As 2017 comes to a close, we wanted to highlight the celebrities who have raised awareness and helped spread understanding of the reality of chronic illness this year. Thank you to these celebrities for speaking up, being advocates and making a difference in the chronic illness community.
Here’s who we wanted to highlight this year:
1. Sarah Hyland
“Modern Family” actress Sarah Hyland has kidney dysplasia and underwent a kidney transplant in 2012. She often posts on social media about the various frustrations of living with a chronic illness, from watching her weight fluctuate due to illness and medications to getting “screwed over” by pharmacies that failed to fill her prescription. “I have had the worst medical year of my life,” she wrote in a post on Twitter.
Hyland is not afraid to stand up and get angry about challenges that so many with chronic illness face, and she continues to use her platform to be a voice for the community. After Hyland had trouble getting her medication from CVS, she spoke to the pharmacy about the issues she and many others have had.
“I tried to take this opportunity and make CVS a better place for their patients because you all reached out and told me your stories and it moved me so much, I felt like I had a responsibility to say [it] to someone higher up on the ladder at CVS than just a manager at a store,” Hyland said in a video.
Actor and comedian Kumail Nanjiani is married to writer and producer Emily V. Gordon, who has adult-onset Still’s disease (AOSD), a rare form of arthritis. Together they wrote the movie “The Big Sick” based on their own real-life story, starring Nanjiani and actress Zoe Kazan. The movie follows their relationship as Gordon goes into a coma because of her health issues. The movie brings chronic illness into the limelight and shows what it’s like to navigate the reality of illness, relationships, hospitalizations, health care and insurance.
Gordon said the movie “was not meant to be political, but without my insurance I would still have those astronomical bills. We all need to take care of our health, and we all need help to do that.”
3. Lady Gaga
This year Lady Gaga has been more vocal than ever about her struggles with chronic pain, confirming her diagnosis of fibromyalgia and documenting the frustrating reality of her illness in her documentary “Gaga: Five Foot Two.” Her pain even led her to cancel several performances to focus on her health and healing.
Although Gaga unfortunately must face the uncertainty of chronic illness and, like many of us, struggle to find treatments that help in even some small way, hopefully using her platform to advocate for chronic pain will bring better understanding and improved treatments for others who live with similar conditions.
“My pain does me no good unless I transform it into something that is. So I hope people watching it who do struggle with chronic pain know that they’re not alone. It’s freeing for me… and I want people that struggle with it to hear me,” Gaga said in a press conference.
4. Frankie Muniz
During an episode of “Dancing With the Stars,” actor Frankie Muniz opened up about his struggles with memory loss. Although he’s not exactly sure what caused it, Muniz has had nine concussions and several mini strokes, called transient ischemic attacks. The difficulties he describes of being unable to remember significant life events are relatable for many in the chronic illness community who experience memory loss or brain fog as a result of illness or medication.
Still, Muniz said his most memorable year is 2017 because he learned to live in the present and he’s happy with his acting career, race car experiences and music career. “Even if I don’t remember it all,” he said, “I’m happy.”
5. Solange Knowles
Solange revealed on Instagram in December that she had been battling and treating an autonomic disorder for several months, and her health issues forced her to cancel her New Year’s Eve performance at Afropunk Johannesburg. “It [has] been a journey that hasn’t been easy on me…” she wrote. “Sometimes I feel cool, and other times not so cool at all. It’s a complicated diagnoses , and I’m still learning so much myself.” Solange expressed her regret at being unable to perform, but promised her fans she was going to focus on taking care of her health in the new year.
“As a part of the self care that I’ve tried to encourage this past year, it needs to start with myself, and I’m looking forward to doing a better job of this 2018.
This past year has been one of the most fulfilling of my life…
Performing this record and experiencing the energy exchange with you guys has been astounding, and I’m so excited about continuing to do the work I feel so absolutely humbled and appreciative to be doing next year. It gives me life.”
6. Mandy Moore
The “This Is Us” star shared photos on her Instagram story depicting the reality of a potential celiac disease diagnosis as she underwent an upper endoscopy. She later shared the frustrations of being gluten-free as she lamented that she can no longer eat her favorite seeded butter. Dietary restrictions are common for many of those struggling with chronic illness, and it is validating to see a celebrity speaking out about some of the challenges this can bring.
