Many Roads - One Journey

A year of options on the same journey. 100% of your donation makes a difference in making AIDS history. You decide how. You know the drill. ...

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Many Roads - One Journey

A year of options on the same journey. 100% of your donation makes a difference in making AIDS history. You decide how.

You know the drill. Coronavirus 2019, aka COVID-19, alters yet another planned event and cancellation is not an option. Take that tenacity, inject some creativity and the 2021 AIDS Vaccine 200 carries on, more accessible than ever.  

No doubt you haven't missed the irony of a new deadly virus leading to a pandemic in desperate need of a vaccine. Sadly, it won't be the last. But did you ever imagine that every ounce of generosity you've directed to Emory HIV/AIDS vaccine research would bring us a COVID-19 vaccine at record speed? It's true! Take a minute to bask in that unexpected and wildly welcome success.

At the January AV200 2021 kick-off party, via Zoom of course, two of our most prominent Emory Vaccine Center HIV/AIDS researchers, Dr. Rama Amara and Dr. Steven Bosinger (aka Mario) enthusiastically shared Emory contributions to COVID vaccine readiness: expertise in immune system response and memory, virus blockers to halt replication or lessen its impact on the body, test methods and a massive global human vaccine testing infrastructure. And their contributions continue.

Those two researchers and their colleagues are more than AV200 beneficiaries; they are part of the community. They are family. So the inevitable question wasn't unexpected - How could the COVID vaccine be produced so quickly yet we're still waiting for an HIV vaccine? We already knew the answer and do not doubt that HIV/AIDS vaccine research at Emory has ever taken a backseat to fighting COVID, SARS, Ebola or any other globally infectious disease. Quite the opposite. The broad stroke required to achieve monumental progress against the brutally nasty Human Immunodeficiency Virus is the backbone on which other, more amateur viruses have been tamed. Yet Rama and Steven heard our hearts' speak and added theirs as well. It's important to celebrate the wins along the way, because the road is long and we will not falter; we will prevail.

2020 was an especially hard year for literally everyone in the world. As we work our way back to some sense of normalcy, we are mindful of those still struggling. I want your contribution and recognize such a gift can come in many forms, each one welcome on this road to making AIDS history. Your prayers and kind words are as motivating as your dollars. If you're able to make a financial contribution, this year you have a choice as to how to direct 100% of all you give. Click Option 1 or 2 to navigate directly to my donation page for each choice.

Option 100% - Direct 100% to HIV/AIDS vaccine research at Emory Vaccine Center 

Option 2-way split - Split your donation 50-50 between vaccine research and 5 AIDS service organizations serving the greater Atlanta area. These ASOs took a financial beating in 2020 and Action Cycling Atlanta chose to include them more broadly with our 2021 ride. Do take the time to read about their good works whether or not you choose this option. If you live in another state, I encourage you to seek out ASOs near you and help them out too. We're all in this together - for the long haul!

Viruses and vaccines. Who knew we'd get more deeply personal practice. I hope what we've learned together along the way has made this round a bit easier to navigate. Stay well. Stay strong.

The 2021 AIDS Vaccine 200 ride begins tomorrow with 8 rides over 8 weeks. I'll be pedaling this new variation in a variety of ways. Follow along, come on out and pedal with me! Let's have some fun, making AIDS history!

Thank you.

 

Monday, November 30, 2020

World AIDS Day Reflections on Why

Prologue

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".

Cheers!

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.