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My Pet Virus: The True Story of a Rebel Without a Cure

My Pet Virus: The True Story of a Rebel Without a Cure

by Shawn Decker

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Iwas destined for a life of medical drama from day one," begins this comic memoir with a mission. "I was born in the month of July, and my horoscope sign is a disease (Cancer). The symbol for Cancer? A crab (the sexually transmitted critter). Not only that, my parents named me Shawn Timothy Decker, which makes my initials S.T.D.

Shawn Decker isn't quite the


Iwas destined for a life of medical drama from day one," begins this comic memoir with a mission. "I was born in the month of July, and my horoscope sign is a disease (Cancer). The symbol for Cancer? A crab (the sexually transmitted critter). Not only that, my parents named me Shawn Timothy Decker, which makes my initials S.T.D.

Shawn Decker isn't quite the All-American boy. Sure, he gets caught shoplifting copies of Penthouse; is crazy about prowrestling, especially "The Nature Boy" Ric Flair; and never has a problem getting dates. But he's also a hemophiliac who discovers, at age eleven, that he has contracted HIV from tainted blood products.

Instead of becoming self-pitying and dying (as first predicted), Shawn develops a twisted sense of humor, meets Depeche Mode through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and writes on blogs and in Poz magazine about what it's like being hetero and HIV-positive in rural Virginia. He also turns to gay men for advice on dating women and, almost twenty years after getting HIV, marries Gwenn Barringer, who is HIV-negative and a former competitor for the title of Miss Virginia. Together Shawn and Gwenn travel the country, speaking to high school and college kids about how to live and love with HIV (and how to avoid getting it).

Editorial Reviews

The way Shawn Timothy Decker sees it, he was fated from Day One. His horoscope sign is the Crab, a sexually transmitted critter, and his initials are STD. Seen thusly, there seemed to be no major mystery why this straight, hemophiliac boy from rural Virginia would get HIV when he was just 11. When Shawn's "pet virus" arrived, it was accompanied by far more than medical complications. His hilarious, slyly wise autobiography drew this envious review from Augusten Burroughs: "Maybe if I had Shawn's resilience and talent, I wouldn't be such a mess."
Publishers Weekly
Growing up in the small town of Waynesboro, Va., Decker was diagnosed with hemophilia at 18 months, and then in 1987, while in sixth grade, he found out that one of his many blood transfusions had infected him with HIV; the diagnosis of full-blown AIDS came 12 years later. His drug regimens and general ill-health made him unfit for an eight-hour workday, and finding a woman who was comfortable enough with his HIV status was less than easy. For the purposes of Decker's book, he's not interested in pity, preferring instead to take the offensive usually with purposefully bad humor, referring to himself as either a "thinblood" (for hemophiliac) or "postoid" (for his positive status). It's a refreshing tactic, for Decker focuses more on what he's doing to move ahead in life than on how he's suffering. Decker's bravery is inarguably admirable, but it distances him; by book's end when he has married a beauty queen, with whom he tours the country speaking about sex and HIV we respect him but hardly feel as though we know him. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
First-time writer Decker doesn't piss and moan his way through this atypical "patient" memoir, though his vital statistics give him the right. Born with hemophilia in 1975, he went on to contract HIV through tainted blood-product treatments in 1987 before receiving an AIDS diagnosis in 1999. As important as these incidents were in shaping Decker, he does not let them destroy who he is at his core, that is, a straight, sexually active, Depeche Mode-loving wise ass from rural Virginia. Readers wanting reams of depressing doctor's visits or cloying patient-to-patient advice have come to the wrong place, though they will be rewarded in a better way. Decker's brand of outreach means writing what he really felt growing up in 1980s and 1990s America: denial in the name of survival. Scenes of little league baseball, Ric Flair worship, and rock'n'roll fantasies build up to the unavoidable (and somewhat jarringly quick) reckoning with his pet virus. This often morbidly hilarious story is about living in spite of a deadly disease as well as living comfortably with it, thanks to a good attitude, the wonders of modern medicine, and a dedicated, HIV-negative wife. Decker's only mistake was in being so brief-the guy's got a lot to say and often ends a reel before plumbing its significance. Highly recommended for all patient collections. [See the profile of Decker's book, p. 37.-Ed.]-Heather McCormack, Library Journal Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Think you've got it rough? Hemophiliac Decker contracted hepatitis B at four, was given an HIV-positive diagnosis at 11-and he can still crack a smile. One in every 10,000 males is born with hemophilia, a deficiency in the blood-clotting protein that often, as in the author's case, turns routine events like nosebleeds into life-threatening occasions. Aside from fun times shoplifting Penthouse with friends and covertly watching porno movies, Decker's childhood in Waynesboro, Va., was spent battling internal hemorrhaging and liver failure while being overprotected by panicky parents desperate to shelter him from unintentional, self-inflicted injury. Even older brother Kip sympathetically imagined his demise (only because he imagined Shawn would probably "have more fun in Heaven"). But the writer, a self-proclaimed "thinblood," adjusted quickly to his condition; by the time he was ten, the anxiety, medical treatments, ER visits and transfusions had all become routine. As a result, his heartfelt memoir is narrated with a comedic, tranquil flow not found in many accounts of tragic health conditions. Decker maintains his cool even when describing how his HIV diagnosis further complicated matters. Contracted from one of the countless blood transfusions he'd undergone, HIV provoked all the "ignorance and stigma that goes along with AIDS" in his little hometown. After his own father outed him as HIV-positive, Shawn became a tortured pariah, and his parents eventually separated. Softening the blow were star-struck meetings with wrestlers and alternative rock bands, puberty and a first crush. Graduating from high school, Decker developed his own website, began networking with support groups andreconnected with friends. He "put [his] virus to work" as an AIDS activist, though being a member of the community's heterosexual minority often proved challenging. Not even a crushing AIDS diagnosis in 1999 could stop the resilient writer from marrying girlfriend Gwenn, a beauty-pageant veteran, and enjoying a full, happy life. Stoked by the author's boundless, good-natured charm, his story pops with an effervescent sense of humor that never falters.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
4.95(w) x 7.12(h) x 0.65(d)
Age Range:
18 - 14 Years

Meet the Author

Shawn Decker's life was shaped by medical adversity from day one. Despite being born with mild hemophilia, he enjoyed a pretty normal childhood that included baseball and neighborhood games of football with friends. Infected with HIV through the use of tainted blood products, Shawn was expelled from public school just after his HIV diagnosis at age 11. (He was eventually readmitted.)

For the next ten years, Shawn kept his HIV status to himself, barely talking to his parents or doctors and never mentioning his pet virus by name. In 1996, at age 20, a change of heart led to the creation of “My Pet Virus”, a web site devoted to Shawn's favorite pastimes as well as a sounding board for his feeling about living with HIV. His humorous and informative take on life with HIV caught the eye of POZ Magazine, and Shawn was featured on the cover of the January 97 issue before being invited to write a column for the magazine.

At age 23, he met a fellow HIV educator, Gwenn Barringer- who is HIV negative. After they fell in love, friends encouraged them to speak together as a couple, and in 2000 they joined CAMPUSPEAK, a speaker's bureau specializing in health issues. Since 2000, Shawn and Gwenn have spoken to over 50,000 students on colleges campuses, traveling nationally to share how they keep Gwenn HIV negative in their program, “A Boy, A Girl, A Virus & The Relationship That Happened Anyway.” In 2004, Shawn and Gwenn were married.

Together they've been featured on MTV, the BBC, CNN.com and have appeared in an HBO documentary as well as in Cosmopolitan. My Pet Virus is Shawn's first book.

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