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Undiagnosed HIV almost kills gay man and now 12 years on, he’s a life coach

Undiagnosed HIV almost kills gay man and now 12 years on, he’s a life coach

Roland Chesters

Roland Chesters started becoming increasingly unwell in 2004 and he had no idea why.

He told Gay Star News: ‘I was losing the use of my arms and legs, the ability to speak, falling asleep at work.’

Chesters was also getting more and more confused.

He said he saw numerous oncologists, cardiologists and psychologists but they gave him ‘no concrete results’.

His partner Richard thought a weekend trip to Paris would benefit his health, but Chesters ended up collapsing on the underground.

From that moment on, they stepped up their trips to medical specialists, including a private neurologist in London.

Roland Chesters
Roland Chesters. | Photo: supplied

One of the specialists then noticed they were in a same-sex relationship and asked if Chesters had had an HIV test.

Chesters said: ‘We’d been in a monogamous relationship for ten years at that point and I’d only had one partner before that.’

So he told the doctor: ‘Test me for anything – I just need to know what’s wrong.’

Chesters had the HIV test on 31 August, roughly two years after his initial symptoms began.

‘I’d be coming back in a cardboard box’

The gay couple planned to go on holiday for two weeks the day after the test. Chesters then explained what happened next.

He said: ‘The day after the test, I left for work to put on my out of office message and left Richard at home packing.

‘I came home later that afternoon but couldn’t see any cases. I saw Richard, who came towards me, put his arms around me and started to cry. This was really unusual for him.

‘I asked what was wrong.

‘He told me the consultant had called for my office’s number, to warn me that if I went away for two weeks, I’d be coming back in a cardboard box,’ he said.

Doctors diagnosed Chesters with HIV and an ‘AIDS-defining illness’ known as encephalopathy.

‘Encephalopathy has a 5-10% survival rate, so I guess I was seriously unwell,’ Chesters said. ‘In my case, [it] impacted the cells at the base of the brain that govern motion skills.’

Life after HIV diagnosis

Roland Chesters took five months off work to recover from his diagnosis. During this time, his employer knew about his brain disease, but not about his HIV status.

When Chesters returned to work, he confided in his line manager about his status, but she advised him not to tell anyone else.

‘This was because she was worried about how they’d respond,’ Chesters said. ‘I went along with it at first because I was unwell still.

‘I was improving and recovering from the encephalopathy though – I could walk and talk – but no one knew about the rest, he said.

He then told his employer he couldn’t continue to manage a team of people, but they responded he would need to leave if that was the case.

Roland Chesters
Roland Chesters. | Photo: supplied

That’s when he sought the legal advice of HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust.

He also sought the advice of their counseling service, as well as a support group for newly diagnosed people living with HIV.

‘For the first time, I realized I wasn’t alone,’ Chesters said. ‘I was surrounded by people experiencing very similar issues to me – who understood my fears, insecurities and uncertainties.’

‘This was empowering.

‘To know other people were going through it and, together, we would survive. It gave me such hope, that was in really short supply at the time,’ he said.

Inspiring others

A few years later, Roland Chesters wanted to make a change in his life and make a change in other people’s too.

He is now self-employed as a life coach and helps individuals who acquire disabilities later in life to ‘normalize their lives’, usually through employment.

‘I say my goal is to enable the person in a wheelchair to climb their highest mountain,’ Chesters said. ‘People with disabilities have aspirations.

‘They shave ambitions and I help them to find a way to get to those ambitions and expectations,’ he then added.

He also now runs a support group for gay men living with HIV.

‘It’s incredible,’ Chesters said. ‘People arrive unsure and uncertain, and after six weeks they leave with their heads held high, having formed bonds with one another.’

And now he’s written a book, which he titled ‘Ripples: From the Edge of Life’.

He chose Ripples because a life-changing diagnosis can have a ripple effect on everyone around you.

Roland Chesters
Roland Chesters. | Photo: supplied

The book is a combination of a memoir, narratives and self-help.

‘The book is in three parts,’ Chesters explained. ‘The first is my diagnosis in my voice, the second is about my diagnosis through the voices of others – my ripples – and the third section is the story of thirteen other people in the HIV community.’

He said the overarching theme of the book is the thing everyone living with HIV faces – stigma.

Chesters said: ‘My hope is that if this book can remove some of the mythology, to break down the stigma that still surrounds this condition.

‘Then my job has been done,’ he said.


You can buy Ripples on Amazon.

See also:

Undetectable HIV+ people pose ‘zero’ not ‘minimal’ risk, says HIV charity

This is the emotional reality of outliving the AIDS epidemic

Half of those living with HIV have experienced discrimination when dating