JoAnn From Michigan

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JOANN FROM MICHIGAN is well-known as a leader in the H community and one of its most visible members. She served as the head of Motor City Friends (MCF), the Detroit metropolitan area’s highly successful social H group, for nine years, before stepping down in 2011. She continues to facilitate Metro Detroit HELP, the area’s HSV and HPV support organization. JoAnn also founded and administers National HELP, a secret 100% support forum on Facebook.

In January 2012, JoAnn was a guest on the Detroit radio program Sunday Edition, discussing issues surrounding HSV and HPV. You can listen to her terrific interview here.

I count myself extremely fortunate to have met JoAnn from Michigan in 2009 at the Friends On the Beach national event in Florida and, as many of us who have come to know her do, am glad to call her a trusted friend.

A beloved figure in the H community, with eyes that sparkle with a perpetual smile, JoAnn is a patient, skillful counselor and something of a visionary. In 2002, she discovered the social group located in the Detroit metropolitan area for people with HSV and HPV, and quickly became involved. Within the first year, she had taken leadership positions in the H groups in her area. Skillfully nurturing the social group from that point on, JoAnn grew its membership and functions to such an extent that today, Motor City Friends’ weekend events regularly boast attendance by over 200 people.

JoAnn was diagnosed with HSV in 1998. “I remember the Doctor saying the word ‘herpes’ and then I think I went into shock, as I don’t really remember anything beyond that. I didn’t even know my type for the longest time, I am sure he told me, it just didn’t sink in.”

She recalls her biggest fear at that moment as having to disclose her diagnosis to her husband, and the possibility that he would accuse her of cheating. “He was—is—a very jealous man.”

Ironically, her husband refrained, and instead saw a doctor himself the next day, returning with the news that he also had HSV. JoAnn reflects on the possibility that he may have been aware all along that he had the virus, but adds, “It really doesn’t matter now.”

True to her nature, JoAnn did not allow her diagnosis to daunt her. She cites the strength she has built from having had to deal with “situations in my life that I feel were/are far worse than having HSV.” After her divorce, though she had initial concerns about dating in the face of the stigma surrounding herpes, she chose to focus on the positive and “made the decision that this was not running my life!”

JoAnn recently stepped down from her position as head of Motor City Friends, turning over its stewardship to the group’s core team members, in order to concentrate more on the support aspect of the community. In 2011, she founded National HELP, a private Facebook group whose mission is 100% support for the HSV and HPV community. Today, the group’s membership lists 500 members and is growing rapidly.

Each year, at the Friends On the Beach national event, she leads the annual Saturday morning support meeting on living and loving with HSV.

Allowing us a glimpse into her personal life, JoAnn shares that she leads a very active lifestyle, engaging in numerous activities. “The word boring in not in my vocabulary, as I believe as long as we are healthy, our life can’t be boring.” Of her interaction with people in the H community, she asserts, “I love life and people, and I live a very full life. I will admit that there are times when it can be draining, especially when having to deal with drama, but for the most part, it’s so rewarding when you know that you make a difference, just by giving someone a hug or a kind word, and letting them know they are not alone in this.”

JoAnn still attends events with Motor City Friends, something I’m sure the attendees look forward to, for the chance to receive one of the trademark hugs she’s become known for—”one for each person who walks through the door!”

From her early days in the community, JoAnn’s desire to make a difference has led her to significant involvement advocating for the H community. She chooses to use her true name and identity at live events and on online H forums, serving as an excellent role model toward erasing the stigma surrounding herpes. The people who have benefited from membership in National HELP extend their grateful thanks every day for her stewardship and for giving so generously of herself.

“My wish or dream is that someday we all stand up, loud and proud and tell the world, ‘We have herpes and/or hpv…so what!'” She promises to “keep striving for this, taking baby steps. Hoping that this year we can have our first ‘Walk for H,’ and perhaps make a difference.”

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