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How People With Chronic Illness Really Feel About Celebrities 'Opening Up' About Their Illnesses

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When a celebrity is diagnosed with a chronic illness, it’s often accompanied by a cover story in a magazine and soundbites about their diagnosis journey and how they’re coping. While the average reader might casually skim an article, to a person who has the same illness, it can be an empowering — or disappointing — moment.

On one hand, celebrities talking openly about their illnesses can be seen as a great way to raise awareness of diseases people may not know much about. When Yolanda Hadid documented her battle with Lyme disease on “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” many others with the disease praised her for bringing attention to a condition viewers likely weren’t familiar with. But celebrities often draw criticism when they open up about their unique experiences — Kelly Osbourne has been under fire recently for comments she’s made about other celebrities with Lyme disease and the treatment she found.

In any case, celebrities often do influence the conversation surrounding the disease, and people with the same disease can be affected — whether that’s in a positive way (more awareness can equal more understanding) or negative way (friends may question why you weren’t able to be “cured” like their favorite celeb was).

We wanted to know how our Mighty community feels when celebrities open up about their illnesses, so we asked them to share their thoughts. Let us know your opinion in the comments below.

Here’s what our community told us:

1. “I usually don’t like it when it’s about something I suffer with. It just leads to friends and family saying, ‘Well so-and-so did this and it worked! Why don’t you do X?’”

2. “I think it’s not my place to judge them, their story, or journey through illness. I appreciate awareness but I don’t think it’s fair to expect them to be a torch for it. They are human just like the rest of us, and not everyone knows how, or is capable of advocacy or furthering awareness.”

3. “It’s a catch-22. The right celebrity is careful with the information and respectful of all the regular people who are suffering with the same disease. Celebrities live in a bubble and when they are diagnosed with something, they go right to the most expensive doctors doing the latest cutting-edge treatment and with any luck, their suffering is short lived. But unfortunately, if the rest of us have been fighting for years for recognition and have spent our life’s savings looking for a treatment that works or we’ve just been trying to find a doctor who will treat us properly, we’re left feeling bitter. Regular people are left with friends and family asking us why we can’t get better if so and so on the cover of the latest magazine made a full recovery. How do we explain to them that it’s just not that simple?”

4.It makes me feel less alone. And when someone knows of a public figure who suffers with the same disease I do, it makes me feel like they care to make that connection.”

5.I personally think it’s great. I know it’s not the same and they have access to stuff that a lot of us don’t. But it makes me feel like I’m not alone. For example Selena Gomez opening up about her battle with lupus actually really helped me in coming to terms with my chronic illness.”

6. “I think that they are entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts. Therefore, they should always start and end the interview with, ‘This has worked for me but may not work for you. Everyone suffers differently from this disease. Please consult your physician before starting or discontinuing any change in your daily routine.’ This will allow people the piece of mind to agree or disagree without judgment.”

7. “Anyone who can open up about their chronic illness has my respect. It’s hard to admit to others that you have issues with your health. Any person who can do that gets a thumbs up from me. It is such a deeply personal thing with so many implications (current work, future work, relationships, public perception, etc.) that people should respect an individual’s choice to talk, or not talk about it.”

8. “Celebs seem to have access to whatever they need in a timely manner. It’s not reality… We have to fight for doctors to believe in us and often find the right doctors which can sometimes take months or even years. I don’t discount their pain or think it’s their fault by any means. It’s just a whole different world for someone who has to fight for everything to survive.”

9. “It’s cool if they use their status to educate people. But if they are making false claims about cures or talking about expensive, unproven, and inaccessible treatment options, it makes these conditions seem less valid for those of us who are struggling with them.”

10. “I think they are people, just like anyone else. They should be able to talk about their illnesses just like anyone else can.”

11. “Excited! There just wasn’t this level of awareness when I was a young teen newly diagnosed.”

12. “The more celebs that would talk about it the more it would get it out there to the public-so long as it’s reported on properly! The more people know and understand the less I get looked at like I’m making it up!”

13. “I view it as a publicity stunt first and foremost, rather than an attempt to help others who are struggling. It doesn’t mean their illness is not real or something they are not truly struggling with, but celebrities often only share the stereotypical and most common symptoms/ signs that can be easily looked up online — rather than sharing their daily struggles, ups and downs with the chronic illness(s).”

14. “I’m conflicted about it. On one hand I know we should never judge those with invisible illnesses. Their struggles are just as valid as mine, and I like seeing that they’re not claiming to be super human. But seeing the headlines like ‘how she beat lupus’ drives me up the wall. I don’t get to beat my illness. I don’t get to spend however many thousands of dollars on treatments to make sure I still look good on bad days, or go to doctors across the country, or pay people to go grocery shopping for me. It’s invisible illness on easy mode.”

15.I think it’s great that stick up for chronic illnesses but they really do not understand us with financial issues. They get in doctors faster, no bill worries, and have people to assist them. We have to deal with stigma and fight with our insurance to make ends meet.”

16. “I really dislike it when people use the celebrity as a model for everyone else who has that illness. They aren’t realizing that the same illness might be mild in one person and very severe in another or be very unpredictable, or that there are co-morbidities at play, or that everyone doesn’t have the same access to treatment or support.”

17. “I like it because they help chronic and autoimmune illness become more mainstream. I have Hashimoto and I find it annoying to have to explain to people what it is. Even though Hashi is pretty common, it is impressive how many people have never heard of it and are puzzled when they hear Hashimoto… So if a celebrity talks about their illness, whatever that may be, I think it is helpful and probably even takes away some of the stigma society puts on these types of illnesses.”

Originally published: April 27, 2017
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