“I got in much better heath after being diagnosed with HIV.”
- Andrea de Lange, Project Angel Food Client
Project Angel Food client Andrea de Lange doesn’t look critically ill. She’s vibrant, smiles, and has a warm laugh that is engaging and warm. We meet on a sunny day in the valley after a dance class that brings her joy and gives her body the movement, flow and exercise she needs to maintain her mental, physical, and spiritual health. Andrea’s life has become a master class in self-care.
As we head into National Nutrition Month, there are lessons to be learned from this wellness warrior whose determination transformed a life-threating diagnosis of HIV/AIDS into a journey of discovery and wellness. She has found a partner in maintaining her wellbeing in Project Angel Food and has made our vegetarian Medically Tailored Meals part of her meticulously researched wellness regime.
“I haven’t eaten this well in maybe forever,” Andrea laughs. “Nutrition is something that I’m very, very mindful of and aware of. I put all this effort into becoming a healthier person when I got my diagnosis and then became as educated as could about diet, about alternative medicine, and holistic ways to care for my body.”
Flashback to 1987 when Andrea, like so many in their twenties in Los Angeles at that time, had a dysfunctional relationship with food, self-image and men. Upon hearing the news that she was HIV positive, the man she was living with for over a year treated her “like a leper.” He wouldn’t share soap, towels or even touch her. But she stayed in the relationship for two more years before finding the self-respect and personal empowerment to end it. She says, “I realized being single was better than being in a toxic relationship with someone who made me feel bad about myself.”
It was a dark, emotionally fraught time. It was a time when there was stigma attached to those with HIV and AIDS, a lot of death, a lot of fear and a lot of division over how to treat this disease which many at the time considered a death sentence. What there wasn’t a lot of were answers and support.
Andrea considers herself blessed to have been diagnosed by a “wonderful doctor” who encouraged her that although she had contracted HIV, she was healthy and could stay that way by focusing on wellness. She and her doctor chose not to use AZT, which had devastating consequences for many, and instead began the rigorous work of a holistic approach to healing.
Through her doctor, she received infusions twice a month of vitamin B12, Magnesium and Folic Acid, she found a nutritionist, became vegetarian, and attended Louise Hays’ “Hayride” — a spiritual support group for those living with HIV/AIDS, which validated she was on a great path in caring for her mind, body and soul. Andrea changed her entire lifestyle and focused her intention on her healing, letting each step she took along the journey bolster her own intuitive knowing of what her body needed and when.
“I had good things in place with a schedule, school, art, friends and the support of my parents,” Andrea recalls. “I’m not going to say that I didn’t have to go through some very hard things because I did. It’s just that when I found out about the HIV, it made me reevaluate everything. It gave me a new appreciation for life, an attitude of gratitude, a realization that every choice I make impacts my health on every level — emotional, spiritual, and physical. I don’t take anything for granted.”
One thing Andrea does not take for granted is Project Angel Food’s delicious, fresh meals that have no preservatives, no added sugars, and are delivered directly to her home. “I’m blown away by how good it is. It seriously is better than a lot of vegetarian restaurants I’ve been to.”
And we are blown away and inspired by Andrea’s positive attitude and the living lesson she teaches us all — we all need wellness warriors for ourselves by choosing foods that are nutritious and healthy, by being aware of our body’s need for movement and activity, by surrounding ourselves with loving, supportive people, and by listening to our inner voice and honoring it.