2 posts tagged “Michael J. Fox and Parkinson’s”

Shout out to The Golden Girls: Shows and movies that “get” chronic illness

Posted January 12th, 2018 by

‘Tis the season for binge-watching — but the media often flops in its portrayal of people with health conditions. So we’ve gathered patient perspectives on Hollywood depictions of illness and who’s gotten it right (thanks, Bea Arthur).

When doctors doubted Dorothy

A writer for The Mighty who has multiple health condition recently praised The Golden Girls for it’s portrayal of main character Dorothy navigating the healthcare system with a chronic condition. Over the course of a two-part episode (called “Sick and Tired”), Dorothy (played by Bea Arthur) starts feeling constant exhaustion and hops around to different doctors who don’t believe she has a real ailment.

“Maybe I am crazy — nobody believes me,” Dorothy laments to Rose (Betty White) after multiple appointments.

“Dorothy, you are not crazy, honey, you’re sick,” Rose replies. (Thank you for being a friend, Rose.)

Ultimately, Dorothy is relieved when a specialist finally diagnoses her with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). The show was ahead of it’s time in building credibility around CFS, which is just now gaining recognition as a serious longterm condition that shares many characteristics with some autoimmune conditions. Golden Girls creator Susan Harris based the episodes on her own experiences with CFS and doctors who didn’t understand the condition in the 1980s.

Other shows worthy of some applause

While no show does a perfect job, additional shows that The Mighty includes on a list of 7 TV Shows That Got Chronic Illness (Mostly) Right include:

  • The West Wing — Writers consulted with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society to depict President Josiah Bartlett (Martin Sheen) and his relapsing-remitting MS. Some have argued the show didn’t capture all the symptoms and severity of the condition, but it raised awareness of MS.
  • Brothers & Sisters — A young character named Paige (Kerris Dorsey) is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes after experiencing symptoms that real-world patients may experience, such as increased thirst and frequent urination. People with type 1 diabetes say the media often gets it wrong, so it’s refreshing that this show got it right.
  • The Good Wife — Before playing a person with Parkinson’s disease (PD) on The Michael J. Fox Show (2013-2014), Fox (who has PD in real life) played a character with a neurological disorder called tardive dyskinesia on The Good Wife in 2010. The show gets props for featuring an actor with an actual health condition, playing a character who’s an aggressive attorney and not “just” a patient.
  • Grey’s Anatomy — In general, hospital-based shows are known more for their romantic plot lines than their medical accuracy. But a 2016 episode called “Falling Slowly” captured some of what it’s like to get a rare diagnosis known as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (a group of disorders affecting connective tissues in the body).

Speaking of Grey’s Anatomy, one of its stars, Kate Walsh, who played Dr. Addison Montgomery from 2005-2012, recently opened up about being a patient in real life. Walsh revealed that she had surgery in 2015 to remove a lemon-size brain tumor, which turned out to be a non-cancerous meningioma.

“I played a real badass on TV, but when it comes to being a patient, it’s such a vulnerable experience,” Walsh said.

More and more shows and movies are also depicting mental illness — and doing a better job of it than before. For example, Stranger Things recently got good reviews for raising awareness of some aspects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The media’s increasing focus on mental illness — if done carefully and correctly — can be a positive thing overall, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

On PatientsLikeMe

Members have shared a lot about shows and movies portraying chronic conditions, mental illness and more.

In the Mental Health community, some members have given “thumbs up” for some TV shows, like A&E’s docuseries Obsessed and Hulu’s show Mental. “I think Obsessed is pretty good. It doesn’t seem to ridicule, exploit, or put down the patients like some shows I’ve seen on the topic. Many shows I’ve seen on OCD seem to portray the people with the disorder as sideshow attractions. I like that Obsessed keeps it on a more human level and is also focused on treatment,” one member said.

But members also recall how the media has propelled stereotypes in the past, such as the acclaimed 1975 movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest associating mental illness with violent crime. “I wish the stigma didn’t exist, but people unfortunately assume some pretty bad things based on what they have seen on tv,” a member noted, mentioning that film.

