What’s an HIV Dandelion? How Early Diagnosis Shaped this NYC Survivor

Kimberly Canady’s HIV Journey is an Empire State of Activism

“It still blows my mind that I’m still here to have these conversations because that wasn’t something that we thought was even obtainable like having a husband or a child and it’s my life.”

New York City’s Kimberly Canady is a mother, wife, career woman, graduate student and a Dandelion, a lifetime survivor of HIV.

Despite her busy schedule, Take Control HIV was fortunate to speak with Kim to discuss her journey, disclosure of status, life as an advocate, current motivation, and her impact with the community.
Living with HIV from birth
With each of her parents having a positive status, Kimberly Canady was born with HIV. She is now 37 and says her status has not stopped her from living her life to the fullest.
It wasn’t until the age of nearly 10 when Kimberly first learned about her HIV.

Known as slow-progressing HIV, Kimberly has a less common form of the virus in which medical treatment such as antiretroviral therapy (ART) is not as urgent during the onset – in her case, at birth. “It doesn’t mutate and multiply as fast as everybody else’s,” she said of her HIV condition.

At 10, Kimberly was still a child, and she was grieving the loss of both parents.
“My father passed away first … then my mom, she passed away three months later,” Kimberly said. “Two weeks before my 10th birthday, I was told that I was living with HIV.”
She quickly had to juggle doctor appointments and support groups with her grief, while trying to learn as much as she could about HIV.
As Kimberly looked around the medical waiting room, she would see people of similar age, including a few of her classmates walking the hallways or at group sessions. She realized there was a layer of unsettling mystery as doctors told each pediatric patient to not disclose their status to other people.
“I would go into the room with my grandmother, the doctors would do the regular checkup, they would have me exit out, and then I would be in the hallway with the kids. None of us knew we were positive,” she told Take Control HIV.
As Kimberly learned more about her diagnosis, she feared she may die an early death like her parents. This caused her to become depressed, angry and upset; thankfully, her grandmother was her caretaker, her biggest supporter, and provided emotional guidance when talking with Kimberly about how she might disclose her HIV status to the rest of the family.
Disclosure of status
Even though members of the support groups Kimberly attended did not share their status, she felt a sense of belonging and social support. She knew eventually she’d play a leadership role in advocating for her community.

“In my teenage years, sharing my status was the most difficult. It’s still hard now, but not as hard as before.”

Kimberly has been with her husband since she was 16 years old. They grew up together in the same neighborhood in “the Big Apple.” Telling him her status was scary, especially when her prior boyfriends had not been supportive – “not just disclose to him but then also disclose to the world and what that would look like, that was very difficult.”
When she was a senior in high school, Kimberly learned an article was going to be published about her positive status.
She reflected on having to “explain it to my family that a newspaper article was about to come out and I’m on the front – it’s a whole spread and it’s going to outline me being positive and talk about my mom being on drugs.”
With her grandma’s blessing, Kimberly wanted to get ahead of the article. She was ready to share her status with her family, friends, and the world.
Kimberly says she was able to have those conversations before the story was shared but unfortunately, Kimberly’s grandmother passed shortly before the story published.
“The article came out a week after she passed and it was hard, because I wanted that approval, I wanted that safety.”
Heartbroken, Kimberly wished her biggest champion and confidant would have watched as she triumphed over the release of the article.
Even as Kimberly navigated tough conversations with family and friends, the article led to judgement from fellow students at her school – causing Kimberly to drop out just three weeks before she would have graduated.
Never too late
A few months later, Kimberly earned her GED and she didn’t stop there.
In fact, one of her proudest moments and greatest accomplishments is not only graduating with a bachelor’s degree but continuing to enroll in a Master of Social Work program, which she aims to complete in two years.

Throughout her adult life, Kimberly has engaged in her community by appearing on commentary panels, delivering motivation speeches, and working in the nonprofit organization management space. She describes herself as a sexuality educator and public health consultant.

As Kimberly perseveres with graduate-level coursework, she’s giving back to younger students by serving as a substitute teacher as her primary day job – all while mentoring her own teenage son and high school student at home.
“Hard role to play,” she said while describing all the responsibilities and hats she wears at home and in professional life. Kimberly is proud of her accomplishments.

Living with HIV, many people believe they cannot have children and fear they will pass the virus on to a child. But if you have HIV, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of transmitting HIV to your baby.

“I never thought that I would have somebody who would love me just for me or have a child who’s HIV negative,” she said.

Honoring those who’ve passed from HIV-related conditions
Kimberly’s experiences have led her to pursue a master’s degree, wanting to complete the social work program in part to honor her friends she has lost due to HIV.
“I’ve been to over 50 funerals,” many of which were for individuals living with the virus, she said.
“For me it’s more than just having the degree to get more money. I really feel like I’m doing it for a lot of my friends.”
Kim is truly an inspiration to anyone going through a tough time living with HIV. Her bright smile and laugh are contagious, and we were honored to hear more about the ups and downs throughout her life story. We can’t wait to see what she accomplishes next as we’re continually impressed by her strong commitment toward family, her community, and the greater good.
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