Sandy Porter looks frail and sick. Her limbs are thin and her face is gaunt and lined with years of stories. The papery skin on her hands rises and falls over the bones like little mountains and valleys. Dark eyes are sunken into her bony face – but they portray no signs of fear.
For many people, Sandy would represent something to shudder at – because she is a physical reminder of our own mortality. We know when we look at her, that she is unwell. We can recognise that it must be serious – life-threatening even. It is written in her unusual figure, her emaciated features and her aged skin.
But more often than not, it’s what we can’t see that matters most.
Sandy Porter is strong.
She has undergone more pain and torment than most of us will ever have to deal with.
“Behind everyone’s face is a story. Never make judgement on anyone,” she says.
In the early 90’s Sandy found out that she had HIV. She was betrayed by her partner who transferred the disease to her while carrying out a dangerous and deceitful secret sexual life behind her back. His inability to be honest about who he was, fuelled his self-hate, resulting in a toxic relationship and a toxic illness. Sandy was an innocent bystander who was dealt a blow that could have taken her life – and it almost did.
Yet her life – a tragic and unfair series of uncontrollable events – is still her own. She will not be a victim of chance and misfortune and has taken each day in her proud stride. Despite decades of sickness, medication, weakness and bedrest, Sandy does not ask for pity.
Instead of using her misfortune as an excuse, she has used it as a lesson for those around her. She has found purpose working with a group called Living Positive. She educates students about safe sexual behaviour, and the importance of taking care of your sexual health. She also warns young girls against staying silent or caving to the pressures of partners’ wishes. Sandy talks about the importance of using condoms with candour with a hint of blunt humour.
She has the kind of wisdom in her voice that one can only acquire from a lifetime of hardship. Being taken to the brink of death was one of her toughest experiences.
Sandy is a reminder to not just enjoy life, but to own it. To truly treasure the things that are important, not waste time on the insignificant. For Sandy, it was her kids that got her through it all. And she now lives day to day – savouring the love from her children and new partner Rob. They like to go out on their boat and fish. It brings them peace to be on the calm, blue water.
– “My name is Sandy Porter, and I choose to live Positively”.
Words by Rory Sinclair
Photos by Rah Dakota