an AIDS-free world. Thank you!

AIDS? Isn’t that pandemic over? Why gather for an event when a check will do? Simple. The AIDS pandemic is not over, and it will take more than money to end it. True, I’d get excited over a big $$$$$ gift though am keenly aware of the catalyst of raising awareness in a personal way. With HIV/AIDS long out of the headlines, a remarkably high number of people believe AIDS has been cured or that a vaccine is already available. Neither is true. Prevention and treatments have substantially advanced, but their reach is limited by accessibility to healthcare, cost, and cultural stigma. Would you get tested if it meant losing your job? How effective is a monthly treatment if you have inconsistent or no health insurance? And yes, it remains sadly easy to run into deeply held beliefs that HIV is a deserved punishment for immoral behavior.

I’m a straight, white, Christian woman, long past her athletic prime who makes for a curious sight in an AIDS jersey and spandex, cycling through the countryside, buying a Gatorade at your convenience store, pausing to rest at your sports park or changing a flat tire at the end of your driveway. I meet your curiosity (or acknowledge your contempt) with an approachable smile that invites your question and returns a truthful answer before riding on. Multiply several such encounters by a few hundred participants over the course of a 2-day event and it’s bound to make a community more aware of and curious about the current state of HIV/AIDS on the world, to vote, give and care accordingly. 

That is why I ride and remain ever grateful for your ongoing curiosity and support. I’m registered to ride in the 2021 AIDS Vaccine Ride and whether or not I make it to Georgia, I commit to continue fundraising for HIV/AIDS vaccine and cure research at Emory Vaccine Center and riding through the countryside in my AIDS jersey, now with a matching red ribbon face mask.

Puget Sound Riders join the #AV200WorldAIDSDay ride

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

2020 AIDS Vaccine Ride detour

"Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds" but another pandemic can certainly try! As you likely guessed, the 2020 AIDS Vaccine 200 has been cancelled in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. No road training, bike packing or wondering what the weather will throw our way this year. Like the rest of you, our usual paths have been altered by this new deadly virus and I pray you and your loved ones have managed to stay healthy and safe from its grip.

It's been a little scary for those of us with front row seats to the last one but I find comfort in the path we have taken together, bringing hope to the journey of those fighting HIV/AIDS. I knew the nation was in good hands with Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx were on the Coronavirus Task Force. I knew the same science Emory Vaccine Center applied daily in advancing work to find an HIV vaccine could be applied to this Coronavirus just as it did for Ebola and the Hope Clinic stood ready to conduct human trials. One look at the list of COVID-19 research projects underway at the Emory Vaccine Center gave me comfort to see the names of those whose tenacity with HIV/AIDS work is a comforting inspiration every May - Ahmed, Amara, Bosinger, Altman and more.

Several of you make such a habit of giving to this cause that you did so early and even after likely knowing it would be cancelled. I am grateful for your generosity and trust in Action Cycling Atlanta to ensure every penny is still directed to fighting HIV/AIDS whether or not we ride.

This month marks the 10th year that my Puget Sound Rider co-captain, Mary Harding, and I have brought you along on the AV200. This week also marks 25 years since both Mary and I lost our brothers, Peter and Bret, to HIV/AIDS. Sometime over this ride weekend we'll pause our pedaling and raise a toast to making progress on our "appointed rounds".


Monday, April 27, 2020

Hope for Every Journey

Isolation, uncertainty, fear. The more time spent in this space, the more I gravitate to Daphne. Situated in the very middle of my backyard, the sweet fragrance catches me in my tracks every time, forces me to pause, take a deep breath and replace all that troubles my mind with beauty and joy and
hope. Just for a moment, yet a moment remembered.

The first time Daphne nudged me with her healing power was brought about by another deadly virus, HIV. That April was also a time of fear coupled with many hours of isolating silence spent sitting with Bret as he moved in and out of a coma and the uncertainty of how long each would last or if it was his last. Every trip to Bret’s apartment brought me through the front gate under a lush arbor of Daphne that I hadn’t even noticed until the fragrance caught me off guard and made me stop every time to breathe deep, overcoming my fears with hope for just a moment.

