A post has gone viral in recent days, feverishly declaring that “Lady Gaga Has RA!” “Lady Gaga Reveals She Has Rheumatoid Arthritis” and “Pop Star Lady Gaga Opens Up About Life With Rheumatoid Arthritis.”
Except … she never specifically revealed that she has it.
I admit that I was guilty of initially, (hesitantly) sharing it with a disclaimer, basically saying: “guys, I haven’t heard this elsewhere, so we don’t know if this is true.” Even when I sent the link to my husband and mom, I did so with trepidation: my gut was telling me: POSSIBLE FAKE NEWS.
Now, I’m not a person who cries “fake news” at anything I may disagree with. However, I’m a writer and a freelance reporter. I felt in my gut that something was off.
First, I couldn’t find an independently confirmed source to back up the fact that Gaga “has RA.” I kept cautioning my followers on Twitter and Facebook to just wait until the entire article was available for someone to read and confirm.
After all, all of the articles I could find about it were basically recycled versions of the same original post, which was being reported off a tweet, which — and here’s the kicker — only showed the magazine cover where it *appears* that she said she was fighting RA.
I’ll give all of the outlets that reported on it some credit: the Arthritis Health Monitor cover does, in fact, make it look like Gaga is saying that she “fought RA pain with [her] passion.”
I’ll also give Arthritis Health Monitor magazine the benefit of the doubt and assume that this poor headline/quote placement was the unintentional result of some poor layout design/bad proofreading. Hey — we all make mistakes, and as a writer and proofreader, I’ve made plenty.
If it was deceptive placement — well, that’s a whole other issue, and one that would be really unfortunate because the people who were duped were not just media outlets but also the arthritis community and Gaga’s “Little Monsters.”
Here’s the thing: we don’t KNOW that she *doesn’t’* have RA. She might. She just never explicitly said that she did.
I read the actual article inside, and not just the cover. The quotes attributed to Gaga did not mention rheumatoid arthritis. Her hip injury and hip surgery was discussed. Chronic pain was discussed. And we know from past interviews that she’s been open about a borderline-positive lupus diagnosis, as well as struggles with PTSD, anxiety, depression, and more. (Including synovitis, which I wrote about here.) Also, she could have osteoarthritis from overuse (example: years of dancing and performance injuries.)
But, nowhere in this article does it explicitly say that Lady Gaga has RA or that she “revealed” or “confirmed” anything.
Now, it’s up to you if you want to infer or imply that she does have RA.
I, for one, just want my readers and friends and fellow patients/Gaga fans to know that I cannot confirm that she does. Until I can corroborate that she truly has it or not, I’m going to leave it as this:
No, Lady Gaga did not confirm that she has RA.
That is between Gaga and her doctors. We may never know and that is okay.
I said the same thing about Selena Gomez when her lupus rumors first began: celebrities are people too and are allowed to go public/open up about their diagnosis in their own time, on their own terms…if they want to. We are not entitled to know every bit of their lives, and although I love when they choose to use their platforms for advocacy and awareness, I also understand if they want to keep their illness private. Medical diagnoses are personal.
I’ve also discussed the dangers of making fun of, mocking, or belittling a celebrity’s health issues, from Hillary Clinton to Kim Kardashian and beyond. And I’ve thanked celebrities, including Gaga, for speaking out.
This brings me to my next point, (and I say what follows not with judgement but with kind yet detached observation. It’s just my own personal opinion and you may feel free to disagree.)
This is the point that celebrities are people too. In the 24-48 hours that folks thought Gaga had RA, I saw some pretty interesting responses. Many people were very excited to see such a mega-star coming out with a diagnosis that is sometimes stigmatized or miscategorized. A lot of RA patients also thought, however, that someone as seemingly-fit, active, busy, and athletic as Gaga having RA would somehow be a bad thing for the RA community, and hurt us as patients, because it might make those who are more disabled than her (less fit, less active, less busy, less athletic) seem lazy or “less-than.”
To me, this isn’t true. As I always say, all of our individual journeys are unique. No two people’s bodies, situations, or circumstances are the same — even with the same diagnosis. So we should heed caution when we begin competing and comparing. I personally know folks with rheumatoid arthritis who are super-active: one young woman who does marathons and a young man who competes on American Ninja Warrior. I’ve read about RA’ers who are: horseback riders, triathletes, dancers, beauty queens, actors, fashion designers, golfers, surfers, mountain climbers, and weight lifters.
But … I’ve also met and read about folks with RA who are extremely disabled, walking with a cane, needing multiple joint replacements, suffering heart and lung damage, using a wheelchair, and more.
