Living With Social Stigma

An Interview with Antonia Rayos
by Barbie Lu Young

What do Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Rock Hudson and Charlie Sheen have in common? They have all been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.

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In July 2016, Ryan Legaspi, 27 years old and an employee of Rizal Medical Center, started experiencing recurring fever, nausea and vomiting, fatigue and sores of the mouth. He thought that it was just a simple case of tuberculosis or at worse, meningitis. After several blood tests, he was diagnosed with HIV, the virus that causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). According to his adoptive mother, Antonia Rayos, her only son did not immediately disclose his condition because he did not want to worry her and because of the stigma associated with the disease.

Antonia Rayos is a breast cancer survivor herself. She was diagnosed with the disease in 2005; in fact, Rizal Medical Center’s social services department rendered assistance to her. In 2015, Antonia’s husband, who was working in Mindanao, passed away from colon cancer. Antonia makes a living from selling fish and meat at their local market. From her husband’s salary and from her own hard work and persistence, she was able to put Ryan through college, albeit it was only a 2-year course. In her words, she said that Ryan is a very obedient and helpful son who would help her by selling barbecue after class.

In September of 2016, Ryan finally opened up to his mom that he had AIDS. Mother and son had an emotional encounter, with a promise that they will go through this affliction together. Antonia sought help from all possible channels, government and otherwise, that she could think of. Ryan is now deaf and blind, but on the bright side, he is currently taking a tablet that can hopefully reverse the situation. This tablet that Ryan has to take, twice a day, costs P860 each. Since they cannot afford the medicine, there are days that he has to do without.

In the Health Care Ministry, we believe that we can deliver the love of God to the least and the lost. We cannot be judgmental and discriminate. The Health Care Ministry has apportioned some of its funds to help with the cost of the medication, and has provided spiritual support and direction to the caregiver, Antonia.

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Even as the disease slowly ravages Ryan’s body, it has not dampened his dreams of a future ahead. From his faith in Jesus, the Divine Physician, and from his mother’s overflowing love, he can feel that there is still hope that they will overcome this temporary setback and that he will be able to live a normal life again. Mother and son have expressed their wish of giving back to society, who has helped them in this journey, in whatever means they can.

Like the paralytic who was lowered from an opening on the roof by his four friends and whom Jesus cured because of their faith, Ryan’s faith will see him through. Like the cured paralytic who picked up his mat and went home, Ryan will also pick up his mat, the instrument of his healing through faith, and bring this mat to others.

As published in the February 12 issue of the Parish Bulletin.

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