Janice and Melissa: Inspiring Commitment

Recently, Ambassador Janice McCall sat down with her mom, Melissa, to share their own unique stories of living with HIV. In candid letters to their younger selves, Janice and Melissa wrote of the terror and desperation they felt in the first days, and even years, after their diagnoses. They shared the frightening reality of not knowing what tomorrow would bring, and the compassion from family and friends that kept them motivated to move forward in their lives. They were open, and honest, and real. And their candidness – and their powerful storytelling -- struck a chord with readers.

We received an overwhelming response from supporters and friends around the world responding to Janice and Melissa’s letters. Notes of thanks, of encouragement, and of compassion flooded our inboxes and our social media networks. We read emails asking for more information, messages with questions, and letters with requests for Janice and Melissa to continue their lifesaving advocacy work. We heard from individuals who were inspired to do more, sharing the letters with their own networks and asking how they could help.

What we didn’t expect were the replies from women who said that they were just like Janice and Melissa, and that their own letters would have mirrored the McCalls’.

Janice and Melissa shared an honest, raw, picture of what it felt to learn that you are living with HIV. Just like anyone who discovers their status, their stories are unique. But while Janice and Melissa experienced something wholly their own, the responses we received from other women highlighted that the terrifying experience of learning your status is shared by many.

The letters we received from women who remembered their own stories through Janice and Melissa were a stark reminder that too many women – too many people – are affected by HIV. Hopefully, their stories, and the stories of so many others, will continue to be further motivation for action in the fight against AIDS. These two letters alone illustrate that storytelling inspires action.

As always, we are incredibly grateful for the involvement of individuals like Janice and Melissa, who so selflessly share their personal experiences to help others. Their commitment to an AIDS-free future is an inspiration, and keeps us focused in the fight.

Taylor Moore is the Foundation’s Associate Officer, Brand Strategy and Communications and is based in Washington, DC.