Angelina, Celebs Share Stories to Advance Health Awareness

Doctors are 'okay,' but sometimes a celebrity's face gets the public's attention

Posted Feb 20, 2013

Doctor, Doctor…is there a celebrity in the house?

It would be nice to think that as people see their parents, grandparents, siblings and loved ones suffer and die from diabetes, cancer, substance abuse and more, that they'd be motivated to take preventive measures to improve their own health. Or to get their routine annual wellness exam. Or to get the necessary tests done on time. But that doesn’t always happen.

Sometimes people need a nudge. Many times the use of a “brand name” or celebrity’s face can play a significant role. That's when stories like Angelina Jolie's revelation of her double mastectomy can help.

Does our society rely too much on the power of celebrity? In many instances, yes. Many times celebrities and athletes are called “heroes,” while firemen, policemen, teachers and health professionals get hardly any recognition at all and/or have to fight to get fair compensation for their life-saving efforts and heroics toward their fellow man.

But as Americans live longer, there are more potential years to not only live, but also to get a disease…and no one is immune. Not even celebrities.

Fortunately, many celebrities have lent their voice to increasing awareness of illnesses that have affected them or their loved ones. A short list of some of these health-advocate personalities and their specific causes include:

Colon cancer: Many remember that Katie Couric was very instrumental in increasing awareness of colon cancer and the importance of getting a colonoscopy. In fact, the incidence of colon cancer has decreased a bit, and many give credit to Couric’s public efforts.

Breast cancer: Andrea Mitchell (of MSNBC) and Giuliana Rancic shared their stories, as have so many others.

Ethnic Health Disparities

Given that Hispanics and especially Blacks carry the highest rate of acquiring many diseases, and suffer the worst prognosis for many killer diseases, getting the message out truly requires ‘all hands on deck.’ Too often Blacks rely only on prayer for their healing, and they do so to the exclusion of seeking professional medical services. (For sure it's time to change the history of minority health.) Fortunately many Black celebrities have shared their medical challenges in an attempt to encourage others of all races to do the same. Being that Blacks better receive health information when provided by someone of their same race, this may be helpful. Some examples are:

Hoda Kotb of NBC’s Today Show increased awareness of breast cancer, as did entertainer Diahann Carroll many years before. Robin Roberts and others have also gone public with their medical conditions and have served as good examples of courage and survival. (In fact, Robin Roberts returned to Good Morning America this week after a quite serious health challenge due to the treatment she received to treat her cancer.)

Mental and Social Issues

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD): In July 2011 the NFL’s Brandon Marshall revealed that he has Borderline Personality Disorder. As a Black female, a Christian, a physician, and as one who knows someone who also has BPD, I found Marshall’s revelation a most exemplary and courageous move. For one, he is a professional football player; this implies strength and machismo. Secondly, he is a Christian. In the Black community, it is extremely difficult to get people--and especially people of faith--to address mental illness. I often tell people that “the potential for illness doesn’t stop at the neck.”

Marshall has become an advocate for increasing awareness of BPD and has worked closely with the NEABPD as he also prepares for a documentary about his journey before and after his diagnosis.

Domestic Violence Awareness has been an interest of MSNBC anchor Tamron Hall after her sister, Renate, was a victim of domestic violence and lost her life in 2004. Hall works with Day One, a New York City organization that works to increase the risk of domestic violence.

Depression: Comedian David Letterman recently addressed his bouts with depression, as did Michelle Williams of Destiny's Child. LL Cool J has occasionally talked about being emotionally abused as a child.

Of course, not all celebrities wish to share their private travails. The late Donna Summer died of lung cancer last year and, as publicly reported, only a handful of her family knew about her diagnosis and near-terminal condition. Many—especially those of us who knew her (her late sister was one of my best friends in Boston)—feel this was a lost opportunity, not only to her fans and what help she could have given to the public, but also to her family who were denied the opportunity to share with her in her last year of life. But as reported, Donna didn’t want people to know that she smoked cigarettes, so she chose to remain mum about the lung cancer. That was her choice, and we all must decide what works best for us.

In a world where entertainers are quite visible promoting fragrances or fashions, it is good to see so many lend their voice to important causes that can help not just beautify, but actually better—improve—the lives of others. Given the statistics in some populations, anyone who can increase awareness of health issues is welcome to the table. Let their example encourage others to seek help for conditions head-to-toe. Be Healthy, Be Blessed and make sure you are Living Well!

New E-Book: First Do No Harm: How to Heal Your Relationships Using the Wisdom of Professional Caregivers. (Dozens of quick-read 'pearls of wisdom' for healthy relationships)

Living Well...: The Woman's Guide to Health Sex and Happiness, with a foreword by Pauletta Washington, wife of Academy Award winner, Denzel Washington; and endorsed by psychologist Dr. Jeff Gardere and others. The book includes current comparative data for Black, White, Hispanic, Asian and Native American women. The book also addresses the effects of negative stereotypes. (print and eBook).

Copyright 2013 Dr. Melody T. McCloud. All rights reserved. Feel free to share this post on your social network pages, with author credit; and join me on Twitter: @DrMelodyMcCloud.

Melodies of the Heart: Poems of Life & Love (eBook with poems about love, faith, sex, death and more)

Medical Bloopers! Amusing & Amazing Stories of Health Care Workers (foreword by Dr. Neil Shulman, author of Doc Hollywood). (A book of medical humor, now as an eBook)

About the Author

Melody T. McCloud, M.D., is an obstetrician-gynecologist and the author of First Do No Harm: How to Heal Your Relationships Using the Wisdom of Professional Caregivers.

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