SPECIAL REPORT

Two Women Battle AIDS

August 31 1987
SPECIAL REPORT

Two Women Battle AIDS

August 31 1987

Two Women Battle AIDS

SPECIAL REPORT

Candice Mossop, 36, lies in a darkened apartment in the Toronto suburb of Downsview, battling for life—and sometimes wishing for death. Traffic noises filter through the drawn red velour curtains, but Mossop rarely goes to the window to watch the activity outside. Instead, the bedridden former nurse and single mother of three children endures a daily physical ordeal that is marked by nausea and diarrhea. Night sweat attacks leave her hair, nightgown and bedsheets drenched with moisture. And always, close at hand on the bedside table, are the drugs that make her life less miserable. The collection includes liquid morphine for severe abdominal pains, Retrovir, an antiviral agent that slows the progress of the disease—and a daily pack of cigarettes.

As chilling as they are, the rapidly mounting AIDS statistics give little indication of the individual tragedies that they represent. Some AIDS victims are battling full-blown cases of the disease, others have a less debilitating condition known as AIDS-related complex (ARC), and some may only have tested positive for exposure to the virus but still have no symptoms of the cruel disease. But all of them are aware of one grim fact: there is no cure for AIDS—all its victims die. Still, many of the victims have discovered that one of the most devastating aspects of AIDS is the social stigma that accompanies the disease. Two sufferers talked about their experiences with Maclean’s Contributing Editor Ann Walmsley last week. Her report:

Mossop acknowledges the toll that AIDS has exacted during the past two

years. She notes that her skin has acquired a grey pallor and that she is now 20 I’D. below her normal weight of 120 lb. In May she contracted pneumonia—and expressed a wish that the disease would kill her. Declared Mossop: “I am not afraid to die. I want this to be

over with.” But first she is determined to pass on an important message: anyone can be an AIDS victim. Said Mossop: “I want people to know it is not just a gay disease while I am still living proof.”

Blood: Mossop and her family physician say that they believe she contracted ARC during the summer of 1985—through a contaminated blood

transfusion that she regularly received to combat a condition similar to hemophilia. They note that U.S. blood agencies began implementing blood screening for AIDS antibodies in March, 1985, when an effective laboratory test first became available. By contrast, the Canadian Red Cross Society did not begin using that test on Canadian donations for another eight months. Said Mossop, who now has AIDS: “They should have started screening right away. Perhaps my illness could have been prevented.” Afraid: But Mossop said that she had an even greater source of bitterness, pain and anger: friends and relatives who have avoided her since they learned that she has AIDS. Said Mossop:

“My brothers and sisters are afraid and do not want to bring their children around.” Now, only several relatives, including her father and her two sons, Brett, 19, and Shane, 17, pay regular visits. Mossop, who is divorced and supported financially by her family, shares the apartment with her 15-year-old daughter, Shauna. Once a week a Roman Catholic priest drops in to give her

communion, and a public health nurse also makes weekly visits to check Mossop’s condition. But one temporary nurse was so afraid of infection that she donned four pairs of gloves, a mask and gown before approaching her patient. Declared Mossop: “What does she think I do—spit on the doorknobs?”

Despite that nurse’s precautions against contamination, Shauna says that she has retained close physical contact with her mother. She said that she is not afraid to kiss her mother on the mouth—and added that she has even changed the dressings on an open abcess in Mossop’s hip. But both mother and daughter acknowledge that AIDS has affected their relationship. Declared Shauna: “There is a lot more arguing now. I guess I am not around enough.” For her part, Mossop said that she felt she was failing her daughter. She added: “My greatest sorrow is that I am not a mom anymore. I cannot do anything a mom would do—like cook for her. Ninety-five per cent of my life now I feel that I am simply existing.”

Celibate: Inactivity and isolation are new experiences for the formerly active, confident woman. Some of her neighbors remember her for having pitched a tent near the apartment building’s empty swimming pool in a successful campaign to prevent the owner from closing it permanently. Mossop herself said that she likes to recall that before becoming a nurse in 1981 she enjoyed a brief stint as a fashion model.

