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A specialist recently diagnosed a Kaposi's sarcoma spot on Stokes' ankle. Although the cancer is not life-threatening, the sight of young men disfigured by KS lesions was a harbinger of the early AIDS crisis, and its presence on his own body is unsettling.
At his therapy group for men with HIV, aging "comes up frequently," he said. "I say, `Just think what we have come through to have a life today.'" At the same time, he acknowledges sometimes feeling self-conscious about his physical appearance and worries if "people are not attracted to me and unwilling to go the length of what it means to be with me, no matter how brilliant my mind or my zest for life."
Loneliness, financial worries and concerns about who will care for them and where can weigh on long-term AIDS survivors in the same way as all adults living in a society that values youth, Charles Emlet, a social work professor at the University of Washington, Tacoma, said.
As they get older and sicker, many feel "doubly stigmatized," he said. Some people who have lived with the virus for a long time have been getting by on private disability benefits that will run out when they turn 65, forcing them to move to less expensive locations or to consider turning to estranged family members. Like soldiers from a distant war, many lost partners and their closest friends to AIDS.
Such emotional side effects, combined with the physical toll of managing chronic health problems, put older AIDS patients at risk for depression. At the same time, Emlet has uncovered evidence that a majority of long-term survivors also share another trait that typically comes with advanced age: that is, the ability to draw strength from their difficult experiences.
"The older adults I've interviewed, many of them talk about how much it means to them to give back, to do something positive with the years they never expected to have," he said.
Peter Greene can relate to that. At times, like the days he is so exhausted he can't get out of bed or the pain from his multiple maladies is too intense, he asks himself "the Carrie Bradshaw question--are we really lucky to still be alive?"
As frightening and uncertain as this phase of AIDS is, he thinks he knows the answer.
"I've tried to make the time I have count, and really, now that I have the body of an 80-year-old, I probably have the wisdom of an 80-year-old as well, which counts for a lot," Greene said. "Everything becomes clear at the end of your life and in some ways, thinking you've been dying all these years, you get moments of clarity that I don't think everyone gets."
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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