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Hank Green's Continued Impact on the Chronic Illness Community

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When Hank Green shared his Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis last week (in the most Hank Green way, to boot), I got a twinge of sadness in my cold, black heart. And after watching his announcement video, I also felt a bit of hope. Not hope for him, but hope for the chronic illness community at large.

What is Ulcerative Colitis?

Now let me be clear: I care very much about Hank’s diagnosis and what he’s going to be going through. He seems to fully understand the scope of what he’s up against, which in no way surprises me considering he’s a person who is dedicated to learning and educating others.

While it is an aggressive form of cancer, I am thankful that it’s also one of the most easily treatable cancers. So please keep in mind as you’re reading this that I am not dismissing the impact this has on him as a human being, and I am going to be over here on my side of the country pulling for him.

Back to the subject of hope. The hope his announcement gave me was a hope that this could be the beginning of a larger conversation about how people with chronic illness are at a higher risk of comorbidities and how it makes a cancer diagnosis that much scarier.

Hank Green has been open about the ulcerative colitis diagnosis he received in 2006, and his transparency about the condition moves the needle forward in normalizing conversations about health issues and their impact on daily life.

He’s very candid about the fact that working for himself from home gives him the advantage of being able to access a bathroom whenever he needs it, and admits that he’s taken calls from the throne as well. That right there is the kind of information that I actually do not find to be “TMI” — I find it to be “HI” (Helpful Information).

How can people who are experiencing similar ailments ever feel normal if we don’t recognize, out loud, that these conditions cause daily challenges? Real life is a hot mess — it’s not a perfectly curated set of circumstances with beautiful lighting, birding singing, and flawless appearances.

Hank said it best in a recent tweet:

“My doctor recently asked me if I felt like I knew how ulcerative colitis works, and I was like, “Doc, I am trillions of cells that have to work together nearly perfectly for me to be not dead. It’s not that I don’t understand how I’m sick…I don’t understand how anyone is well.”

Hank’s willingness to share his cancer journey is highlighting the power of shared experiences and finding solidarity in facing health challenges. I strongly believe in the importance of the visibility and representation of chronic illness in public figures.

I mean, the man is recording TikTok videos to answer followers’ questions and casually addressing the newly adorned chemo port on his upper chest. He’s using it as an opportunity to teach others while documenting his own journey. And I’m sure, from what we know of Hank’s personality, this is also a helpful way for him to cope with his new reality.

The same can be said about Selena Gomez and her openness about living with lupus. She’s had a lot to contend with over the years, from a kidney transplant to high-profile weight fluctuations — which, to be clear, isn’t for anyone to have an opinion on, but I digress. All of her own health struggles are piled on top of her enormous celebrity status. She can’t even get a cup of coffee without it becoming a TMZ headline. Could you imagine people documenting your every move on your worst days? That’s a horrible microscope to know that you’re under.

Sure, Hank might not be at the same level of public notoriety as Selena, but that doesn’t make him any less important or worthy of our well-wishes. That doesn’t make his experience any less worthy of sharing with others to help them feel more comfortable with their own situations. Both of them are human beings who are providing validation to other humans who are out there just trying to make it through the day.

By being so open with his diagnosis of both ulcerative colitis and cancer, Hank is helping to reduce the stigma surrounding those conditions and raising awareness. Sure, they’re scary, but you know what’s even scarier? The unknown.

One of the worst things I’ve experienced during my time as a spoonie is all the unknowns. Not knowing what’s wrong, not knowing how to treat it, not knowing where or when I can get help. It’s awful. If I had a well-known public figure sharing their experiences with surgery for their endometriosis, or recording videos of the symptoms they experienced leading up to a POTS diagnosis, it would provide me with comfort.

I know many of us may feel a sense of solidarity that even rich people and celebrities can experience a crappy medical situation.

Stars — they’re just like us.

Image via Creative Commons

Originally published: May 25, 2023
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