Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Celebrity Effect on Healthcare

Note: This is an expanded version of a blog entry I wrote for our work blog. Yay self-plagiarism!)

For those of you who don't kn
ow, I write for a healthcare magazine. Every day at work, I spend a lot of time reading new healthcare articles, studies, etc. And something I've noticed is what an impact a celebrity diagnosis can have on healthcare.

It seems if a celebrity or her loved one is diagnosed with an illness, it tends to get a lot of ink or television exposure.

For example, Jenny McCarthy has been talking about autism--her son Evan has the disorder. She's even written a book, called Louder Than Words: A Mother's Journey in Healing Autism, about her experiences.

McCarthy believes a vaccination Evan received caused his autism, and she's been speaking out about vaccines. On June 4 she led, along with boyfriend Jim Carrey, the Green Our Vaccines march in Washington, DC.

It is wonderful McCarthy is taking a stand and starting a conversation about autism--especially because her celebrity gives her the ability to, while many other mothers do not have the fame, and therefore the power, to make their cause known. But stances celebrities take and things they say about a disease can have a major impact.

There hasn't been any research firmly proving certain vaccinations cause autism, and the questionable substance in the vaccines has been removed. McCarthy and Carey's rally called for "national health agencies to reassess mandatory vaccine schedules," according to Fox News. If this influences health agencies to do so, will children be missing out on necessary vaccines?

Right after I posted the blog entry at work, Tim Russert tragically and suddenly passed away. Even though his death of course devastated his family, who were all just on vacation in Europe celebrating his son's graduation, and all other Meet the Press fans, it may have done some good for the American people. My coworker found a story reporting physicians are seeing more middle-age patients coming in concerned about their heart health after Russert's death from cardiac arrest. Sounds like his tragedy has been a wake-up call for many people.

Lastly, the case that, to me, is the most important: Senator Ted Kennedy's recent brain cancer diagnosis. About a month ago, Sen. Kennedy discovered he had a malignant glioma. He has since had a successful surgery

After his diagnosis, I saw a massive amount of articles and information about brain cancer on the Internet. What is it, survival rates, how it affects a patient, new trials and therapies that are being tested.

This is all close to my heart -- for those of you who don't know, my mother was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, the most aggressive type of brain cancer, in spring 2007. (We're pictured below in my girl-mullet days. She swore to me it was not a mullet, but I beg to differ. Eeep!) It has been quite the rollercoaster ride for my family and I. My mom also had a very successful surgery (85-90% of her tumor was removed), last summer she had radiation treatments, and she is just finishing up a year-long round of chemo. Her tumor has not grown since the surgery; however, her quality of life has gone downhill. Post surgery, she was walking, cooking, even driving herself to her radiation appointments. Because of a few major setbacks, including a brain hemorrhage last August, she can no longer walk on her own or basically take care of herself. Her personality has changed too -- she is not the chatty mom I grew up with. Although she is always pleasant, I miss the mom I could talk to for hours. Obviously, this disease is extremely tragic and one that was previously not highlighted in the media. Brain cancer is rare, although gliomas are the most common type.

Back to Sen. Kennedy: I truly feel for him and his family -- I know what they are going through and how scary it is. However, I'm grateful his diagnosis brought about more publicity and public awareness of this horrible illness.

But my question is -- why is this what it takes to get brain cancer in the mainstream media? Why does it take a celeb's diagnosis to bring any disease "into the spotlight?" So many commonfolk suffer daily from a variety of serious ailments, and if they are rare, sometimes it takes a celeb to get the disease its "time to shine."
to remove the tumor, and is expected to start treatments shortly.

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