“Did I tell you my 21-year old (HIV) client died of cancer?”
Our HIV program manager observes: “Everyone assumes that people with HIV/AIDS are fine because they have access to antiviral medication, but that’s not the case for everyone.… Did I tell you my 21-year old client died of cancer?”
In this case, the HIV diagnostician at the hospital initially mistook new symptoms for COVID. Four days after cancer was identified, the young man died…. While COVID dominates attention and HIV makes patients medically vulnerable, working on the frontlines as a social worker, case manager, counsellor and patient advocate can be heartbreaking and faith-stretching: “You ask and pray, can this be avoided? Could the cancer have been found sooner and treated? Could we do more to help people live with HIV/AIDS?”
Our program manager also observes new levels of client anxiety, fear, and depression. Clients who experienced depression before, now have “extreme depression” since COVID isolation, and are requesting additional one-on-one counselling supports. Some clients have lost their jobs due to COVID. Others have refused to work or felt unsafe working due to COVID. It adds a complicating strain – for clients living with HIV, and for frontline workers providing hospice supports.
With the stress of COVID, one client’s HIV/AIDS symptom management is worse than ever: she has been hospitalized more during this past year, than years ago when her HIV complications led to organ failure, requiring invasive medical treatments and a transplant. Last year, after her child brought the COVID virus home from school, this mom was infected and thankfully survived. Today, still unable to work, she and her palliative husband are doing their best to raise children. She testifies: “The PAC women’s group is the only thing that keeps me going. This group and my faith. The support and prayers I receive from others who know what I am going through, what I am feeling, my fear … knowing I can share everything, and not be judged … that there are people who I can call on to pray with me.”
Our program manager aims to meet each person’s unique needs by using a combination of tools: cognitive behavioural therapy, narrative therapy, facilitated relationship mediation, group or individual counselling, referrals for medical respite, plus a faith-based perspective depending on the client. The Christ-centred, faith-building elements are invaluable for many clients: “They can’t pray in other HIV support groups. They can’t pray about HIV within their church circles for fear of stigma / judgement.”