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Aug28

A year later: what I’m grateful for and excited about looking forward to

Thursday, 28 August 2014 Written by // Rodney Rousseau Categories // Gay Men, Newly Diagnosed, Rodney Rousseau, Lifestyle, Living with HIV, Population Specific

One year after diagnosis Rodney Rousseau reflects on his busy life in and outside of the HIV world, including moving ever closer towards a career in HIV research

A year later: what I’m grateful for and excited about looking forward to

It’s now been over a year since I received my HIV-positive diagnosis. What has the last year meant for me? A lot has happened for me in the past year and I have a ton to be grateful for. It certainly hasn’t been an easy year, but I feel like I’ve managed to do a ton of things that have me excited about life, with even more exciting things yet to come.

So, the focus of this piece is just to share some of the things that have happened for me in the past year, and the upcoming changes in my life. I’m hopeful that my sharing won’t be interpreted as any sort of bragging, because my experience is most certainly shaped by my privilege as a white man. Nevertheless, this is what I’m grateful for: 

Firstly, finishing an undergraduate degree! There’s been a slight gap between my last article and this one because I’ve been extremely busy finishing up my last few elective courses at the University of Toronto, but now I’m done! I’m now finished all the requirements of my Honours Bachelor of Science degree with double majors in Biochemistry and Sexual Diversity Studies. 

It’s been a long road since I started university in Calgary eight years ago and transferred to Toronto three years ago to finish. Sometimes taking the long way around is important in finding out what you’re really passionate about and what you really want to do with your life. The last year was particularly tough, taking dense lab courses, project courses, and advanced biochemistry courses; I certainly learned how to function on very little sleep. But it’s been a great experience! 

School isn’t altogether over for me yet, though.  In a couple of weeks I’ll be starting my graduate coursework at University of Toronto towards a PhD in Immunology, looking at HIV mucosal immunology with Dr. Rupert Kaul. I’m really excited about the opportunity to do research in the exact field I’m passionate about. 

Anyway, back to what I’m grateful for.

It’s been a year of networking for me. I’ve met and connected with some awesome people (as I’ve written about in the past). Much of that started with my attending the Ontario HIV Treatment Network Conference last fall. At that event I somehow worked up the courage to make myself vulnerable and disclose my status to a room full of scientists and researchers. It was a nerve-wracking experience that led to my meeting some folks that were able to help me make it out to St. John’s for the Canadian Association for HIV Research Conference. That experience was outstanding. The event itself was great, the people were incredible, and St. John’s was beautiful. I’m definitely looking forward to the next one. 

Over the winter holidays I was able to take 2 weeks and go home and spend time with family. Two weeks is a lot of time with family. I grew up in a really rural area (think dirt roads, well water, and satellite internet), so two weeks is a lot of time to take out of my fast-paced Toronto life and ‘enjoy’ the freezing abyss. With the wind chill it was -50 degrees Celsius while I was there. It was outrageous. This year there were some tough conversations about being out as HIV-positive, with some differing feelings about the topic. All complaints aside, I know I’m lucky to be able to spend time with family in that way. My second niece was also born this year and I now have two nieces that are as adorable as can be. 

Amidst being super busy this summer I’ve found a bit of time to do some fun things that I’m also grateful for being able to do. I spent an amazing afternoon at the beach, went to a couple Blue Jays games, and spent a lot of time reading and writing in coffee shops. I’m an extreme coffee addict, for the record. 

And now I’m right in the middle of this amazing road trip with my best friend Katie. She came down to Toronto and we spend a week doing fun things including the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), another Jays game, we went to Niagara Falls, Canada’s Wonderland, and the Toronto Islands. It was great. And now we’re on a weeklong camping road trip to Alberta. I’ve included some pictures for you to take a look. 

There are a few more upcoming things I’m excited for. The OHTN Back to Basic Conference is an event designed to foster information exchange between basic (laboratory) scientists and community members and people living with HIV. I’m helping with a bit of the direction of the event, and very excited to attend because nothing like it has happened in Ontario as far as I know. I’m going to Boston and New York for the first time over Canadian Thanksgiving for a research study, but will definitely be doing some sightseeing! Otherwise I’m really just excited to see where my graduate studies take me this year. 

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