The Positive Side

Summer 2011 

Françoise Grothé (Spring/Summer 2004)

Age: 66
Living with HIV for 28 years
CD4 count: 980
Viral load: undetectable

“An adventurous, happy-go-lucky person.”

How would you describe your health?
My health was terrific up until last November. I got the flu vaccine and a few days later I started feeling really sick; but every time I get the flu vaccine I don’t feel good, so I didn’t make anything of it. By December I was in excruciating pain in my legs and arms, and my doctor sent me to the ER. I spent two weeks in the hospital, but they had no answers. I’m still deteriorating. I have one arm that’s not working and I’m basically walking like a paraplegic. My legs can’t hold my body. It’s been absolute hell, and they still don’t know what’s wrong with me. I went to bed one night feeling fine and I got up the next day and I was half a person. Yesterday I couldn’t cut a potato and I cried for two hours. Before this happened, I was in perfect health, bicycling an hour a day, so it’s very hard for me not to associate this with the vaccine. But I’m hoping it’s viral and it will get better.

Are you experiencing any specific issues around HIV or your treatment?
No. I’ve had the same drug cocktail for eight years and it’s going really well.

You were on the cover of our Spring / Summer 2004 issue, for a feature story about long-term survivors. And now it’s six years later and you’re being interviewed for this magazine again. How does that feel?
Well, I’m still here. In 2013, it’s going to be 30 years. So I guess I really am a long-term survivor.

Since you appeared on the cover in 2004, what has changed in your life?
I walked the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. It was the biggest accomplishment of my life. I crossed all of Spain — 580 km — it took me two months to do it. I walked about 15 to 20 km a day, for two months, with my 10-kilo backpack.

In one word, describe this moment in AIDS.
Latent. Nothing’s happening.

In 10 years…
Good God, I’ll probably be dead. I’m going to be 76, are you kidding? If I’m the way I was before November, no problem. But if I’m the way I am now, there’s no way in hell I want to be around.

What song is the soundtrack of your life?
“My Way” by Frank Sinatra. That shows you how old I am.

Editor’s note: Françoise Grothé was eventually diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. “Once she was diagnosed and knew that it was degenerative, my mother didn’t want to live any longer,” her daughter Nathalie told The Positive Side. “She had such a full life that there was no way she was going to be a burden on us or on society. All of her friends and family were there to see her every day until the very end. Everybody loved her.” Françoise passed away March 31, 2011.