In this issue we feature a conversation with JoAnn Purkey, one of the coordinators with the Metro Detroit HELP Group. Established in 1980, “MDH” offers support and education for those with herpes and/or HPV. Visit the group online to learn more.
What led you to become involved with Metro Detroit HELP?
It all started when I attended my first MDH meeting in May of 2002. I had been a nervous wreck about attending, scared actually, but I knew this was something I had to do for my own well-being. I was newly divorced and although I was diagnosed with herpes in 1998, while married, it was only later that I was faced with those same emotional feelings that others have when newly diagnosed.
I was very fortunate to have Denise, the then Social H group leader, offer to accompany me to that first HELP meeting. Rather ironic, as I am a very strong woman, and normally have no problem facing my fears, but this time, for some reason, I couldn’t do it alone.
However, once in that room, surrounded by people no different than I, I quickly felt at ease and regained my courage. Hearing their stories, I knew right then and there that this was something I wanted to help with.
I began attending meetings regularly, eventually not for myself but instead to be there for others. I very quickly accepted having herpes, and wanted to help others accept it, too.
What are the common questions and concerns of your HELP Group members?
Those who are newly diagnosed often come to us in shock, wondering how could this happen to them. The questions are all similar: how will I ever find love, who will accept me, how can I prevent the spread of herpes, can I have children? Mainly, they want to know if they can keep on living full and happy lives, and the answer to that is yes.
What advice do you offer members when they’re concerned about partners and relationships?
I don’t offer advice, but rather share the experiences I have had while being a part of our H community now for 10 years not only within the realm of our Support Group, but also having been the Social Group Leader for nine years as well.
We are fortunate here to have many who attend our HELP meetings on a regular basis who have had Herpes and/or HPV for a while and come to be supportive of others, but the newly diagnosed and those who may have had herpes or HPV for a long time but are just now finding us. We do suggest brochures, books, web-sites for any questions that perhaps we were unable to answer.
I don’t sugar coat, because there are going to be people who reject you for having herpes or HPV and that’s ok because when you are in the dating world, people get rejected for all kinds of reasons. It’s really no different than you rejecting someone for any number of reasons. But I have also seen many wonderful relationships that have developed over the years, many which lead to marriages including several marriages that I was honored to have been a part of. Having herpes or HPV doesn’t stop us from living life to the fullest!
How about someone who’s newly diagnosed and having difficulty with the emotional side?
I do tell someone who is newly diagnosed that coping is a process, there are stages and each person is different. For me, once I accepted having herpes I also found peace with it. I realized that it was a medical condition, one that was not going to kill me, one that is manageable and still allows me to do all the things in life that I did before. I also realized there is no shame in having a medical condition!
I also tell them that being around others with herpes or HPV can be very helpful, just to know you are not alone.