Members with ALS expressed frustration with the depiction of people diagnosed with ALS on TV shows (including ScrubsThree Rivers and Law and Order), as well as mixed reviews of the 2014 movie The Theory of Everything. But some members did like the film. “It’s a touching film that does a great job in humanizing Stephen Hawking. Although some have criticized the lack of science in the film, I think its purpose was to look more closely at his life and his relationship with his wife, Jane, which is fascinating and complex,” one member said.

Those living with MS have said that some shows (like Private Practice) have been so-so at portraying the condition — but they’re no West Wing. One member’s take? “West Wing did an excellent job of portraying ms. It showed that even the President of the US could run the country while in the middle of a relapse… it didn’t interfere with his ability to do his job.”

In your opinion, which shows and movies have done a good or bad job of portraying health conditions? Join PatientsLikeMe today to chat about what to watch (or avoid!).

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Raising MS Awareness: Meet Ramilla…

Posted March 18th, 2010 by

At PatientsLikeMe, we believe in getting to know the person, not just the “patient.” That’s why we interview members each month in our newsletter to find out more about how they approach life.  In honor of MS Awareness Month, we are pleased to share with you our recent interview with Ramilla, a three-star member of our MS community.  Here’s what Ramilla had to say…

2166 (Amy) What keeps you motivated?
79060 (Ramilla) I keep motivated by focusing on the progress that I still make every day. Even on the hard days, when I don’t feel so well, I manage to take something from it that I feel good about, and those hard days make me appreciate the good days so much more.

I am also motivated by the people I meet. I have met so many people over the years who have been affected by MS, and many more who don’t know anything about MS. I like that I can motivate the people I meet to be more active, both able bodied, and people with chronic conditions like MS.

I imagine that by running the races I do, and talking to people about the benefits of a healthy and active lifestyle, that I might motivate a few people to become more active themselves. I mostly want people who like me have MS, but are still capable of being active, to know that it might help their symptoms and make them more comfortable.

2166 (Amy) Who do you admire and why?
79060 I admire a lot of people who have touched my life since I was diagnosed. I found inspiration from Michael J. Fox, Montel Williams, and Mitch Albom with their books about the conditions they and their friends have faced.

The person who I admire the most these days, and who I think about every time I finish a race, and every time I feel like I don’t want to go for a run, is Jon (Blazeman) Blais. Jon was diagnosed with ALS in 2005, and in October that year, he ran the Ironman in Kona, Hawaii.
He rolled across the finish line with a determination that inspired me to try a triathlon myself and has inspired athletes of all levels to finish their races with a roll across the line in his memory. His parents are fierce advocates for ALS, and he is remembered every year at the Ironman World Championships. Here is a video about him on YouTube.

2166 (Amy) How has your condition affected your work life?
79060 (Ramilla) My work life is affected by my MS every day. I notice my energy levels change through out the day, and there are a lot of distractions. Sometimes I get confused and lose track of what I am doing. I plan my day to take advantage of when my mind is the clearest to be the most productive, to tackle the complicated projects that I work on day to day.

It has also affected how I plan for my career in the future. Not to sound morbid, but I think it would be silly of me to plan of having a long career with an active, physically demanding job. I am going back to school to upgrade some of my high school courses, and looking at going to college, and maybe university. I think it may be better to plan on a knowledge-based job rather than a physical one. My hope is that I can manage to maintain a career and be self sustainable for the long term.

2166 (Amy) What’s your favorite aspect of PatientsLikeMe?
79060 (Ramilla) I love that through PatientsLikeMe I can connect with so many more people who are fighting MS. Already I have been in contact with people who were active pre-diagnosis, and had not considered that they could still be active. The encouragement I get from the people I have met on the site has been a great help to my training.

While this site has really opened my eyes to many of the less inspiring aspects of MS, it has re-affirmed my belief that life goes on, and it is up to me to live it to the best of my ability. PatientsLikeMe gives me hope, and that is one of the most important things you can keep when you have a condition like this.

2166 (Amy) Thanks for sharing your story with us, Ramilla!