Mary Jane Maestas found out she had an HIV infection in 2011. In honor of World AIDS Day, she shares her fight against the HIV stigma. This is her story, in her own words. You can also hear from Mary Jane in the video above, shot by reporter Kristen Aguirre.
It's not something we talk about often, even though 11,000 Coloradans are living with it right now, according to the Colorado Health Network. That number doesn't even include the one in five people who have it and don't even know.
But one woman in Colorado has made it a life mission to break the silence, especially on a day dedicated to help raise HIV awareness.
"In 2011 when I found out I had HIV I literally thought my life was over," 51-year-old Mary Jane Maestas said. "As a woman living with HIV there's a lot of stigma that comes along with that. It hurts a lot to have someone treat you differently for something beyond your control."
Maestas has been speaking out to end the isolation that HIV brings.
"It took me a few years to get involved and I'm so glad I found PWN because they helped me find that purpose," she said.
PWN stands for Positive Women's Network Colorado.
"We want to try and make sure we have a network out there that can keep women involved and educated especially when they're HIV positive," Maestas said. "I've been to DC three times, fighting for our healthcare."
She's fighting here in Colorado, too.
"World AIDS Day is such a big deal, it's the one day we have to really express ourselves," Maestas said. "So many of us spread ribbons around the city...as much as we could. We want to end stigma when it comes to HIV and AIDS. It's not a dirty word anymore."
Maestas said she still does not know how she contracted HIV but because of her medication, her HIV is undetectable.
"I want to do everything I can to help people living with HIV know that it's livable," she said.