Panama City - Thursday December 1st is World AIDS day. According to BASIC of Northwest Florida, an organization that offers assistance to HIV positive and AIDS patients, there are approximately 500 people in Bay County dealing with illness. Those are just the reported cases. Experts say many more go unreported, oftentimes because of the stigma associated with the illness.
Now a Panama City woman is sharing her story publicly for the first time, hoping others dealing with the disease will find hope. Just a few years ago, the only time you'd find Cynthia Plaisted volunteering was if she was court-ordered to do so. Now volunteering at BASIC gives her life purpose unlike ever before. She says the organization has changed her life. "They give you the discretion, the empowerment, they give you love, they embrace you. You can't go wrong by coming here," she said.
After suffering years of abuse, Cynthia turned to drugs, eventually becoming an addict. It was that lifestyle that led to her contracting HIV. "The addiction made it seem like my boundaries weren't important anymore. Yes, I contracted it through some type of sexual intercourse."
The director of BASIC, which provides assistance for HIV positive and AIDS patients in Northwest Florida, says the illness carries a stigma that can make it difficult for sufferers to lead normal lives. "This is a people's disease. It doesn't care about your social status, your gender, your race. It is a behavioral disease. We don't judge people because we know it can happen to anyone. We are here to help," said Valerie Mincey.
Cynthia hopes that sharing her story will give others the courage to ask for help. "All that is behind me. I've been forgiven of my sins. I'm taking care of myself. My support group is here, they are going to help me on the journey."
St. Andrews Episcopal Church on Beach Drive in Panama City is holding a candlelight worship service Thursday night at 5:30 on the beach in front of their location. The service is in observance of World AIDS Day and in memory of those who have died or suffer from AIDS. Everyone is welcome.