But now she spends most of her days lying under a red cover watching television. And those earlier accomplishments now cause pain to a woman who once took pride in her attractiveness. Now, she said, she sometimes finds it difficult to look at herself in the mirror. Declared Mossop as she tugged on her short blond hair: “My appearance is so important to me. Now I look so terrible and I keep saying, ‘Candy, it is not you.’ ”

But Mossop does use her dwindling energies to speak against the further spread of AIDS. She objects to some AIDS victim-support groups telling sufferers to use condoms during intercourse to prevent infection of their partners. Instead, Mossop said that AIDS sufferers should remain chaste— and added that she has not been sexually intimate with anyone during the

past three years. Said Mossop: “Being celibate is not going to kill me. Not being celibate could kill somebody else.” Still, as she continues her losing battle against a deadly disease, she expresses a longing common to other AIDS victims: more frequent human contact.

acqueline, 45, agreed to an interview on condition that she not be fully identified. She says that last winshe believed that she had finally achieved the good life. Formerly the operator of a Quebec chain of women’s clothing stores, she was beginning a third year of living in the Caribbean. There, on the breezy patio of her whitepainted seaside house in a village in the Dominican Republic, she ran a successful restaurant—on days when she felt like working. She spent her nights with her boyfriend, a 50-year-old local black mechanic. But that idyllic existence came to an abrupt end last March when medical tests revealed that she had

tested positive for the AIDS virus—two years after the disease had killed a former lover in Montreal. Shortly after receiving the diagnosis, she returned to Montreal, where she now rents an apartment overlooking a park in the west end of that city.

As a carrier, Jacqueline has sought comfort in the hope offered by some AIDS researchers that she has a 50-percent chance of not developing a fullblown case of AIDS. But last week she experienced fatigue and suffered from diarrhea—physical symptoms that often signal the onset of AIDS. AS she nervously smoked cigarettes in her sparsely furnished living room, the plump, affable redhead said that she thought, “Oh no, is this starting?”

Jacqueline said that she became exposed to AIDS after her marriage ended

in divorce in 1980. Her ex-lover probably infected her during a three-yearrelationship that began in 1982, she added. But she said that she is not completely certain that he is to blame. For one thing, she recalled that when doctors diagnosed the man’s disease late in 1984, tests that she took that year failed to indicate exposure to the virus. But she continued to have sex with her boyfriend and two other men during her stay in the Dominican Republic—in a region of the world where AIDS is widespread. Indeed, she said that she and the mechanic continued to make love without condoms even after she had informed him that she had tested positive.

Fatal: She said that she has not had sexual intercourse since her return to Montreal, even though her sexual drive remains strong. She said that she warned off a man who propositioned her as she sat drinking a glass of white wine in a local discotheque last month. Said Jacqueline: “I told him I could not have a relationship because I tested positive for AIDS and he just laughed. They think it is

a joke.”

But now she is consid-

ering attending a coffee

evening sponsored by a local AIDS committee. Her purpose: to investigate the possiblity of a liaison with a male AIDS

carrier. Said Jacqueline: “There is a part of me that stops me from having sex, because it would be like killing every time, and another part that loves sex. As much as I want to contribute

to prevention, another

part of me has some

power of destruction.”

Despite her fears of rejection, Jacque-

line stressed that she routinely discloses the fact that she carries the AIDS virus. Two weeks ago, shortly before taking a job with a company that offers self-improvement courses, she told her prospective employers that she might be a health risk. Still, she got the job, and now she even warns colleagues against inhaling one of her lighted cigarettes— an unnecessary precaution, according to AIDS researchers.

And she says that she has accepted the fact that AIDS may end her life. For now, she intends to sample such pleasure as walking in the woods near her apartment building—knowing that an incurable, fatal disease could soon prevent her from engaging in such ordinary pursuits.