Editor’s Note: The Story Continues
Julie Lewis has found a new outlet to advocate women's health care equity and access
By Rob Smith July 10, 2023
If there’s anything Julie Lewis wants you to know, it’s this: She’s doing just fine. She has a new book out. And she’s “Still Positive.”
Lewis, a 39-year survivor of AIDS and mother to Grammy Award-winning music producer Ryan Lewis, just released a book, Still Positive, with co-author Jenny Koenig. It’s a riveting memoir about the challenges she faced when she was diagnosed with a disease that, at the time, was considered a death sentence.
She had more to worry about than her own mortality. She had moved to Spokane shortly after her diagnosis, and kept it secret for years to protect her three children, Teresa, Laura, and Ryan. She finally told them when her oldest, Teresa, was in fourth grade.
She openly details the conversation she had with Teresa, who was becoming aware that blood transfusions could expose people to HIV. She recalls how Ryan — who was Macklemore’s DJ from 2009 until 2017, and is still a producer — innocently mentioned her positive diagnosis both in an Albertsons supermarket and an elementary school classroom. She remembers thinking she had maybe “three to five years to live.”
“I’m in Albertsons with Ryan and we’re at the checkout,” she says. “He looks at the checker and goes, ‘Does she know you have AIDS?’ And I’m like, ‘She does now, honey.’”
She had more to worry about than her own mortality. She kept it secret for years to protect her children.
Ryan was 6. She laughs at the memory. Humor and optimism fueled her then and still does.
Lewis is almost 65 now. She has become a public health advocate and sought-after speaker. Nine years ago, she launched the 30/30 Project to help families, women, and girls who haven’t had the same access to medical care she had.
Lewis, a gregarious, welcoming woman and born storyteller, wrote Still Positive to reach and inspire more people. It details, she says, the three distinct sections of her life: the diagnosis; the decade after she went public and joined a speaker’s bureau as many others with the disease were dying; and the 30/30 Project up until the present.
She started writing during the beginning of the pandemic. Much as she felt when she received her diagnosis in 1989 — she had had a blood transfusion while pregnant with Teresa in 1985 — she wasn’t sure if she would survive because of her compromised immune system. As a result, it took her only six months to write the 338-page book.
“I think my motivation for writing the book actually changed as Covid hit,” she notes. “Initially, I didn’t want the story to be lost. I talk a lot about my friends who died (from AIDS), many of whom never had funerals because their families didn’t want anyone to know. You can Google them, but it’s like they don’t exist.”
As the pandemic raged, she began to realize that the causes she had promoted for decades — access and equity in health care and women’s health care rights — were more relevant than ever.
Lewis now has six grandchildren. She no longer thinks about HIV every day. She calls herself fortunate.
“I’m just grateful to be here,” she says. “HIV is so treatable now.”
Lewis is donating the proceeds from Still Positive to organizations working for access and equity in women’s health care. More information is at stillpositive.
About the Editor's Note Column
Rob Smith is the editor of Seattle magazine and Seattle Business magazine. Following a brief stint in politics after graduating from the University of Oregon, he began freelance writing when a friend landed a job at a small newspaper. A few months later he was offered a full-time position and, as Mark Twain said, "I had no other options," so Rob became a journalist. He likes getting paid to be nosy.