Anthony Cherry understands the strong penchant for anonymity when it comes to speaking about life with AIDS. He told his mother about the illness only after he started his medicine cocktail in 1995, a full seven years after being diagnosed. He waited months into each new relationship before divulging the disease, expecting his partner to bolt immediately.
But after two decades, thousands of dollars in meds and doctor visits, drug rehab and a long partnership with the Southern Colorado AIDS Project, Cherry is going public.
"It is my duty as a resident of this city to step out and be a positive force," says Cherry, a trim 43-year-old. "It's like breathing or sleeping or eating. It's something I have to do. I can't control it."
In recent months, Cherry has begun to "groom" himself to join S-CAP's Speakers Bureau, a group that promotes AIDS education and prevention in area schools. As one of an increasing number of people who have survived with AIDS for over 20 years, Cherry has seen myriad misperceptions and stereotypes about the disease.
His is a story well worth telling. The doctor who diagnosed Cherry, at least five years after he was infected by a former boyfriend, told the Colorado Springs native that he should begin preparations for his funeral. Then, in the '90s, medicinal innovations allowed Cherry and millions of others to prolong their lives.
But survivor's guilt he had already seen more than a dozen of his friends die almost killed Cherry. He descended into suicidal drug abuse and then rehab.
In 1998, his HIV status shifted to full-blown AIDS, but by that time, he had started on the slow route to tranquility. Today, cycling through an ever-changing drug regimen, Cherry takes six pills a day that cost a total of $2,000 per month a price almost completely subsidized by his insurance and another AIDS assistance group.
Though he wonders why he has access to life-saving drugs while millions in Africa go without, Cherry keeps his focus local. A gay black man, he says Colorado Springs has, surprisingly, been good to him.
"Our environment here is so healthy," he says. "If I had AIDS in New York City or in San Francisco, I would be dead."
He was lying sick in a hospital bed several weeks ago when his boyfriend knelt at his side and proposed. Unlike his past partners, he had been up front immediately with this one. After their second date to Old Chicago and The Vue, Cherry sobbed as he told his future fiance about the disease.
"'That's why you're crying?'" Cherry recalls him saying. "'I'm here for you. I'm going to do everything to make your life as full as possible.'"
They will have a marriage ceremony next year, and Cherry has hope for his own survival.
"The support I've had has assured me that I might just be around for the cure," he says.
S-CAP, celebrating its 20th anniversary year, offers education and prevention programs as well as support services to those affected by HIV/AIDS in our community.
To donate, call 800/241-5468 or visit s-cap.org. Or mail a check to S-CAP, 1301 S. Eighth St., Suite 200, Colorado Springs, CO 80906.