20 Celebrity Health Struggles

Meet the stars who put a public face on many of our private health conditions

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Jennie Garth

This Beverly Hills 90210 alum says she began getting migraines as a young adult but wasn’t diagnosed until her early 20s. She recently teamed up with Excedrin Migraine to spread awareness of the condition, which she still suffers from. “My migraines are definitely stress-related and sometimes environmental related,” says Garth. “I’m very sensitive to bright lights and a lot of sun—that kind of thing can trigger a headache from me.”

Glenn Harris / PR Photos

Shannon Miller

Ovarian cancer can strike anyone, even former Olympic champions, as Shannon Miller found out during a routine exam in December 2010. Her doctor found a baseball-sized growth on her ovary, which turned out to be a malignant germ cell tumor. Miller credits her business for saving her life: “I have my own health and fitness company called Shannon Miller Lifestyle. It offers healthy lifestyle tips and information through my website and my weekly radio show. I was about to cancel my routine exam but had been recently interviewing physicians for my site. With their voices in my head, I said ‘Just keep the appointment.’”

Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins

Before T-Boz was a Grammy Award-winning singer and a member of the all-female hip/hop group TLC, she was a child with sickle-cell anemia—a disorder in which the body makes disc-shaped red blood cells that tend to block blood flow, causing pain, infections and organ damage. Then in 2006, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. “I’ve been through a lot with sickle-cell, but my recovery from the brain tumor was THE hardest thing,” says Watkins. “I’m proud of myself for seeing this through and to be here for my daughter. You have to make a commitment to yourself and that was important to me.”

Janet Mayer / Photorazzi

Fran Drescher

Known for her no-nonsense attitude as The Nanny, Fran Drescher took the same approach with her health. "I had staining between periods and cramping after sex,” says Dresher. “But every doctor I went to thought I was perimenopausal, because nothing showed up on my ultrasounds, pelvic exams or blood tests." After two years—and eight doctors—she was finally diagnosed with uterine cancer. "Nobody knows your body better than you," says Drescher. "Remember back in the days, you know, way back in the 20th century, when you went to your doctor, listed your symptoms and let them take over from there? Well, those days are over. Now, you have to do your own research too. You have to be more of a partner when you see your physician." Drescher describes how she beat the disease in her 2002 book Cancer Schmancer.

Glenn Harris / Photorazzi

Venus Williams

The tennis community was stunned earlier this year when Venus Williams dropped out of the U.S. Open after revealing she was diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease often characterized by dry eyes and fatigue. Although there is no cure for Sjogren’s, Williams is confident that she’ll return to tennis. In an interview on Good Morning America she said, “I think this will help me to feel grateful for everything that I have, but at the same time it makes me get up and want to fight harder every single day.”

Paul Froggatt / PR Photos

Jennifer Grey

Jennifer Grey may be best remembered for her dance moves in the 1987 film Dirty Dancing, but that year also marked another landmark in her life: the beginning of her struggle with chronic pain. The onset occurred when she suffered severe whiplash in a car accident and then continued to get worse. “I just accepted it as a problem,” Grey tells Ladies Home Journal. It wasn’t until they asked me to do Dancing With The Stars that I went to my doctor. I realized I was not in control of my pain, I was at the whim of it.” Grey still has pain but has learned how to manage it.  “I use exercise. I do a lot of mindfulness meditation and massage. But that’s what works for me. Everyone is different,” she says.

Sylvain Gaboury / PR Photos

Kim Kardashian

During a July 2011 episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, cameras followed Kim Kardashian to the dermatologist where she found on that the rash on her legs was actually a symptom of psoriasis, an autoimmune disorder that causes skin cells to build up rapidly on the surface of the skin. Kardashian was familiar with the condition: Her mother, Kris Jenner, was diagnosed with it at age 30. “People don't understand the pressure on me to look perfect," Kardashian said on the show. "When I gain a pound, it's in the headlines. Imagine what the tabloids would do to me if they saw all these spots?” A month later, in true Kardashian fashion, she tweeted this pic of a heart-shaped psoriasis patch.