“Well, this definitely takes the (now gluten-free) cake for bummer news,” she wrote on Instagram in July. “Any celiac sufferers out there with any helpful tips?”
7. Aaron Carter
After losing weight and experiencing intense body-shaming, Aaron Carter revealed he was diagnosed with a hiatal hernia at 19 and continues to struggle with chronic pain and anxiety. He appeared on a September episode of “The Doctors” and allowed medical professionals to test his health claims. While he tested negative for all illegal drugs, the doctors did find that he was malnourished and tested positive for prescription drugs used to treat anxiety and pain, leaving the doctors concerned he might mix his medications, which can be deadly. “I wanna say I’m sorry for the way that I look and that I’m doing my best to get better,” Carter said.
Although many people have been critical of his dramatic weight loss and altered appearance, Carter said that others have been supportive and can relate to the health issues he’s experiencing. “I’m actually becoming a voice for people who are going through this,” he explained.
8. Selena Gomez
Selena Gomez has been open about her lupus since she confirmed her diagnosis in 2015, and has used her status as an actress, singer and pop star to make a big impact. In March, Selena made a donation to the USC Keck School of Medicine, which will go toward the Selena Gomez Foundation for Lupus Research. After “laying low” for the summer, she revealed in September that she had undergone a kidney transplant over the summer, thanks to her best friend and donor Francia Raisa.
“I just really hope we can help somebody. I really do. I don’t think what we went through was easy, I don’t think it was fun,” Gomez said in an interview on “The Today Show.” “I just hope that this inspires people to feel good. To know that there is really good people in the world.”
9. Sasha Pieterse
“Pretty Little Liars” actress Sasha Pieterse used her time on “Dancing With the Stars” to open up about the body image challenges she’s faced due to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and advocate for others with the same condition. After her illness caused her to gain weight, Pieterse was met with hurtful comments, but hopes that talking about her struggles will help inform others who have the condition. In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, she said:
“What I want [is] for people to have awareness because so many women have it and they don’t know and if you don’t catch it in time, it leads to [things like] ovarian cancer and breast cancer and all kinds of things that women deal with all the time. [A lot of it] could’ve been avoided, so if I can share that, that’s really important to me.”
10. Rob and Marisol Thomas
Marisol Thomas, wife of Matchbox Twenty frontman Rob Thomas, has been been battling Lyme disease for more than 14 years. Both have spoken out about the effects of the illness and aim to raise awareness and advocate for better treatments and understanding. “Sometimes she’s just not herself. Watching the person you’re closest to become someone other than herself is so [hard],” Rob said in an interview with Entertainment Tonight.
Thomas has also written several songs about his wife’s struggle, including “Her Diamonds,” which is about her pain, and the pain of not knowing what he can do to help her, and “Pieces,” which describes feeling lost and holding on to each other as they find “a light in the darkness.”
11. Mary Kate Robertson (and Family)
“Duck Dynasty” star Mary Kate Robertson shared an emotional blog post in August about her family’s decades-long battle with Lyme disease and how physically and emotionally devastating it can be.
“I hope this will help people to be aware of the seriousness of Lyme disease and all chronic illnesses,” she wrote on Instagram. “I hope this can help prevent more future cases. I hope we will think of what others around us could be going through and just be a bit kinder to one another.”
12. Debbie Gibson
After years of struggling Lyme disease, Debbie Gibson joined the cast of “Dancing With the Stars” for its 25th season in the hopes that it would help her get her “joy back.” The singer told Entertainment Tonight that after years of health issues due to Lyme disease, she hasn’t been “friends” with her body and wants to get back to the life she had before.
“I’m ready to get unstuck and I think this is the way. It’s the way to do it,” she said.
13. Winnie Harlow
Winnie Harlow is a supermodel with vitiligo who made her fame on America’s Next Top Model in 2014. After being bullied due to her condition, she struggled with mental illness and contemplated suicide. However, she strove for success and is now a world-renowned model. Winnie challenges mainstream notions of what it means to be “normal” or “beautiful” and promotes body positivity. “The real difference isn’t my skin,” she wrote on Instagram. “It’s the fact that I don’t find my beauty in the opinions of others. I’m beautiful because I know it. Celebrate Your unique beauty today (& everyday)!”