That moment of hope took root in my life as I searched out ways to bring more of it into millions of lives affected by HIV. The journey led me to support healthcare professionals who’d bend the rules to ensure Bret’s leftover, expensive) AZT drugs were not wasted, service organizations that evolved from gentle guidance through the dying process to treatment planning and advocates for workplace policies to meet the unique needs of a life lived longer with HIV. Through it all, scientists and researchers press forward to slowly move a deadly virus to a manageable and ultimately harmless one. Along the way I observed the global scientific community discover the value of cooperation over competition and the efficiency of cross-testing findings from one field into another. The HIV Vaccine Trials Network/HVTN global collaboration of clinics who have played a part in every HIV vaccine trial in humans was founded by the research institute widely known as an innovator in cancer research. The newly branded Fred Hutch now proudly lends its vast knowledge to any and all cures that save lives.

Next month would have been my 10th year cycling through Georgia as a reminder that the HIV pandemic is not yet eradicated and gratefully passing your financial support to HIV/AIDS research conducted at the Emory Vaccine Center. Neighboring the CDC, the EVC is skilled at the nimble shift of resources and learnings from steady progress in immunology against HIV to quickly address the latest threat to global health, be it Ebola or COVID-19. Our cycling event, the AIDS Vaccine 200, was cancelled this year due to the latter though I take comfort in my familiarity with the level of dedication these communities place on our global health and how urgent is their desire to ease the burden of front-line healthcare workers and my confidence in the vast array of HIV/AIDS support organizations to stay the course in the meantime.

I’m not immune to the fear and uncertainty brought on by this latest viral pandemic but the past 25 years have taught me to relax more into the beauty, remember to trust in hope, and breathe in deep. Thanks, Daphne.
This post is dedicated to the memory of lives lost in the early days of viral pandemics, when fear and uncertainty is at its peak, to the brave souls who hold their hands and the constant love of God to bring peace. 

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Red Ribbon of Hope

It happens every several years and when it does is usually most needed. Tomorrow is World AIDS Day. For Christians around the world, it is also the first Sunday of Advent, starting a period of growing darkness and hopeful anticipation of the birth of Jesus Christ, bringing light to our dark places, love to overcome our fears and peace to a weary world.

I've mentioned before that Bret wasn't a fan of the red ribbon. To him, it was akin to a scarlet letter putting the shame and stigma of HIV/AIDS on a pedestal. It could be like that then, 25 years ago when fear and lack of information caused teenage hemophiliacs, successful business men, African virgins and suburban housewives, newborn babies, young people finding their way and yes, some who had gone astray were made to feel they deserved the terminal diagnosis of HIV/AIDS. Exacerbated by fear, most were deemed unworthy of love and denied care. Then hope stepped in and hope refused to quit.

What began with an angry, scared and tenacious gay community, joined by brave healthcare professionals and curious scientists, the challenge to name and treat the true culprit grew momentum and made slow, steady progress. Hope was present at the start and has never let go of this battered ribbon of red. Wearing it today is a reminder of the darkness through which we have come thanks to their persistence and announces to the world that we honor the sacrifices of the past and also advocate for the next breakthrough to eradicate the darkness and bring an end to the scourge of AIDS on our world.

This December 1, when World AIDS Day and the season of Advent collide, may that hopeful spark in your heart ignite into energetic action that educates the doubtful, loves unconditionally and acts to bring light to those still in darkness. Then hope wins.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Those Who Serve

Ours is a team rooted in love and dedication to honoring the lives of 3 brothers lost too soon because of HIV/AIDS. In our 20 years together, we’ve come upon many such siblings, in addition to sons, daughters, spouses and friends but Joshua Campbell was the first to refer to us as “sibling survivors”. Joshua became a survivor in 2007 when his brother Jason lost his life in the line of duty with the Greenville NC Police Department. He’s ridden over 1,500 miles in support of families and especially children, whose parents are killed in the line of duty and is equally dedicated to the mission of Action Cycling Atlanta and the AIDS Vaccine 200 beneficiaries. 

In 2018 Joshua chose to dedicate his AV200 ride to the memory of Donald David Fehrenbach, brother of my teammate, Jon. Last weekend Joshua chose to dedicate his AV200 ride to my brother Bret and didn’t let conflicting family obligations slow his plans. In stepped Mary Harding, long term ride buddy, teammate and fellow sibling survivor to carry out Joshua’s plans. Over the course of 2-days and 200 miles, 4 red cuffs engraved with Joshua’s dedication to Bret were passed from scientist to rider to crew to donor and back again. My words cannot come any closer than the looks on their faces as that bracelet came to symbolize the inspiration for why we ride and give, work and serve to end AIDS.  

Bret Granato - Band of Honor relay 2019 AIDS Vaccine 200 Ride

Joshua made it back in time for closing ceremonies
 and to see everyone who participated in his 2019 AV200
Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can                          -John Wesley