Thomas Pfeifer grew up in Edina. He had a pretty typical Edina childhood. He graduated from Edina High School in 1984. After his junior year in college he came home for the summer. He had just come out to his parents two years prior and was exploring his sexuality when he was blindsided by a positive blood test for HIV. At the time, most people who were given that diagnosis saw it as a death sentence, but from the very first moment he had a different response.
“Driving home from the clinic I just thought, ‘I’m going to be OK,’” he says. “But then my next thought was, ‘How did I get here?’”
"I began to see that there were many things to choose from—and choosing not to be ruled by fear was my choice.” -author Thomas Pfeifer
His memoir Inside Shadows isn’t meant to be a chronicle of dealing with disease, but a story about dealing with change. Pfeifer says he was totally unprepared to deal with all the things that happened to him that summer, but he was able to learn how to cope by realizing he needed to accept he couldn’t control it all.
“Change is not going to stop,” Pfeifer says. “We have to learn to adapt to change.”
Shortly after he was diagnosed, Pfeifer began to search for answers. What he found was he was better off—healthier and happier—when he let go of fear.
“I want to put my message out there to tell people that there is a lot of unnecessary fear in our lives,” he says.
He thinks fear of the unknown prevents many of us from coping in a more straightforward way with the inevitable challenges of life. Pfeifer says he began to look for answers outside the traditional teachings of his childhood.
A counseling organization in Minneapolis—identified in the book as The Health Crisis Resource Center—was his refuge as he tried to come to terms with the changes in his life. He was also fortunate to find a doctor he could trust and rely on for honest answers.
The messages he hears in popular media are a theme in Pfeifer’s work. In his early life—before he came out to his family and when the HIV/AIDS epidemic was just beginning to get national news attention—he struggled with the fear of “the other” he saw in news coverage about the disease. And later, after 9/11, he says he saw that same poorly defined fear once again taking over people’s thoughts.
“It felt like everything changed, and it became apparent to me that people were fearful but they weren’t sure what they were afraid of,” he says. “That’s when I began to really work on the book. I survived a death sentence, and I felt like I had a message of hope to share.”
As a young man, Pfeifer says, he was always taught there was only one way to live a good life, but after his diagnosis he started to ask questions and found a lot of ways of dealing with problems.
“I began to ask questions and realized that there was more out there in the world than I’d been told … I began to see that there were many things to choose from—and choosing not to be ruled by fear was my choice,” he says.