This morning, while scrolling through Instagram, I saw an image of Selena Gomez that stopped me in my tracks. She was smiling and looking happy, while holding hands with a young woman who appeared to be lying in an adjacent hospital bed. In her post, which had 4.3 million likes just mere hours after first appearing online, she went on to reveal to fans the real reason she was “laying low” for most of the summer: she had undergone a kidney transplant, due to complications from her Lupus. And what’s more, her friend Francia had been her donor. (Ain’t that love!)
“It was what I needed to do for my overall health,” Gomez explains in the caption. “I honestly look forward to sharing with you, soon my journey through these past several months as I have always wanted to do with you.”
For those who don’t know, Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system goes haywire and attacks its own tissues through inflammation. Gomez first opened up about her diagnosis back in 2015, though she has largely remained private about her ordeal.
The thing about Lupus and similar autoimmune diseases is that symptoms are not always obvious to others — hence why they’re often referred to as “invisible illnesses.” As a result, those who suffer from these chronic illnesses are often unfairly judged, simply because they don’t “look” or “act” sick enough to garner compassion and understanding.
I’ve seen this firsthand myself: My sister-in-law Kate has been suffering in near-silence for years, after being diagnosed with Lyme disease, which was caused by a Lyme-infected tick. She’s a lovely woman with rosy cheeks and a kind heart; the kind of person who always steps up to help others. And yet, she has been through a revolving door of jobs over the years because of how often she’s been hospitalized and is in extreme pain every moment of every day.
This past summer, my sister-in-law had a migraine that lasted for two months with no relief. The worst part? She faces unrelenting judgment from strangers who think “she’s just lazy” because “she doesn’t look sick.” We’ve watched as she’s been rushed to ER in the middle of the night with symptoms resembling a heart attack, only to be told that she was experiencing a mysterious side effect of Lyme.
But she’s not alone — 50 million Americans are living with a diagnosed autoimmune disease today. That means it’s highly likely that you yourself know someone who suffers from a chronic and painful condition in silence. Selena Gomez’s touching photo — a heartwarming tribute to her truly selfless friend — is a reminder for people everywhere that women like Gomez and my sister-in-law deserve loving kindness and understanding, not judgment.
It’s clear that Gomez understands this sentiment all too well.
“I want to publicly thank my family and incredible team of doctors for everything they have done for me prior to and post-surgery,” she continues in her post caption. “And finally, there aren’t words to describe how I can possibly thank my beautiful friend Francia Raisa. She gave me the ultimate gift and sacrifice by donating her kidney to me. I am incredibly blessed. I love you so much sis. Lupus continues to be very misunderstood but progress is being made.”
Gomez ends her post with a link to the Lupus Research Alliance website, in an effort to spread awareness and support. And with just one post, she already has done so much more than she knows.
I’d like to send a huge hug to Selena Gomez and her brave and selfless friend Francia, for showing us all what community support and love can look like for a person suffering from an invisible illness.