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11 Badass Women With Chronic Conditions to Celebrate on International Women’s Day

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Let’s be honest: Every woman living with a chronic illness is pretty much a badass. You juggle endless doctors’ appointments, try new medications you’re not sure will work, and deal with the pain and fatigue of your symptoms. Oh yes, and you do that all while keeping up with everyday challenges like work, friends, and family.

In honor of International Women’s Day, we’ve rounded up 10 awesome women who have chronic illnesses. Some of these women advocate for their illness; others educate healthy individuals on how to be supportive of people with illnesses, and many bust assumptions of what illness “looks like.” These are just a few of the women we’re celebrating today.

1. Shannon Cohn

Like many women with endometriosis, filmmaker Shannon Cohn experienced symptoms for years before she was finally diagnosed with the painful condition. To help stop the cycle of shame and ignorance that surrounds this misunderstood yet fairly common disease (an estimated 176 million women have endometriosis), Cohn directed and produced “Endo What?” The documentary seeks to educate women and medical professionals about the seriousness of the disease and has been screened around the world. Cohn has also met with Senator Elizabeth Warren to improve the narrative surrounding endometriosis.

2. Selena Gomez

photo by Berkantcaliskan via Wikimedia Commons

Recently, Selena Gomez revealed the side of chronic illness that isn’t often discussed — the fact that anxiety and depression may accompany your diagnosis. The singer, who has lupus, checked into a rehab facility in October to deal with the effects her condition has had on her mental health. Her openness about her lupus, anxiety and depression makes the powerful statement that it’s perfectly normal to experience chronic and mental health issues together, and it’s OK to seek help.

3. Kim Goodsell

At 52 years old, Goodsell was diagnosed with Charcot-Marie Tooth disease, a neurological genetic disorder. She was confused, though, when her doctor never mentioned if it was related to her other genetic disorder, arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC). Suspecting the two conditions were caused by the same thing, Goodsell set off to do her own research, ultimately discovering a mutation on a single gene that geneticists confirmed had likely caused both her disorders. In a world where patients are often left alone to navigate the health care system, it’s empowering to see a patient teach her own doctors a thing or two.


4. Danielle Sheypuk

Psychologist Dr. Danielle Sheypuk was born with spinal muscular atrophy and has used a wheelchair since childhood. As a speaker, model and advocate, she fights against society’s limited views of sex, dating and disability. In her TEDxTalk, she discussed how people often view disabled people as incapable of sex, when nothing could be further from the truth. She gets real about how much society stands to lose by not including people with disabilities in the dating scene.

5. Grace Warnock

Iain Gray MSP and 10 year old Grace Warnock, a school pupil from Prestonpans in East Lothian, unveil a new disabled toilet signs, designed by Grace, which is now in place at the Scottish Parliament’s accessible toilets.
Picture by Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament

Most people with invisible illnesses know the feeling of walking into the accessible bathroom stall only to get judgmental looks and comments because they “don’t look sick.” Grace Warnock, a 10-year-old with Crohn’s disease from Scotland, created a nifty solution to that problem — she designed a bathroom sign that includes both a person in a wheelchair and a standing person with a heart, symbolizing people with invisible conditions. Her sign is now being used in the Scottish Parliament, sending the message that anyone with a disability should feel welcome to use an accessible restroom.

6. Yolanda Hadid

Yolanda Foster

Hadid opened up about her battle with Lyme disease as a cast member on “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” mirroring what millions of other women with invisible illnesses deal with every day. Hadid fought back against allegations that she was exaggerating her (and her kids’) illness, exposing how sadly common it is for friends and acquaintances to question your illness when you “seem fine” one day and are sick the next. Props to Hadid for educating millions of viewers about how harmful that attitude is to people with invisible illnesses.

7. Tina-Marie Beznec

Tina-Marie Beznec shaving her face.

In a single selfie, Beznec highlighted the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and the importance of remembering you don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors. Beznec shared photos on Facebook of herself shaving her face, explaining that PCOS causes her to grow facial hair. “I know it’s only natural for some of us to judge someone based on how they look but remember we are all fighting our own battles and you can never understand if you aren’t willing to learn and listen,” she wrote.

8. Jamie-Lynn Sigler

jamie lynn sigler
Lead photo by The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas via Flickr Creative Commons

The actress went public with her multiple sclerosis 15 years after her diagnosis and has since opened up about how she learned not to be ashamed of her illness. “I started to realize I was harboring all these feelings of shame and guilt, and it’s true, I didn’t do anything wrong, so why was I feeling so embarrassed and labeled by this?” Sigler told Glamour. It’s a message so many other women can relate to.

9. Gaylyn Henderson

Calling herself “Gutless and Glamorous,” Gaylyn Henderson shows that having an ostomy bag doesn’t mean you can’t still be proud of your body. She can be found on Instagram showing off her ostomy bag and scars. “It wasn’t until I made a choice to overcome my feelings of shame towards my physical scars that I truly no longer cared what others may think,” Henderson told The Mighty. She’s also met with Representative John Lewis to advocate for patients with inflammatory bowel disease.

10. Venus Williams

venus williams at a tennis match
Photo by Edwin Martinez

Tennis star Venus Williams revealed she has Sjogren’s syndrome in 2011, ultimately withdrawing from that year’s US Open. The diagnosis has kept her from the sport in recent years, revealing that even athletes can be affected by chronic illness. If you’re dealing with fatigue and pain, you’ve got a pro athlete battling right alongside you.

11. Sara Geurts

sara guerts modeling in a black and pink bikini

Sara Guerts used to be self-conscious of how her Ehlers-Danlos syndrome affected the elasticity of her skin. Then, she decided to be true to herself, love her differences, and is now working towards being one of the first recognized models with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. “Wear your stripes with pride, my loves,” she said in a blog on The Mighty.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this post included U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May. Based on feedback from our community, we’ve decided to keep this post nonpartisan. We hope the focus of this article can be to celebrate the achievements of women all over the world who deal with chronic illness.

Are you/do you know a woman with chronic illness you’d like to recognize today? Tell us about you or her in the comments below.

 11 Badass Women With Chronic Conditions to Celebrate on International Women’s Day
Originally published: March 8, 2017
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