Meet Cherrell Edwards. When she started feeling ill four years ago, at age 18, doctors told her she was OK. But Edwards still felt that something was seriously wrong with her health — and she was right. "In 2003, I had unprotected sex with my boyfriend of three years, even though we had safe sex more often than not," says Edwards. "Soon after, I began to get migraines that were keeping me from functioning at school and work, so I went to the emergency room and was admitted." Though she was tested for HIV at the time, the results came back negative, and Edwards was diagnosed instead with gonorrhea. Things went even more wrong after that. "They started treating me for a lot of different things that I didn't have," like hepatitis and pelvic inflammatory disease. A few months later, with her health still suffering, Edwards broke up with her boyfriend and concentrated on trying to take care of herself by staying spiritually grounded, physically fit and maintaining a healthy diet — all while trying to figure out what was causing her physical issues. In February 2004, a little Internet sleuthing inspired Edwards to get retested for HIV. "The entire time I was sick, I was looking online, trying to figure out what the cause was," she says. "I had symptoms of the disease — the swollen lymph nodes, the pain, the diarrhea — so I went back to be tested again." After the results from the second test came back positive, the teen joined a support group of other HIV positive women. "It was a great place, but a few months later, the agency folded, and that's when I began to take the initiative to start another support group for women with HIV."
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