At 18, Rebekka Armstrong became a Playboy Playmate. It was her dream.
Three years later, her doctor told her she had HIV. Her dream started to crumble and her body physically started to break down.
Armstrong’s message to students at Towson University touched on her success with Playboy, her struggle with HIV, the empowerment she now feels after overcoming her fears and an emphasis to students on safe sex.
I’ve decided to tell this story through Armstrong’s quotes. There were so many and I feel like her words describe here experience more powerfully than my own.
Living the dream
“I felt like when people knew my Playboy status that meant I needed to rock their world.”
Confirmed diagnosis: She was HIV+
“I was 22 years old. They gave me two years to live.”
‘When [the doctor] told me that I was HIV positive, I lost it. The only thing I knew about HIV was death.’
“I was terrified of people not wanting to be around me.”
“I drank and I used drugs to self-medicate.”
Sick in hospital, wasting away. “I weighed 80 lbs.”
Spiked fevers, night sweats, cramping in abdomen, diarrhea, vomiting.
“I had eight spinal taps in four days.”
Collapsed at a club in Texas. “My pancreas is rupturing form DDI.” This was her second experimental prescription, not FDA approved.
“I decided, I’m going to take my life.”
She washed down a box full of narcotics with tequila and drove into a wall near Panga Canyon.
“I was in coma for three days. Everything hurt, black charcoal was coming out of me.”
The reality of HIV/AIDS
“This is one of the many faces of AIDS. I highly doubt you’d be walking through campus and say ‘That bitch got AIDS.”
“Every hour of every day, those aged 13-24, two of you are infected.”
“We are all human beings and we make mistakes, but we don’t have to.”
“AIDS is a tricky little bastard. It works around the drug.”
Epiphany: She wanted to make a difference
“’I’m Rebekka Armstrong and I have AIDS.’ Those are probably the most empowering word I’ve ever said.”
“I will help save the life of another woman.”
“I want to make a difference and I want to prevent kids from getting this.”
“I got a web page, started writing…visited my old high school, doing real grass root stuff.”
“I’m on a journey. This is my path so I gotta make the most of it.”
When asked who she contracted the disease from, her answer: “I infected me.”
“By putting on a funny face and laughing and putting on a good vibe, it’s saving my life.”
“As far as my future is concerned, I’m definitely going to be around for it.”
Encouraging safe sex
“I think I am more open than your grandmother to talk about sex.”
“Being that sex is an important topic in college, I want people to see the repercussions of not having safe sex.”
“It only takes one time to make a decision to have unprotected sex.”
“Take the time to protect yourself. You are worth it. One of these could have saved my life.” Holding up a condom.