Before proceeding to my title’s promised list of celebrities, I’m sure many of you are wondering; “What is Crohn’s Disease?!” Crohn’s Disease is a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract, which I have personally been battling for 14 years now, that may affect as many as 700,000 Americans and belongs to to a group of conditions known as Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD, not to be confused with IBS).While symptoms vary from patient to patient and some may be more common than others, the tell-tale symptoms of Crohn’s Disease include symptoms related to inflammation of the GI tract, such as: Persistent Diarrhea, Rectal bleeding, Urgent need to move bowels, Abdominal cramps and pain, Sensation of incomplete evacuation, Constipation (can lead to bowel obstruction), as well as general symptoms that may also be associated with IBD: Fever, Loss of appetite, Weight Loss, Fatigue, and Night sweats. Crohn’s is a chronic disease, so this means patients will likely experience periods when the disease flares up and causes symptoms, potentially followed by periods of remission (or no presenting symptoms).
Men and Womyn are equally likely to be affected, and while the disease can occur at any age, Crohn’s is more prevalent among adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15 and 35. More information and support can be sourced from the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) website – check it out!
Here’s a quick lil’ breakdown of what’s actually going on: normally, the GI tract contains harmless bacteria, many of which aid in digestion. The immune system usually attacks and kills foreign invaders, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microorganisms. Under normal circumstances, the harmless bacteria in the intestines are protected from such an attack. In people with IBD, these bacteria are mistaken for harmful invaders and the immune system mounts a response. Cells travel out of the blood to the intestines and produce inflammation (a normal immune system response). However, the inflammation does not subside, leading to chronic inflammation, ulceration, thickening of the intestinal wall, and eventually causing patient symptoms. In other words: my superstar immune system is on overdrive, and counter-intuitively my treatments serve to dampen my immune system (which as you may imagine, causes a whole other set of health issues).
It is in honor of the fast-approaching fundraiser for the CCFA, Take Steps for a Cure Walk, that I write this article today! This year’s Honored Hero is Cassie Padilla, and I encourage anyone and everyone to join her team like I did! (Location: San Jose, Date/Time: May 2nd, 3 p.m., More info here: Take Steps Silicon Valley)
And on that note, please peruse this list of Celebrities who are also living with Crohn’s Disease, and see how they cope in everyday life and the spotlight, creating awareness and visibility for an illness that while pervasive, is still widely unknown or misunderstood…
1. Mike McCready (Pearl Jam)
(all photos for this article sources from: flickr.com unless otherwise noted)
McCready (K.I.T. @Twitter) is the lead guitarist for Pearl Jam, who still balances his rocking with his health. In 2007, he told BigButtRadio.com that he is blessed to make a living doing what he truly loves: “I went public with my condition to show people that despite the disease, you can still have a life and career,” he said in a statement. During a show McCready stated the following:
“My name’s Mike McCready and I suffer from Crohn’s disease.” Mike went on to tell the crowd about his 20-year battle with this chronic disease (that still has no cure), that causes extreme abdominal pain and attacks of diarrhea, that can force patients to go to the bathroom up to 20 times a day. “It could hit you at anytime” said Mike. He says there a million other Crohn’s sufferers out there and most get diagnosed at the most difficult time in their lives – the teenage years. “To have Crohn’s and have to deal with that on top of being a teenager and growing up, that’s a loaded deck,” he said. “Many patients initially think they have something that will go away and they actually get used to the symptoms.”
To raise awareness and funding to find a cure, Mike also participates in the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation’s annual “You Gotta Have Guts” run!
2. David Garrard
Jacksonville Jaguars starting quarterback David Garrard (K.I.T. @Twitter) has openly discussed in the media the beginnings signs of his Crohn’s Disease: severe stomach pains after meals alerted him that something was off in his body. In a 2005 interview with the New York Times, Garrard stated; “I just thought I had a stomach virus, it was three months before I asked anyone to check me out.” A very important point about Crohn’s Disease is highlighted here if one can begin to conceptualize the complications of having an illness whose symptoms mirror that of many other complications (many much less severe such as the flu or a virus), often this leads to serious complexities with initial diagnosis, as well as throughout the course of the chronic illness when various symptoms flare (and the patient is left to explore whether or not the root is connected to Crohn’s Disease or presenting as something else). Apparently Garrard was a candidate for surgery (not all Crohnie’s are), because in 2004 doctors (Gastroenterologists) removed 12 inches of his intestine and a subsequent treatment plan.
3. Shannon Doherty
Doherty (K.I.T. @Twitter) is certainly best known for teen drama “Beverly Hills, 90210” that shot this actress to fame status in the early 1990s – let’s also not forget her stint on “Charmed,” as well! Shannon told Star magazine in 1999 that she had been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, however, she has kept many of the details of her battle secret, reportedly claiming it’s not sexy for a woman to say, “I’ve got to go to the bathroom right now.” This quote also helps to highlight a true complexity of living with Crohn’s Disease as a womyn in a highly pressurized society, not just where norms and expectations for womyn’s bodies are just plain ridiculous, but also living in a culture that privatizes and dirties the very act of going to the bathroom (especially defecating) so deeply that it actually makes the most natural bodily function of every humyn into something one feels embarrassment or shame over – if the average humyn living in this society senses that restriction, try to just begin to imagine what that does to the psyche of a person whose whole life revolves around their bowels functioning (and to that note: have you noticed the ratio of men to womyn on this list?! My guess is that it has to do with famous womyn not wanting to reveal this secret – and I am sure that many more “celebrities” than these have Crohn’s but are not disclosing!
