Gloria Reuben first started grappling with HIV issues as part of her role on
ER, as physician assistant Jeanie Boulet, one of the first openly
HIV-positive characters on prime-time TV. But soon, the scripts began to
take over her off-duty thoughts. “It follows you around wherever you go,” says
Reuben, who was on the ER set until 1999. And when she accepted an
invitation to a fundraiser from the late Elizabeth Glaser, she stepped into a
new role as an AIDS activist.
This past July, Reuben, who now plays a legal eagle on TNT’s new series
Raising the Bar, was the featured speaker at a Minnesota AIDS Project
forum in Minneapolis. In August, she accompanied the CEO of the Elizabeth
Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation on a three-day tour of clinics and hospitals
in South Africa. And on Dec. 1, she will participate in World AIDS Day, as she
has for the past several years. She’s also a board member for the U.S.
Sexuality Information and Education Council.
People with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) have a weakened immune system. As a result, they are more likely to develop certain cancers. This includes non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL). Also known as AIDS-related lymphoma, this is a cancer of white blood cells. White blood cells fight infection.
AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is a later stage of HIV infection. Fortunately, antiretroviral therapy has cut the rate of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in HIV-positive people significantly.
There’s too much yet to do to cut back, Reuben says. Nearly 1.2 million
Americans live with HIV or AIDS; in 2006, more than 56,000 new cases of HIV or
AIDS were reported. “The stigma surrounding AIDS has improved a great deal,”
she says, “but there is still a long way to go.” Reuben prefers grassroots
activism to star-studded events. “My focus is to get more into the community,
getting people more involved in their own health care,” she says. “There will
always be funds that need to be raised. But as people get involved on an
individual level, it has a way of sustaining itself over time.” That’s
something Reuben knows firsthand.