Never underestimate the impact of a celebrity revealing his or her own health malady.
To this day, I can still remember that then-first lady Betty Ford’s 1974 breast cancer diagnosis was the first time I’d ever heard of the disease — and I was 9 at the time. Indeed, the pioneering public health advocate also brought alcoholism and drug addiction into the mainstream, helping destigmatize these conditions as she sought treatment for them and later founded the famed Betty Ford Center.
So, I can’t help but applaud two A-listers — actor Ben Stiller and pop star Selena Gomez — for recently using their huge platforms to discuss their own health struggles in ways that could potentially help millions.
Last month, Stiller appeared on NBC’s “Today” show, telling host Matt Lauer that “I’m doing great” since being declared cancer-free after his 2014 prostate cancer diagnosis.
The 51-year-old’s appearance was a follow-up to the account he wrote on medium.com in October about his experience with the disease.
Stiller is well-versed on the controversies related to PSA testing, diagnosis, possible treatments, etc.
The medical community often provides conflicting information about what age to begin PSA testing (40? 50? It varies), as well as how to interpret PSA/Gleason scores and what the best course(s) of treatment are.
Stiller and his doctor (who appeared with him on “Today”) understand that the choice he made to have surgery might not be the right one for other people.
And while Stiller believes that “the best way to determine a course of action for the most treatable, yet deadly (prostate) cancer is to detect it early,” he has drawn some criticism – including for saying, “Taking the PSA test saved my life. Literally.”
As Kevin Lomangino, managing editor of Health News Review, wrote: “Stiller … makes a number of false or misleading assertions and fails to accurately reflect the evidence on prostate cancer screening. And because Stiller is smart, persuasive and famous, his skewed piece may do a great deal of harm to men who may be led astray by his faulty reasoning.”
Reasonable people can disagree on the merits of Stiller’s pronouncements. But what’s indisputable is that he has brought much-needed attention to a disease that all-too-many men avoid even discussing.
In August, Gomez canceled the remaining dates on her Revival Tour in order to check into a Tennessee rehab facility to be treated for mental health issues. The 24-year-old former Disney Channel star, who revealed last year that she suffers from lupus, told People magazine, “I’ve discovered that anxiety, panic attacks and depression can be side effects of lupus.”
Gomez is adored and admired by millennials the world over, so when she said, “I know I am not alone by sharing this, (and) I hope others will be encouraged to address their own issues,” then perhaps the tens of millions of youngsters affected by similar mental health conditions will feel less isolation and shame.
But it was her appearance at last month’s American Music Awards – where she was named Favorite Pop/Rock Female Artist – that Gomez made the kind of moving and heartfelt acceptance speech that’s destined to be a defining moment in her career.
After admitting that she had previously been “absolutely broken inside,” she told her fans, “I don’t know what I did to deserve you. But if you are broken, you do not have to stay broken.”
Steve Dorfman writes for The Palm Beach Post. Read more stories about baby boomers and their health at myPalmBeachPost.com/boomerhealth.