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A tribute to Sharon Cheney: pioneer, good friend and long-term survivor

Positive Living article • Katherine Leane • 2 March 2012

Sharon Cheney, a long-time member of the NAPWHA National Network of Women Living with HIV, passed peacefully at her home in Adelaide on February 1, just three days after her 50th birthday.

While Sharon always believed she would reach this milestone, this was not the celebration any of us anticipated.

Sharon was a long-time HIV activist with an intense commitment to the principles of social justice, dignity and equity, especially to do with the rights of the child, positive women and people living with a disability. As a powerful positive public speaker and educator, in recent times Sharon combined the skill of community arts and drama with humour, to role play characters that imparted messages about sexual and reproductive health successfully, often to another generation.

To truly honour the life of Sharon and pay tribute to her vibrant personality and many achievements would require filling a very large book. I am borrowing the words of support and shared memories of her peers, sisters, family and friends.

‘Sharon taught me about valuing and counting your blessings each day.’

‘I learned a great deal from Sharon about the meaning of gender and mothering for HIV politics and pedagogy.’

‘She was part of the public face of the SA Mental Health Coalition’s mental health community awareness campaign in 2011.’

‘My memories of Sharon will be from the first time I met her which was at the face-to-face meeting, and I was particularly struck by her joie de vivre, her vivaciousness and her sense of being alive, not to mention her great sense of fun.’

‘Sharon speaks passionately from her personal experience as an HIV positive woman and as a mother of an HIV positive and negative child. She has strongly championed the issues and needs of HIV positive women and their children within government and community settings.’

‘In 1997 Sharon was the recipient of the Esme Polkinghorne bequest for the self-development of HIV positive women. She conducted a study tour of HIV agencies in UK and gathered information and as a result of her research many new ideas were developed in our local SA community.’

Our Women@napwa logo was co-designed by Sharon and Kim so we are thankful that we will always have this special memory as a part of our network history.

‘At the 2011 Candlelight memorial when you generously shared your memories of Piers through the amazing memorial panel you created for him many years ago, the sadness, pain and tears of a grieving mother were a gift to us all and a timely reminder of the preciousness of life.’

I would like to conclude this written tribute with some words from Sharon’s funeral, titled ‘Bright Star’ as I believe they speak to how we all remember Sharon:
‘If you could tie together courage, love, quiet intuition, profound humour and a depth of belief and compassion, you would still have only some glimpse of the bright spirit that was Sharon’.

Katherine Leane is Chair of National Network of Women Living with HIV

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From Positive Living

This article was first published in the March 2012 issue of Positive Living — more than two years ago.

While the content of this was checked for accuracy at the time of publication, NAPWHA recommends checking to determine whether the information is the most up-to-date available, especially when making decisions which may affect your health.