In 1985, Derek Canas underwent heart surgery to correct a congenital anomaly — he was three months old.
The surgery was a success, but 16 years later Derek was diagnosed with AIDS — he had acquired HIV as a result of a blood transfusion during the heart surgery.
Derek is now a DJ and a campaigner for HIV awareness. Derek shared his story with Mainly Male.
When you were first diagnosed, how much did you and your family know about HIV?
The only thing I knew at that time was a few memories of a Nick News episode years before. I was diagnosed in 2001. My first thought was — “I’m dead.”
Thankfully, I had a great doctor who told me that I would that I would be going to his funeral, that he wasn’t going to mine. I had an AIDS diagnosis and wasting syndrome — I was weeks away from death.
What sort of counselling and support was available to you when you first diagnosed?
Just at doctors’ appointments. I live in a small town, there were no support groups close by. Family and close friends became my support system.
Have you encountered any stigma or discrimination as a result of your status?
Yes — especially in the early days after diagnosis. It’s just part of living in a small town. The understanding of the virus is still stuck in the mindset of the early-90s. Sadly, that’s nationwide — public knowledge is really lacking in terms of HIV.
You speak publicly about HIV and educate people about the virus — do you ever feel like taking some time out? Do you ever feel like you don’t want to have to explain your status to people that you meet?
I don’t take time out for myself. My cardiologist hates that — I’m on my fifth pace-maker. I always welcome the opportunity to explain my HIV status. I wear it like a badge of honour. The virus nearly killed me, and I’ve fought back — I’m the one that’s kicking its ass now.
What advice or guidance would you give to someone who has been recently diagnosed with HIV?
The days after are rough — don’t be ashamed of the breakdown. You’ll feel better as your health gets better. It just takes time and patience.
Do you have any hints or tips for people on how to respond to HIV stigma or discrimination?
I use music to get me through. I’m a DJ, so I know how powerful music is on our minds and bodies. I always encourage people to find their music or movies — something that helps them laugh or get hyped-up.
Keep a calendar — put things on it, no matter how small — always look forward. Tomorrow can and will be better.
Everyone gets knocked down in life. It’s about how you stand back up.