Andrew Evans / PR Photos

Christy Turlington

Emphysema is not just for the elderly. In 2000, a 31-year-old Christy Turlington announced that she was in an early stage of the lung disease, although she gave up smoking five years prior. "Generally they don't make this kind of discovery until you are much older,” says Turlington. “The really frightening thing is that there was enough of an effect from my smoking that it caused permanent damage." According to the same press release, Turlington gave up cigarettes three years before her father, Dwain, died of smoking-related lung cancer in 1997. Since then she has been an avid anti-smoking advocate.

Wild1 / PR Photos

Elisabeth Hasselbeck

The average length of time between onset of symptoms and the diagnosis of celiac disease—an autoimmune disorder triggered by the consumption of the protein gluten—has decreased from 9 years for patients diagnosed prior to 1990 to 4.4 years for patients who were diagnosed after 1993, according to The Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University. For Elisabeth Hasselbeck it took a decade. In 2003, Hasselbeck adopted a gluten-free diet—the only known way to manage the disease—and then wrote about it in her 2009 book The G-Free Diet. “It's a good-news diet,” Hasselbeck told EverydayHealth.com. “It's not so much about removing something. It's about replacing it with something better.”

matt carr

Shannen Doherty

Save for a 1999 interview in Star magazine, Shannen Doherty hasn’t been very vocal about her battle with Crohn’s disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disorder that can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea and even malnutrition. She reportedly told the magazine, “It can kind of mess with you. There's nothing sexy about women saying: ‘I've got to go to the bathroom right now.’”

Sylvain Gaboury / PR Photos

Melissa Etheridge

Every since this Grammy Award-winning vocalist was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer in 2004, she has been championing the cause—perhaps most poignantly when she took the stage at the 2005 Grammy Awards bald from chemotherapy to perform “Piece of My Heart” as a tribute to Janis Joplin. Etheridge told More  that being diagnosed with and surviving breast cancer transformed her outlook on life and spirituality. In a more recent interview she added: “I found it to be the most freeing and empowering experience I have ever been through.”

Serena Burla

In 2010, elite distance runner Serena Burla was shocked to find out that her chronically tight and painful right hamstring wasn’t due to inflammation, bursitis or even a muscle tear but synovial sarcoma, a cancer that attacks soft tissue. Even worse, the tumor and part of her hamstring—which would never grow back—would have to be removed. Neither Burla nor her doctors knew whether she would run again. But two months after a successful operation she resumed training. Two months after that she returned to racing. And then in November she ran her first marathon in New York City and placed 19th overall. Next up? The Olympic marathon trials in January. “There was a fleeting moment when I was first diagnosed when I questioned, Why my leg?” says Burla. “But the answer slapped me in the face instantaneously. Had the tumor not been in my leg, it would have been ignored and chances are the diagnosis would have been too late. Running saved my life.”

Victah Sailer/Mizuno

Sharon Osbourne

Here’s another celebrity health struggle caught on tape: When Sharon Osbourne was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2003 she kept the cameras of her family’s reality show, The Osbournes, rolling. “People don't want to discuss colon cancer,” says Osbourne. “I didn't know anything about a colon before I was diagnosed.” In fact, she says she would have never gone in for a colonoscopy if not for her husband’s urging. Now she says she knows that “there is nothing to be embarrassed about and you have to go and be checked. You can save your own life.”

