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AIDS activist Mary Fisher ends anti-HIV treatments

Mary Fisher has stopped taking anti-HIV drugs because of their negative side effects   
February 1, 1999
Web posted at: 10:59 p.m. EST (0359 GMT)

CHICAGO (CNN) -- Seven years after Mary Fisher took the podium at the Republican National Convention to talk about her battle with the AIDS virus, the single mother of two has decided to take herself off anti-HIV drugs.

She is not alone. Although powerful drug cocktails have been potent in staving off the development of AIDS, debilitating side effects often make life unbearable for HIV patients.

Many liken HIV treatments to chemotherapy treatments that cancer patients endure. Among other symptoms, the powerful anti-HIV cocktails can cause headaches, fatigue, nausea, abdominal distress and diarrhea.

CNN's Elizabeth Cohen reports on Mary Fisher's decision to cease her drug therapy
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"When it gets to the point that my children and I aren't living our lives. I had to make a decision that I would rather be a mom than be in bed or be sick," said Fisher.

Fisher contracted the virus from her husband, who has since died. Her two boys, Max, 11, and Zachary, 9, are HIV- negative.

Fisher said she feels much better since taking herself off of the drug regimen six weeks ago.

"I live every day as it comes. I don't think about it (HIV) and don't like to think too far into the future. That's not my job," she said.

A personal decision

Some doctors -- in clinical trials -- have taken patients off drugs, but only when HIV levels were at extremely low levels. Most doctors advise their patients to stick with the drug treatments, despite the side effects.

Fisher and son
Fisher is a single mother of two boys   

They concede, however, that they final say belongs to the patient.

"Unfortunately, sometimes we get all caught up with ... multiple drug regimens that we forget there's a whole other side of caring for people with chronic illnesses, and that's relieving suffering and paying attention to their quality of life," said Dr. James Olaske, who attended an HIV conference in Chicago Monday.

Fisher credits her drug regimen with helping her live longer, but has no regrets about ending her regimen.

"We measure our lives by the depth, not the length," she said.

Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen contributed to this report.

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