The signs were everywhere.
Abby Landy had broken out in cold sores, was physically ill and had just received a sinister text from a former lover reading: “I hope you remember me forever.”
She went to the doctor who told her the chances of her contracting HIV were “slim” given she was a heterosexual woman living in Australia.
The legal assistant went home and jumped on the computer. That’s when she discovered the virus was likely replicating in her blood.
On Thursday, to mark the National Day of Women Living with HIV, the 28-year-old revisited those awful early moments.
She told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that five years ago, shortly after starting a new relationship, she felt unlike her normal healthy self.
“I had recently started a new relationship so I got a sexual health screen,” she said.
“I was given some anti-viral for the cold sores and it came back all clear. Everything was negative.”
Her doctor, she says, told her “you’re an Australian woman,” and she shouldn’t worry. When she insisted on an HIV test, she clearly remembers the look on her doctor’s face.
“I told her what the guy had said so she ordered the test and I got a call back about three days later asking me to come back in,” Landy told News.com.au.
“I was still really sick at this point and the doctor was really visibly distressed. She said, ‘I’m so sorry but it looks like you’ve contracted HIV.'”
“I saw a specialist and he laid down the facts. I said, ‘When am I dying? When does this mean?’ I had no idea of what it meant to have HIV in 2012. I assumed it was game over.”
“He said, ‘Look, it’s a really manageable chronic illness. You take a couple of pills a day. People live next to normal lives.’ And that’s when I thought, ‘OK, life does continue.’”
Landy is telling her story because her doctor’s failure to diagnose HIV in women is so common.
According to the National Association of People with HIV Australia, the test for HIV is often overlooked. AIDS Action Council’s Philippa Moss told the ABC that the stigma is part of the reason.
“Women are far too often silenced, and their experiences are unrecognized and unaddressed because women don’t meet the stereotype of the so-called typical person who’s going to contract HIV,” Moss said.
“HIV is seen to be a gay man’s disease when, in fact, it’s not.”
It’s a message echoed by Landy who says she knows of a number of women who are discriminated against because they contracted the virus.
“People assume ‘If you’re not black or a gay man then you must be a slut,’” she told News.com.au.
“But I think the reason I have avoided a lot of the discrimination a lot of people with HIV and AIDS face is because I’m really open about it. I’m really unapologetic. I’m not ashamed. It is what it is. I think the way you present it goes a long way to how people will react to you.”
This article originally appeared on News.com.au.