Albert L. Ortega / PR Photos

Toni Braxton

In 2009, Toni Braxton revealed that her brother suffers from systemic lupus erythematosus—a chronic autoimmune disorder that can affect the skin, joints, kidneys, brain and other organs—and that her uncle died from complications of the disease. Although she had received the same diagnosis a year earlier, she didn’t talk about it until 2010. In an interview with More, Braxton describes how it affected her: “I was so fearful,” she says. “I think there was so much fear in me that I couldn’t go anywhere. I was even afraid to breathe. If I felt a thump in my chest, I thought I was having a heart attack. If I couldn’t move my muscles and/or my body, I would think, ‘Am I going to die today?’” Surprisingly, help came by way of the TV show Dancing With the Stars. “I was on the verge of severe depression and doing the show pushed me out of that state of mind,” says Braxton of her decision to be a contestant.

Chris Ragazzo for WE tv

Giuliana Rancic

Earlier this month the 36-year-old E! News host revealed on The Today Show that she has breast cancer. It was found during a mammogram that her fertility doctor urged her to get. “He said, ‘I don't care if you're 26 or 36, but I will not get you pregnant if possibly there's a small risk that you have cancer because the hormones will accelerate the cancer,’” said Rancic. “I never in my wildest dreams expected anything would be wrong.” A few days after her announcement, Rancic underwent a double lumpectomy as part of her treatment. She hasn’t give up hope on having a baby. “That baby will have saved my life,” she says.

PRN / PR Photos

Halle Berry

Halle Berry was a healthy 22 year old working on the TV show Living Dolls when she collapsed into what she would later learn was a seven-day diabetic coma. Although type 2 diabetes—a chronic condition in which there are high levels of sugar in the blood—typically affects overweight adults, Berry may have been at a higher risk because of her African American heritage. “Diabetes turned out to be a gift,” she says. “It gave me strength and toughness because I had to face reality, no matter how uncomfortable or painful it was.”

PR Photos

Mary Tyler Moore

Around the same time that her eponymous show debuted, 33-year-old Mary Tyler Moore was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease in which the pancreas stop producing insulin. In 2009, nearly 40 years later, she chronicled her experiences with the disease in the book, Growing Up Again. Moore told USA Today that taking ownership of her diabetes, after many years of sidelining it and living a life that included stress and heavy social drinking and smoking, helped her grow up and learn to rely on herself. “I've always been independent,” she said. “I've always had courage. But I didn't always own my diabetes.”

Tom Walck / Photorazzi

Barbara Walters

Last year Barbara Walters made a surprise announcement on The View that she needed to undergo surgery to replace a “faulty heart valve.” Eighty years old at the time, Walters reportedly told ABC Senior Health and Medical Editor Richard Besser, MD, that an echocardiogram scan of her heart revealed that her valves were "getting tighter and smaller." According to Walters, she had known about the condition for some time but planned the surgery for the summer so she could recuperate.

Sylvain Gaboury / PR Photos

Amanda Peet

In 2008, actress Amanda Peet revealed in a Gotham magazine interview that she suffered “a fairly serious postpartum depression” following the birth of her daughter Frances. According to People.com, Peet says the eurphoria of being pregnant “all came crashing down” the second Frances was born, leaving her feeling severely sleep deprived and ambivalent about motherhood. “I want to be honest about it because I think there’s still so much shame when you have mixed feelings about being a mom instead of feeling this sort of ‘bliss,’" said Peet. “I think a lot of people still really struggle with that, but it’s hard to find other people who are willing to talk about it.”

RD / Orchon / Retna Digital

Stacy Lewis

If you haven’t heard of Stacy Lewis, you will soon. Earlier this year the 26-year-old professional golfer won her first “major” tournament in only her third year on the tour. But what’s even more remarkable is that Stacy suffers from scoliosis, an excessive curvature of the spine. After being diagnosed at age 11, Lewis wore a back brace 18 hours a day or more—only taking it off to play golf—for seven and a half years. At age 18, once she stopped growing and got out of the brace, a surgeon implanted a rod and five screws into her back to stop the disease from progressing. “Every day,” Lewis said, “I'm grateful for being able to play.”


Next: Role Reversal: Dramatic Celebrity Weight Changes


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First Published October 27, 2011

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