MADISON (WKOW) -- A regimen of medications and a struggle with side effects is part of the daily reality of HIV for Madison resident Cass Marie.
At the same time every day, Marie takes four large pills of Kalestra and one pill of Truvada to keep her immune system intact. She also takes a dose of an antidepressant. The prescriptions cost about $1,000 per month.
"It's the medications that take a toll on my fatigue, nausea," said Marie, who tries to minimize the size of her drug cocktail by relying on yoga and acupuncture as well.
She was diagnosed as HIV-positive in 1995 when she was then a man named Christopher Downing. Then-Downing became infected during a period of unsafe sex while abusing drugs and alcohol.
Following the diagnosis, depression set in. "I downward spiraled in my drug and alcohol addiction really bad," she said.
Shortly after, she signed up as a client for AIDS Network. A case worker visits often for emotional support, and provides information.
"If I need to know where can I go for a food pantry? Or financially if I'm struggling, is there rental donations available?"
She also moved into the Rodney Scheel House on Madison's eastside. It's a drug- and alcohol-free apartment for people with HIV and AIDS.
Marie said it was after gender re-assignment surgery three years ago that she relied on AIDS Network even more.
"They have a great legal team at AIDS Network," she said.
While AIDS Network's budget of just under two million dollars can't offer every service she could use, she later added, "If there's questions I have, or I need more knowledge or whatever, it is I'm going through, then again, I can go through AIDS Network."
As for her health, the medications are working. "I had my blood labs read earlier this week and they were immaculate... I cried, and it was out of gratitude I cried because I've always been so thankful, and I've always felt so blessed."
Marie now gives back to those who have helped her. She emcees the agency's bingo nights. In 2006, she rode in the ACT 4 AIDS Ride. This year, Marie will volunteer for the afternoon crew pit during the ride, applauding and appreciative all the way.
"To see those riders in all the compassion and love and acceptance that those people have when they get together and say we're doing this for you, it's like, I can't feel it's a party for me."
Despite her glowing words for the AIDS Network, criticism emerged earlier this year from a group called ACT UP. Among the complaints brought by former AIDS Network board members was that the 13-county non-profit doesn't offer enough services and relies too much on referrals.
The agency says it doesn't make sense to duplicate what is already out there, but that in the near future it is working on starting its own food pantry and dental clinic along with its prevention programs, legal services, and case work.
Last year, AIDS Network had 425 clients. It serves Adams, Columbia, Crawford, Dane, Dodge, Grant, Green, Iowa, Juneau, Lafayette, Richland, Rock, and Sauk counties. Offices are in Madison, Janesville, and Beloit.
Email Carl Agnelly at email@example.com