We had the opportunity to talk with Hulda -- an older woman living with HIV --
whose strength and courage can be an inspiration to us all. Hulda was
diagnosed when she was 47-years-old and is now 58.
- How was it when you were diagnosed?
- I was diagnosed in 1991. It felt like a death sentence. Both of my sons were in the service, and I felt very guilty. My only prayer was that they come home safe and whole. I was more concerned about them than I was about myself.
- As an older woman living with HIV, how are things different for you?
- As an older woman it is harder to get around. My body gets more tired -- fatigue. You have to accept the fact that you're getting older. Your immune system is weakening as you get older.
- For the older community, HIV is a taboo subject. A lot of older people feel like they're immune to HIV. We are not immune to it.
- How do you take care of yourself?
- I take a lot of vitamins and minerals. I do acupuncture, chiropractor, massage. I am taking anti-HIV meds. The way I look at it, you either live with it or die with it. What I do is focus on how I am going to live.
- What services do older women need?
- Counseling groups for older people -- get them to talk about their HIV. Studies on HIV meds and how they work with anti-aging meds. Older people on the corner -- let us be seen and heard, going into community and senior centers and churches and older people talking to older people.
- We are vulnerable -- first we need to get this message out to the older community. Then we can go to the community and senior centers and churches and increase awareness.
- What are some of the difficulties and challenges of being an older woman living with HIV?
- Losing my friends, not being recognized by family members and community members, the medical community. Counselors burn out -- they are there for you and then they leave.
- It's not easy being an older person in your community. There's no community for older persons, there's a stigma. A lot of older people think they're too old to have another mate, too old to exercise; and it doesn't make sense to take meds cause you are gonna die anyway. When you are diagnosed with aging, doctors treat you with disrespect.
- It's not always about HIV issues; it's about companionship, becoming older, children, having to tell family, the stigma.
- What and/or who has been helpful and supportive for you?
- My sons make me feel more human, their support is crucial. The WORLD retreat in 1992 -- I looked around and realized, "Hmm, that is happening to me." Eventually I got the courage to talk. I started listening to people, and realized that maybe there is some help out there for me. I could not do it without other people. I'm not ashamed to talk with older people. I want to make people smile because it makes me feel good.
- Any final words of wisdom for women like yourself who may be reading this?
- Old is not dead. We still have a place in this community. We are the caregivers, before we take care of everyone else we must take care of ourselves. You may go forward and fall into the next step; but that's okay, you'll get there.
Back to the Project Inform WISE Words July 2002 contents page.