by Jennifer Crystal
On October 24th, I had the opportunity to virtually attend the #FightLyme with Avril & Friends concert to benefit The Avril Lavigne Foundation and Global Lyme Alliance. Hosted by Wilmer Valderrama with special performances by Alessia Cara, One Republic, Rob Thomas, and, of course, Avril herself, the show was a wonderful celebration.
You might ask what there is to celebrate about a disease that debilitates more than 427,000 people per year. And given that we’re in the midst of a pandemic—the reason this concert had to be held virtually, in lieu of GLA’s annual gala—this might not seem like a time for celebration. But as Avril said of the event, “This is a celebration of unity. Of hope. Of all of you joining us.”
Watching so many celebrities perform and speak up for Lyme prevention and awareness indeed gave me a feeling of solidarity. Of recognition. Of hope.
And, it made me realize an important fact about Lyme disease: it doesn’t discriminate.
Celebrities get Lyme. Every day folks get Lyme. Kids get Lyme. Pets get Lyme. Ticks don’t care who you are. Any living being is prime feeding ground for a tick, and all it takes is one bite for someone’s life to be upended by any number of tick-borne illnesses. As Avril and friends said at the event, if you go outside, you are at risk. Lyme disease is not just prevalent in New England, as the myth purports. It is in all 50 states and many countries around the world. Anyone who spends time outdoors, or plays with pets who do, needs to Be Tick AWARE™.
The good news for every day patients like you and me is that celebrities who have been impacted by tick-borne illness are helping to speak up for our needs. They’re using their platforms to raise awareness. They’re creating organizations and hosting events to educate others, raise funds, offer treatment grants, and support research. They’ve published books about their experiences. Many, like Ally Hilfiger, Yolanda Hadid and her family, Elena Delle Donne, and Jimmy Walker have joined GLA in this important fight. Justin Bieber has recently spoken up about his own battle with tick-borne illness. These celebrities recognize, as Avril has publicly stated and as was mentioned at the concert, that “Lyme disease is a global pandemic but not a global priority.”
While celebrities are helping to change this lapse, it’s also important for every day patients to raise their voices, too. Celebrities have resources that afford them access to medical care and make it more feasible—though still not easy—to take a pause from life while convalescing. Their physical suffering is no different from anyone else’s, but many Lyme patients struggle to afford doctors and treatment, fight uphill battles with insurance companies, and risk financial instability or ruin when Lyme robs them of their ability to work (click here for resources).
Celebrities understand these challenges and their organizations and fundraisers help combat them. But the people these challenges most affect need to keep letting their communities, their doctors, their senators, their family and their friends know exactly what it is like for an everyday person to suffer from Lyme disease. Because with one bite, that friend, family member, or neighbor could be in the same boat.
We Lyme patients are all fighting the storm of tick-borne illness together. We are all warriors—something Avril paid tribute to by ending the concert with her hit “Warrior.” “Together,” she said, “we can eradicate Lyme.”
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Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.
Jennifer Crystal is a writer and educator in Boston. Her memoir about her medical journey is forthcoming. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.