I am now recalling that tabloids of the past were constantly labeling Doherty with a ‘bad attitude’ or discussing her ‘intense demands’ – looking back on all that now, I can’t help but wonder if Shannon was just trying to cope with her painful and certainly unglamorous Crohn’s Disease amongst the world of idealized images of health, beauty, and glamor.
4. Thomas Menino
As a New Englander I only know this man by one title: Mayor Menino – Boston, Massachusetts’ longest-serving mayor. In 2004, doctors confirmed that Menino’s recurring intestinal complications were actually caused by Crohn’s Disease, after he fell ill post peanuts-and-Cracker Jack eating at a Red Sox game (yes, there’s a bad Crohn’s pun in there somewhere), and subsequently hospitalized for abdominal pain. Menino is most loved by me personally for championing legislative rights for Crohn’s Disease patients so that they may have access to ANY bathroom when needed in public (even at stores and restaurants who state they have no public bathrooms it is the law to allow a Crohn’s patient to use one). Words cannot describe how anxiety relieving this is for anyone who has to think constantly about where they can safely go to the bathroom in an urgent situation. i.e. every time I move to a new location – I begin my serious scope out for the best public bathrooms around, or for another example, in college, when I scoured the campus for the rare single-stalled facilities for more privacy (it may sounds humorous, but it’s honestly anything but when you are in extreme pain). Rest In Power, Mayor Menino, I was truly saddened when I learned of your passing (from Cancer, which also has a greater chance of developing in Crohn’s patients sadly). *It is also extremely important to note here that some Crohn’s patients who have undergone surgery to remove the diseased portions of their intestines (only some patients are eligible for this), live with an ostemy bag – which means they no longer use the toilet to defecate as they may no longer have the colon to do so. The ostemy bag is worn 24/7 and can bring its own source of pain and complications.
One way that the CCFA supports Crohn’s patients is by providing these cards to be used in times of bathroom need (although I must admit it has been very hard for me to rise above socially oppressive bathroom-line norms to do so):
5. Ben Morrison
For stand-up comedian and actor Morrison (K.I.T @Twitter), gut-wrenching pain and extreme diarrhea are more than symptoms, they’re comedic material. His one-man show entitled, “Pain in the Butt,” explores what Ben calls “the lighter side of Crohn’s disease.” Morrison, who can also be seen on MTV’s “Punk’d” and NBC’s “Last Comic Standing,” was diagnosed with Crohn’s in his senior year of high school. (*This adolescent onset is certainly a trend amongst this celebrity list that does speak to the real-life frequent onset period. Personally, I was diagnosed at age 14 during my freshman year of high school, which felt like the absolute worst convergence of time and space to become afflicted with something so painful carrying such secrecy and shame so I can relate to what Morrison must have had to endure in school, but is is more difficult for me to relate Ben’s ability to make such blatant humor out of the situation (although it is clear he based his life’s work/passion around his illness, as I am doing becoming a Somatic Psychotherapist).
6. Daryl Palumbo (Glassjaw)
Daryl Palumbo (K.I.T. @Twitter) is the singer for the hardcore New York band “Glassjaw,” and truly an underground icon. It isn’t hard to wonder if Glassjaw’s debut album, “Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Silence,” is partially driven from of the anger of suffering from Crohn’s Disease. About the album, Palumbo has said, “A big part of what the record is about is about being happy with the body that God has given me. I’m getting better. It’s a matter of not knowing my place in the world and not knowing my place in my body. I’m not exactly the most positive person in the world, but it’s important for me to share this experience with people,” the frontman believes. “I know what I wish I could have heard when I was diagnosed with this incredibly serious disease. I know what it feels like to be alone in a hospital room. I’m just a f**kin’ 20 year old dork, but if I can make people feel less alone, that’s important.” The band have been forced to cancel their 2003 European tour due to Daryl Palumbo being taken ill.
Who besides me remembers the catchy techno-esque beats that arouse out of beautiful Anastacia (K.I.T. @Twitter) in the early 2000’s when her album “Not That Kind,” was released?! I remember finding out as a newly-diagnosed adolescent, that she had Crohn’s too; the power of seeing such a vivacious and talented womyn represent for my community brought me (and still brings me) so much joy! During her life Anastacia has battled numerous health problems including being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at age 13, and breast cancer at age 34 (neither of which she kept hidden from the public). In fact, in October of 2013, to coincide with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Anastacia informed the media that she had undergone a double mastectomy. In recognition of her decade-long charitable efforts in breast cancer awareness, she became only the second woman to be presented with the Humanitarian Award at the GQ Men of the Year Awards in 2013 (rock the fuck on you Warrior Womyn)! Excitingly, Anastacia is about to launch her Resurrection Tour 2015 – tickets can be purchased HERE!
(photo source: http://www.empireonline.com)
What wasn’t widely known about this cult classic of a movie is that the writer of the script for the 70’s cult class, “Alien,” (O’Bannon, who died in 2009) battled Crohn’s disease himself. According to a recent book by colleague Zinoman; “The digestion process felt like something bubbling inside of [O’Bannon] struggling to get out. From his own torment came the idea for the alien bloodily punching its way out of John Hurt’s chest during dinner.” THERE YOU HAVE IT DEAR READERS, THE BEST DESCRIPTION OF CROHN’S PAIN I HAVE EVER BEEN PROVIDED WITH AND A LOVELY LASTING VISUAL FOR YOU ALL: AN ALIEN PUNCHING ITS WAY OUT OF MY GUT!