October 26, 2011 at 4:30 pm EST | by Kevin M. Norris
Triumph over adversity

The phrase “It is what it is” has always resonated with me — keeping life and me motivated, positive and in perspective.

The origin of this phrase is at best speculative as I was not able to find the person who may have coined it. But my dear friend Dr. Jose Mendoza lives by this mantra and these words always warm my heart and inspire me to accept the things I cannot change and to embrace the present moment. “It is what it is” are words that always encourage me even in the worst of days. And Jose has certainly had not just one, but many of the worst of days. But his coping skills, zest for life and beautiful smile are remarkable.

Jose’s positive lease on life has assuredly contributed to the fight against many of his life’s obstacles that have been thrown his way. I believe his power of positive thinking changed the outcome of several life-altering events and, without maintaining this powerful attitude, I’m confident Jose’s life would have been dramatically different. I feel his mental attitude was part of his treatment protocol and aided and abetted his other forms of treatment to make him well.

Jose and I have been friends for four years and he has become very special to me. His zest for life is contagious and when I talk with Jose I realize that no matter what, thinks will be OK. One can be happy even through the worst adversity. He’s a constant reminder of this. Sure we all get down, but Jose’s bad days are so infrequent I can hardly remember them.

I sat down with Jose and we chatted about how he’s stayed so motivated and happy through several life-threatening challenges and obstacles. His story is truly an inspiration.

Jose was born and half raised in Venezuela under privilege in a volatile country. He was a professional dancer. At age 13, Jose contracted HIV through a blood transfusion in a country where HIV was unspoken and taboo. He later developed the disease at an early age and became a staunch advocate for better recognition and care of this life-threatening disease.  Jose was trying to help save HIV-infected lives and educate those who needed information; he also restored and gave families a new perspective on how to love their relatives despite their illness.

In 2003, Jose was kidnapped in Venezuela. He believes it’s because of his political views of HIV. He was blindfolded, beaten, raped and had his neck broken. He was left for dead in a gutter.

He stayed focused on “how positive my life had become and that I was able to impact these people to hate me so much and make me feel what I did feel, but on the other hand life was and is a beautiful way to learn.”

Jose survived after doctors put metal plates in his neck and repaired the numerous internal injuries and reconstructed his colon. And through all this, Jose kept believing “It is what it is” and kept himself going by these simple words. You can make the best of what is happening to you and while we may need to complain, at times the complaining becomes a teaching experience for yourself.

Jose went to medical school and graduated as an MD specializing in infectious diseases and later studying immunology. This was his chance to make a difference, particularly in fighting HIV and AIDS.

In 2005, Jose moved to Washington after being granted political asylum by the U.S. government. He applied his medical expertise to fighting infectious diseases and eventually became the clinical trials director as a civilian for the U.S. Navy. And while he had prevailed over all these circumstances, more challenges were to come when he developed colon cancer. But he approached this latest challenge with his trademark positive attitude.

Today, Jose is a walking miracle having lived 22 years with the virus, survived a brutal kidnapping and prevailed over colon cancer. He is now the first Latino medical consultant and part of the Medical Scientific Advisory Board at the Colon Cancer Alliance. He was also appointed by the FDA as a patient representative for HIV and cancer issues.

His autobiography “Trespassing Borders” is available onamazon.com.


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