Among the more than 300,000 cases of Lyme disease every year, there are quite a few celebrities, including President George Bush, writer Alice Walker, world archery champion Mel Clarke, Brooke Landau, producer of the Today Show, and many more.
While some celebrities have been open about their experiences with Lyme disease, most have preferred to keep their illness from the public, which is understandable given the stigma associated with chronic Lyme. Those who have chosen to come forward and reveal their illness are champions for those who have lost the support of friends and physicians, many of whom still deny the realities of Lyme disease.
Amy Tan is a Chinese American writer whose work explores mother-daughter relationships and the Chinese American experience. Her best-known book is the The Joy Luck Club, a best-seller which has been translated into 35 languages. The book was adapted into a commercially successful film in the early 1990s.
Amy Tan contracted Lyme disease in 1999. On her blog, she writes about late-stage neuroborreliosis and how a tiny tick changed her life. At first, she attributed her symptoms to stress. As a best-selling author, she was leading a hectic life. But later, when the symptoms became more varied, she saw a psychiatrist who diagnosed her with anxiety and recommended a complete medical workup. After several batteries of tests revealed nothing specific, Ms. Tan was given antidepressants. By then, she was incapacitated and completely unable to write. Eventually, Ms. Tan came across an article on Lyme disease on the internet and located a doctor in California who ran a series of tests to check for Lyme disease and coinfections.
Amy Tan has now made a functional recovery. She has been taking antibiotics for seven years, and while they have restored her ability to write and to participate in life, she always keeps in mind that the bacteria are within her.
“As a Lyme patient,” she writes, “I have joined a club of people with a stigmatized disease that many doctors do not want to treat. While I have been lucky enough to find a doctor who is willing to provide open-ended treatment – and I have the means to pay for – many of my fellow Lyme patients have gone without appropriate care. As a consequence, they have lost their health, their jobs, their homes, their marriages, and even their lives. I now know the greatest harm borrelia has caused. It is ignorance.”
Meg Cabot is the best-selling author of over fifty books and is best known for The Princess Diaries, later made into two feature films. Her books have been the recipients of numerous awards, including the New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age, the American Library Association Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, and many more. There are more than 25 million copies of her books—children’s, young adult, and adult—in print worldwide.
Cabot was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2003 after several consults with physicians for “bizarre symptoms” (hair falling out, fatigue, wrist pain, weight gain). She counts herself “lucky” because she was diagnosed relatively quickly, and her case of Lyme was cured with antibiotics.
“It’s very important that people understand that only a small percentage of Lyme patients ever saw the “bull’s eye” rash (I didn’t) or even knew they’d been bitten by a tick (I never knew). Raising awareness amongst the medical community might prevent others from being told, the way I was, that they are suffering from “carpals,” “stress,” or, in one memorable case, “happy fat.” ~From Meg Cabot’s Meg’s Diary
Parker Posey is an American actress who has appeared in 32 independent films, including Personal Velocity, Basquiat, Clockwatchers, The Daytrippers, Party Girl, Best in Show, and The House of Yes.
She was diagnosed with Lyme disease in February 2009 and received the standard Lyme treatment of a round of antibiotics. After finishing her treatment, Posey’s symptoms returned, and she decided not to continue on a second round but instead turned to a holistic approach involving detoxification, diet and supplements.
“How can a natural approach to healing oneself be considered so unconventional?” she asked. “Why do we think we can’t play an active role in getting healthy? Why do we give ourselves away so easily to pharmaceuticals that deplete our system and confuse the natural healing process?”
Samantha “Sam” Stosur is an Australian pro tennis player. She is a former World Champion in doubles, a position she held for 61 weeks. Stosur also ranked #4 in singles. In 2011, she won the U.S. Open, defeating Serena Williams and becoming the first Australian woman since Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1980 to win a Grand Slam singles tournament.
Stosur had to withdraw from doubles competition in the World Tennis Association Championships in Madrid in 2007 and from the Olympics singles competition in 2008 due to Lyme disease. After receiving several misdiagnoses, Stosur was eventually treated successfully with antibiotics.
“On realising how dangerous Lyme can be I’m really glad I followed what the specialists told me and really took it slow to get back to normal,” she said. “I think the thing that helped me a lot is that I was in the USA when I was eventually diagnosed.”
Lyme disease is not yet recognized in Australia.
Hall & Oates is a fusion rock duo with a spate of No. 1 hits from the late ’70s to ’80s, including “Rich Girl”, “Kiss on My List”, “Private Eyes”, “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)”, “Maneater”, and “Out of Touch.” In total, they had 34 chart hits on the US Billboard Hot 100, seven RIAA platinum albums, and six RIAA gold albums. Billboard magazine named them the most successful duo of the rock era, surpassing The Everly Brothers.