These illnesses can be on a spectrum and can even ebb and flow and lull and flare within one patient’s lifetime. At my best, I’ve worked out 2x/day and was med-free for 2 years while in remission. During this time I competed in a kettlebell competition, did Zumba and HIIT workouts regularly, and sometimes did two-a-days at the gym. Now, I’m having my knee totally replaced and contemplating a foot surgery and wondering how I’m even going to walk on an upcoming vacation. There are days that I can barely walk, drive, cook, or type.
So I, like so many of you, know that these illnesses can hit someone hard one day or one year, and then they may have a day or a year where they’re doing pretty well. We don’t know what anyone — celebrity or not — has to fight through in order to make it through the day. Plus, they have unique demands that most of us could not understand, just as they may not understand our daily struggles.
Say that Lady Gaga does have RA: could you imagine the immense pressure she would be under to deliver a performance at the Super Bowl and embark upon a World Tour? I say we cut her some slack for trying everything known to man to help ease her chronic pain, no matter the cost: I would do that, too!
That’s my final point: people have belabored the fact that somehow Gaga is “lucky” because she is rich. Well, yes. Wouldn’t we all love to be rich? She is lucky because she has certain advantages and benefits in terms of finances and resources that most of us could never even dream of … but let me tell you that I don’t think for a minute that anyone who lives with these diseases is really “lucky,” at least not in terms of their health. RA and chronic pain don’t discriminate — and they don’t care if you are rich or poor, or young or old. Of course it would help to be as rich as she is, to see the very best doctors and have the very best therapies at her fingertips. Of course, people who are struggling to keep working or to afford healthcare or their medications are in a far worse off position. I’m not denying that fact or the fact that privilege exists in many ways and on many levels in this world: but to me, that doesn’t mean that living with RA would be easy.
Easier? Yes. She’s rich. She’s famous. She’s beautiful. She’s white. She came from money. So, yes. She will have it a little easier in some ways. But easy? No.
Pain is pain. And the advantages she has in life — her privilege, that I’m sure she acknowledges exists — well, it doesn’t erase pain, and it doesn’t mean that anyone should be denied empathy and compassion. I would extend the same compassion to stars like Selena Gomez and Lady Gaga as I would to any other person off the street — of any gender, color, race, sexual orientation, political party, religion, or socioeconomic background.
And you know what? I’ll say this too. No matter which form of chronic pain Lady Gaga has, I can’t blame her for using her money to try everything she can to feel better and be healthier and more comfortable, because I do the exact same thing, albeit on a much smaller scale. It’s all relative: we all do as much as we can to feel as well as we can, given the income and the resources that we have. And all any of us — rich and famous, or not — can do is to just try our best.
I think that if Lady Gaga does have rheumatoid arthritis that she’ll eventually speak out about it: I just don’t know that this article was it. My personal opinion is that she’d be an amazing advocate for all of us. I think she’d be open to advocating for the cause and donating money to it, too. She may even sing about it! In fact, her song Born This Way helped me through a very difficult time with my health as I dealt with brain and neck surgery (something I write about in my humorous health memoir Sick Idiot – in fact I have a chapter devoted to Lady Gaga and Oprah.)
Lady Gaga has been a role model of mine for speaking out on issues like lupus, for being a political activist, and for showing kindness and compassion to all of her fans, as well as using her fame for good, like with her Born This Way Foundation and Channel Kindness initiative. (Disclaimer: I also think she’s absolutely amazing in general, one of the most talented performers/artists of our time … and she’s one of my favorite singers/people ever, but that’s neither here nor there.)
All I can say, at the risk of sounding preachy (sorry!), is that folks on social media (myself included) should use discretion when sharing news articles *ESPECIALLY* about an issue so personal and important as a person’s health and their diagnosis. This is why I was so skeptical and hesitant about discussing the Gaga/RA speculation.
And I’d also encourage that we at least try to understand that “stars” are only human, too, some dealing with the same battles we do — and while their battles may look a little different than ours, we are ALL fighting the good fight together. So let’s be kind to one another and spread a little love, or, as Lady Gaga a.k.a. Joanne would say … “channel kindness!”
I’ll leave you tonight by saying that I pray that Gaga and the rest of us find relief from our pain … and that some of these media outlets correct the headline that “Lady Gaga has RA.” I also pray that one day we will see a cure from these “monstrous” (pun intended) and painful invisible diseases.
Signed, A Little Monster
PS: Have you signed up for the Autoimmune Registry yet? Join now at autoimmuneregistry.org!
Please excuse typos. Tired + sore fingers!