14. Yolanda Hadid (and Family)
Yolanda Hadid, star of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” has been open about her battle with Lyme disease – a condition that also affects two of her children, Bella and Anwar Hadid. In September she released her memoir, “Believe Me: My Battle with the Invisible Disability of Lyme Disease,” which documents both her medical and personal journey through the challenges of being chronically ill while also juggling parenting, relationships and her life as a reality TV star. In her book, Hadid writes:
“Staying quiet just adds more power to the invisible chronic-Lyme snowball that tears people’s lives apart!
[…] I’m going to find a cure for this disease and nothing and nobody is going to stop me. I will not allow anyone to shut me up or shame me into silence, and I’m not going to rot away behind closed doors. Instead, I will continue to talk, post, and blog about it until my message is heard.”
15. Anthony Anderson
“Black-ish” actor Anthony Anderson has lived with type 2 diabetes for more than 15 years. In a December episode of the ABC comedy show, Anderson’s character Dre Johnson was diagnosed with the same condition and must come to terms with being chronically ill. Over the course of the episode, we see Dre in denial about his diagnosis, desperately trying natural remedies he hopes will “cure” him, but finally reaching a place of acceptance and taking responsibility for his health.
In an interview with Parade, Anderson explained his hopes for the episode:
“We have a platform that we can use to bring awareness to a lot of things affecting us. I hope people watch and learn from it. By speaking up publicly about my personal health, I hope I will inspire other people to get themselves checked out.”
16. Shania Twain
Shania Twain contracted Lyme disease in the early 2000s, but didn’t realize until years later that the illness has affected her vocal cords and ability to sing. In an interview with Amazon Music, Twain said these issues were the reason she hadn’t released an album in 15 years, and that the loss of her voice made her feel as though “a part of [her] had died.”
“I was grieving the loss of my voice. I really believed I would never sing again,” Twain said. But she went back to vocal school and speech therapy to relearn how to sing, not knowing how well different therapies would work.
“I don’t know, determination kicked in, the more I wrote the more I was singing. So a lot of this time I’ve been away it’s just been working on getting this voice back,” she said. Her new album was released in September.
Platinum-selling singer Halsey lives with endometriosis and has been open on social media about how difficult it can be to manage the condition while performing and touring. “Touring with a chronic illness is equal parts challenging and rewarding,” she wrote in an Instagram post. But even when her endo is flaring, she doesn’t let it stop her. When Halsey was scheduled for a meet-and-greet with friends but felt “too sick” to go out, she invited them back into her dressing room while to simply hang out while she sat on the couch attached to an IV.
“Thanks to the fans for being so cool and understanding. This post isn’t so that you applaud me. It’s a reminder to everyone struggling with chronic illness that YOU GOT THIS!!!! Ur a boss go kick some ass. and if u can’t right now, that’s okay too. You’ll be kickin ass in no time,” she wrote on Instagram.
18. Jamie-Lynn Sigler
In 2016, the actress went public with her multiple sclerosis 15 years after diagnosis and has since opened up about how she learned not to be ashamed of her illness. Sigler has spoken about the adjustments she’s had to make due to MS, such as needing to use walking sticks while traveling in Israel earlier this year. She posted a photo with her sticks on Instagram, saying:
“It’s true. I learned a lot from a lot of people about politics, religion, and history from ALL ends.. and these are my walking sticks. I hated having to buy them at first but they allowed me to walk around Israel this whole trip..so you make the adjustments you need to do the things you love ! #visitisrael“
19. Jimmy Kimmel
After Jimmy Kimmel’s son Billy was born with tetralogy of Fallot and pulmonary atresia – a rare heart condition requiring emergency surgery – the TV host shared the news on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” Kimmel has since used his platform to discuss health care and the difficulties so many Americans have faced in accessing and affording health care. “No parent should have to decide if they can afford to save their child’s life,” he said in his May monologue.
Kimmel has also been a vocal opponent of efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, including the Graham-Cassidy bill, a now-defeated bill which Kimmel said failed the “Jimmy Kimmel test,” a term coined by Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), the bill’s author. The test was meant to ask if a child with a condition like Kimmel’s son could get everything they need in the first year of life. In a September monologue, Kimmel said:
Who would you add?