In 2005, Hall & Oates had to cancel several performances when Daryl Hall started to experience flu-like symptoms. When he was diagnosed with Lyme, he said, “I remember thinking, ‘OK, now I know what I have; I have Lyme disease! Huh, that doesn’t sound so serious; now I just need to get rid of it.’ Let me tell you… I had no idea.”
He now must continually manage the disease. “Sometimes it doesn’t affect me at all, but then it comes back.”
Rebecca Wells is the best-selling author of the Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, made into a movie starring Sandra Bullock in 2002. She has been forced to cancel book tours and new releases due to Lyme disease.
Wells talks about her experience with Lyme on her website, saying that the disease has serious neurological symptoms for her and “affects the way I think, move, write, read, eat—every aspect of my life.”
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She had a difficult time getting the correct diagnosis: “Years went by in which I did not know what was wrong with me. I was told maybe I had a brain tumor, perhaps epilepsy.”
It was her 13th doctor who finally diagnosed her with Lyme disease.
Former model and Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Yolanda Foster also lives with chronic Lyme disease. Foster was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2012 and suffered a relapse in December 2014 which left her unable to read, write or even watch television.
On her blog, she writes: “I have lost the ability to read, write, or even watch TV, because I can’t process information or any stimulation for that matter. It feels like someone came in and confiscated my brain and tied my hands behind my back to just watch and see life go by without me participating in it.”
Recently, Foster traveled to Germany to receive treatments that are not available in the US.
“I am a determined warrior,” she says. “Getting well is my full-time job these days.”
Avril Lavigne is a popular Canadian singer and songwriter. Her career began at age 15, when she appeared on stage with Shania Twain. The following year she signed a two-album recording contract with Arista Records. And when she was 17 years old, she released her debut album “Let Go,” making her the youngest female soloist to reach number 1 in the UK. Since her debut, she has sold more than 30 million albums and over 50 million singles worldwide.
It took eight months for Lavigne to get diagnosed. “I went from doctor to doctor,” she said, “until I found somebody that had the knowledge of Lyme disease and the experience of treating it … There were definitely times I couldn’t shower for a full week because I could barely stand. It felt like having all your life sucked out of you.”
In 2005 Wyatt Sexton, quarterback for the Florida State Seminoles, was picked to be the number one draft choice for the NFL. Sexton’s career ended after police officers found him lying in the street and proclaiming himself as God. Sexton had already been suspended from the team due to erratic behavior in practice.
However, the “God” incident led to his indefinite suspension. He was then submitted to a prolonged battery of medical tests which ultimately revealed Lyme disease.
After receiving the diagnosis, Sexton announced that he would never play football again in order to concentrate on treating his disease. He still experiences neuropsychiatric symptoms of Lyme disease.
Jamie Lynn Sigler
Jamie Lynn Sigler is an American actress and singer. She is best known for her role as Meadow Soprano, daughter of Tony Soprano in the TV series The Sopranos.
Sigler contracted Lyme in 2008 in New Jersey and was hospitalized when her legs became paralyzed.
“It was such a life-altering experience,” she said. “I realized it could all be taken away in a moment.” Sigler was treated with antibiotics and recovered completely.
Alec Baldwin is a well-known American actor and producer. In 2003 he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in The Cooler.
While his film career has been long and illustrious, he is best known for his role as Jack Donaghy on the NBC sitcom 30 Rock, for which he won two Emmy Awards, three Golden Globe Awards, and seven Screen Actors Guild Awards. He is also a columnist for The Huffington Post.
Baldwin discussed his experience with chronic Lyme disease with NY Times columnist Sarah Maslin Nir. “At the same time of year,” he said. “I get really tired.”
Richard Gere is an American actor who has appeared in numerous blockbuster films.
His role in American Gigolo firmly established him as a romantic lead, and he went on to star in several hit films, including An Officer and a Gentleman, Pretty Woman, Primal Fear, Runaway Bride, and Chicago, which won him a Golden Globe Award as Best Actor, as well as a Screen Actors Guild Award as part of the Best Cast.
Gere had to delay filming Autumn in New York with Winona Ryder when he contracted Lyme.
“This is one scary disease,” he said. “I felt as though every ounce of strength had gone from my body. Within hours I could barely lift my head from the pillow.” He was diagnosed and treated quickly.
This article was first published on ProHealth.com on April 29, 2015 and was updated on May 16, 2021.