The ‘Sculptra’ Treatment: Reflections on the Way It Was in Days that Were

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Once, when HIV was a death sentence, it was as scary to live with it as it was to die from it.

There was nothing anyone could do. The disease ravaged your body, and your face would wither away.  From spontaneous ugly blotches, Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions, externally embarrassing you, to wrenching internal nausea, it was living hell.

Years ago, being diagnosed with HIV meant more than having a finite time left on Earth. It meant the time you had left was physically challenging and personally difficult. You had to fight to keep your spirit and your soul, warding off dementia and deterioration. It was not pretty, and to make things worse, we lived in a world where communities treated people with AIDS as lepers.

Ryan White was kicked out of his school. A Broward County librarian with HIV was booted from his job. Wrong and injustice was everywhere, not just in the absence of treatment, but the emptiness of care.

Things have changed as science and medicine have made advances. There is less discrimination against HIV patients. Support groups have fought back and not allowed illness to define their lives. Often standing alone, without government support, our gay community has met the challenge and persevered.

Today, pharmaceutical ads populate our newspaper with protocols and treatment regimens. Local agencies such as Poverello run food banks, and the Pride Center support groups.

Care Resource sponsors a white party and amongst its national and international efforts, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation sponsors AIDS walks and treatment facilities worldwide.

One of the more modern treatments to fight HIV is the use of various steroids to build the body up. The illness that once collapsed the body has been met with medication that now makes you look stronger rather than weaker.

In fact, a quiet, under the breath running joke in gay gyms are that the strongest and most well defined guys are probably HIV positive, prescribed steroidal medicines to fight the virus. Still, there is no kidding ourselves. HIV drastically changes your health and life style.

Given the realities HIV patients still face, it’s encouraging, is it not, to run a feature front page like we have done this week? One of the HIV drugs once used to fight facial lipoatrophy can now be used cosmetically to enhance the body. That’s not bad; it’s American ingenuity at it best.

The FDA has approved the use of Sculptra, and it was a Miami-Dade County clinic that became a primary research center. It’s now being used as a cosmetic and anti-aging tool, but isn’t that something? 

No less an AIDS advocate than Mark King, the author of ‘My Beautiful Disease,’ is a proponent. “It’s hard to describe how self-conscious and even debilitating it can be to walk around with the physical effects of wasting,” says King. 

‘Sculptra’, the medical abstracts say, is a polylactic acid used as a synthetic dermal filler that is injected into your face, causing an increase in your body’s own production of collagen. It fills in your face, making you feel and look better. I used to rub ice cream on my thighs, but this sounds more effective.

While not typically life threatening, facial wasting was and can still be one of the most stigmatizing complications of HIV. It’s great to hear of medicines turning that around.

I remember my bout with cancer 15 years ago. I recall wasting away to 135 pounds. I remember saying to myself, “so this is what my body would be like if I lived to 85 years old…you just waste away.” I did not exactly want to be seen in public. Years ago, many men with HIV felt the same way. They just disappeared off the face of the map.

Anything that helps you alleviate the personal suffering and physical pain associated with a debilitating disease is worth cheering about. That this reality still can impact gay men in the year 2016 makes the product and the story worthy of your attention. Let’s hope it helps restore lives as well.

Now if we can also turn our attention to passing the medical marijuana amendment on the Florida ballot this November, I will be a really happy man. I am looking forward to Hemp Soaps and a THC cream for my face. I want to go into J Marks one evening and enjoy a sativa-based grilled salmon with some herbally-sprinkled tea.

Take care, and join me this Friday night at the Hard Rock in Hollywood as we honor the Harvey Milk Foundation with the Second Annual Diversity Honors Dinner. It will be special. After all, you are, too. Be there, or be square.

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