Friday, September 9, 2011

Venus: Helping or Hurting?

Recently, tennis phenom/businesswoman Venus Williams openly discussed her diagnosis of Sjogrens disease, (pronounced 'show-grins'.) Sadly, another autoimmune disease that goes under the radar...thankfully another African American bringing a spotlight to this "mysterious" condition that affects millions of people.
When I heard Ms. Williams was going to sit down for an interview on Good Morning America about an autoimmune condition...I was excited (not that Venus had a chronic condition, but curious as to how she would present it.)

Many high profile people play down their autoimmune diseases/conditions the same reason others with chronic illnesses shy away from it: we don't fully understand what these conditions do to the body, it takes forever to get a clear understanding as to what is going on, and so on. One can easily get understanding and sympathy for cancers and heart diseases and eating disorders; but autoimmune disease...*crickets*
People like Kathleen Turner and Phil-Mickelson have painted a distorted picture of how people cope with these conditions, so I had my fingers crossed watching GMA: ('Please, please don't down play your condition, not too many 'sistas' speak up about their condition...don't make us sound like wack-jobs!')

So with my full attention, I watched Venus' interview and Dr. Richard Besser's overview of Sjogrens; I can't speak for anyone else, but I felt empty (yet hopeful...for Venus.)
When asked about Sjogrens, Venus gave the best description she could, which was rather vague. In between the idle chit chat about this serious issue, Venus was asked over and over about her return to the tennis court; without hesitation, Venus said she will return and triumph over Sjogrens.

I was first thankful that Venus made the choice to speak up (although, I don't think she had much of a choice. She was more in the spotlight due to the U.S. Open and she had to address it before the press put some crazy spin on it.)
Venus is what we call "a brickhouse"  (a curvy, yet fit so many words.) Venus, along with her sister are just as infamous for their physique than their skills.
People who aren't familiar with autoimmune diseases are quick to attack/blame people's weight or lifestyle as reason for their condition; not to say a healthy weight and lifestyle aren't important, but celebrities like Toni Braxton and Venus have shown the general public that anyone's body can turn against them at anytime.

Secondly, I was kind of bummed that Venus' career was more of the focus than the diagnosis: Venus has been going through a six year journey with her health and her life has now totally changed but the primary question was about tennis. Going back to the previous comment, Venus just found out about her condition and had to address the media due to her decision not to participate in the U.S. Venus had a lot to deal with within a few weeks time. 'Private citizens' have the option of opening up about chronic conditions and thankfully we don't have to deal with the scrutiny of the media watching our every move.

Lastly, I am hopeful. Venus has an opportunity to bring much needed attention to this condition (and other conditions that mimic Sjogrens, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.) I hope that she will take time to learn more about this disease and  help spread awareness in ways we can't, yet.
So, is Venus hurting the cause? Absolutely not. Is she helping? Her total impact isn't known yet, but she has certainly drawn attention to the matter (if only for a week or two.) All a spoonie needs is a foot in the door, just as long as the door doesn't crush or foot! *wink*

Best wishes, Venus!

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