Spotlight: Black History Month – Part 1 of 3

(For your inspiration, the IWGN “Spotlight” feature highlights other entrepreneurs and achievers who are also living with chronic illness and making their mark on the world!  Meet these Inspiring Women on our blog or in our newsletter.)

In celebration of Black History Month (in the U.S. and Canada), we are shining the Inspiring Woman spotlight on to celebrities of African–American descent. These women have continued living their dreams in spite of their health issues.

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         Part 1  T-Boz, Toni Braxton, Missy Elliott

         Part 2  Venus Williams, Robin Roberts

         Part 3  Halle Berry, Sherri Shepherd, Patti LaBelle



T-Boz & Sickle Cell Anemia, Brain Tumor

Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins is lead singer of TLC, one of the most successful all-girl singing groups in music history, selling more than 65 million records worldwide. As part of TLC, T-Boz has won numerous Grammy Awards, American Music Awards, Billboard Music Awards, MTV Video Music Awards, Soul Train Music Awards, including Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards and the NAACP Image Award. Diagnosed with Sickle Cell Anemia at the young age of seven, doctors told her parents she wouldn’t live past the age of 30. Sickle Cell Anemia is a genetic blood disorder causing symptoms such as fatigue and episodes of excruciating pain. In 2006, T-Boz was also diagnosed with acoustic neuroma, a non-cancerous but potentially fatal brain tumor, which she battled with for three years before having it surgically treated. The tumor affected her balance, hearing, sight and facial movements and stole her ability to speak for months.  She had to re-learn how to both walk and talk and, with dance therapy, has fully regained her balance. In addition to singing, T-Boz is a successful songwriter, dancer, actress, author, entrepreneur and executive producer.  She is a spokesperson for Sickle Cell Disease Association of America and Be The Match, which helps patients who need a marrow or umbilical cord blood transplant. She says “I don’t believe in changing anything because I think everything happens for a reason. These experiences have taught me, and I want everyone to know, that you can be a survivor, even when it looks like you’re against all odds.”

Toni Braxton & Lupus, Heart Disease

Singer, songwriter, pianist, actress, philanthropist and spokesperson, Toni Braxton revealed her diagnosis with lupus at a fundraising event in 2006. This music icon has won six Grammy Awards, seven American Music Awards and nine Billboard Music Awards. She is one of the best-selling female solo artists, with 66 million records worldwide. Her diagnosis, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), is a potentially life-threatening autoimmune disease that attacks body parts and vital organs. She first discovered her lupus diagnosis after developing pericarditis, an inflammation of the tissue surrounding the heart. In 2008, she also received a diagnosis of microvascular angina (a small vessel disease). She manages her health issues with the proper medication, exercise and a healthy diet. Toni is national spokeswoman of the American Heart Association’s Go Red campaign, as well as spokesperson for Autism Speaks, as the mother of an autistic son. She says “Lupus medication actually causes most women to gain weight. But we’re still fabulous!”

Missy Elliott & Graves Disease

One of the leading ladies of hip hop for more than a decade, Melissa “Missy” Elliot has been battling Graves Disease, an autoimmune disease that impacts the thyroid.  Missy is a groundbreaking rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer, dancer, musician, actress and entrepreneur.  She has won five Grammy Awards, along with multiple American Music Awards, BET Awards, MTV Music Video Awards, was honoree at 2007 VH1 Hip Hop Honors and has sold over 30 million records.  She is the only female rapper to have six platinum albums, including one double-platinum album.  She started her own record label in 1997 and is recognized as hip hop’s first female mogul and hip hop icon. In 2011, Missy announced that she had Grave’s Disease. Diagnosed in 2008, she first began to have difficulty with motor skills, followed by dizzy spells, lumps in her throat, mood swings, hair loss, a fast heart rate and bulging eyes.  But Missy didn’t find out she had Graves’ until after experiencing tremors and a sudden loss of muscle control while driving a car. She was trying to stop but couldn’t keep the brake down because her leg kept jumping and she almost crashed.  At one point, her symptoms got so bad that she couldn’t even hold a pen. With the help of her doctor she has learned to completely manage her condition with diet and exercise. Missy says, “I believe in a higher being, and that gives me the faith to be strong and go on.”

Part 2  Venus Williams, Robin Roberts

Part 3  Halle Berry, Sherri Shepherd, Patti LaBelle

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