Darlene was diagnosed with HIV in 1992 and has been living with the disease for more than 15 years. Like most who hear the news for the first time, she was stunned to learn that she had tested positive. At that time, she says, as a 40-something middle-class White woman with no history of drug abuse, she never thought she fit the profile of someone at risk.
Now 56 years old and a great-grandmother, however, Darlene has come to represent a growing number of women—and people over age 50 in general—who are heading into their senior years as HIV survivors. Many of the issues that Darlene has faced will sound familiar to other people living with HIV/AIDS. Such as disclosure of HIV status and partner notification. She speaks eloquently about stigma, too, both within her own family and among her friends. And she discusses the continual challenge—familiar to many women—of caring for herself while looking after a young child.
One of the most moving subjects in Darlene’s story is one that is not often discussed in the health care community but that overwhelmingly rings true for people who suffer from a life-threatening illness—namely, the healing power of compassion and the strength that can come from faith and an active spiritual life.
Darlene receives her primary care, medication, and other client services at the Washington State-funded satellite clinic of the Madison Clinic at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center, which receives funding under the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program Part A and Part C. The creation of a satellite facility to treat HIV/AIDS in rural Bremerton allowed Darlene to reduce her travel time to medical appointments from a day-long trip to just 15 minutes—a huge factor in dealing with transportation issues, fatigue, and regularly scheduled care. The size and patient-friendly environment of the Bremerton clinic is also ideally suited to the kind of holistic approach to care that many HIV clients like Darlene both need and want.