I was listening to the radio last night as I was pottering about in the kitchen. Before they cut away to the Ireland vs Italy game, we had the news headlines. Amongst them was the revelation that Jack Osbourne has announced that he has MS.
As the Guardian subsequently reported:
The 26-year-old – who has recently become a father – was found to have the incurable autoimmune disease after a frightening spell in which he lost 60% of the vision in his right eye.
He and his family have revealed his condition in an interview with Hello! magazine in which Jack said he had experienced a range of emotions.
"While I was waiting for the final results, I got really, really angry," he said.
"Then I got really sad for about two days, and after that I realised, being angry and upset is not going to do anything at this point - if anything it's only going to make it worse. "'Adapt and overcome' is my new motto."
The mention of MS caught my ear, obviously.... but to be honest, my initial reaction was one of slight bemusement that this was considered news worthy of a mention on the main headlines. Maybe I missed a trick by not calling a press conference when I was finally diagnosed in 2009. Should I even have explored the possibility of selling the rights to my exclusive story to one of the glossy magazines?
On reflection though, what right do I have to be scornful about this? There's plenty enough scorn and misplaced anger to go around in the comments sections underneath the news stories. You know the kind of thing:
"My 21 year old son has Leukemia. Can someone from the Indy drop me a line so he can grab some publicity for his band out of it?" [Independent]
"Good luck to him but thousands in this country have got ms and not got their millions to help them cope" [Mail]
"Said it yesterday and I'll say it again, this is not news. Jack Osbourne has MS but he'll deal with it. An identical response to that of the thousands of people worldwide who receive the same diagnosis. I've received it, it's scary but guess what happens, you deal with it.....if I thought for a moment the publicity this muppet is receiving would raise the profile of this degenerative disease I'd say it was a good thing, alas most people reading will think nothing of it and turn the page. A waste of time and effort." [Independent]
I did read another one (and I can't find it now to quote it directly) that was from someone with MS moaning about how Jack Osbourne doesn't know he's born and that some people with this condition REALLY suffer. Now, I've got MS, and I have to admit that I'm struggling to understand how mean-spirited I would have to be to want to look down on Jack Osbourne because my symptoms are so much worse. Surely someone seriously affected by MS would be able to show a little bit of empathy towards a young man who has just been diagnosed, no matter how rich or famous he might be? I've also read a lot of people whining about how Jack Osbourne can afford the best treatment money can buy. How would he like to try the NHS? Well, or your information, I've been treated for my MS pretty much exclusively on the NHS, and it has never been less than first class. I receive all my treatment and medication - totalling thousands of pounds very month and including the attention of some of the leading neurologists in the world - absolutely free. Ask someone struggling to pay for their MS treatment in the USA how they feel about that.
I've got MS and although I'm relatively lightly affected compared to many, I still wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. It's a shit condition. I don't care how rich or famous Jack Osbourne is, or how he chose to tell the world about his diagnosis, it's still a shit condition.
I was diagnosed when I was 35 years old, some four years after I first experienced symptoms. My diagnosis was passed onto me in a public hospital ward by a doctor who thought I already knew and mentioned it in passing in front of everyone else. I didn't get really, really angry and I wasn't really sad. It wasn't really much of a surprise to me, and - as Jack says - being angry and upset is not going to do anything at this point. You know what though, I don't have the monopoly on MS diagnosis or symptoms, do I?
There's a lot of ignorance about MS, much of it displayed by the commentators underneath those articles, but there's also some good information and coverage coming out as a result of Osbourne's announcement. I was worried about how the newspapers would present MS (and they do insist on saying how it will lower life-expectancy by around ten years), but then I saw a brilliant "plain English" description of relapsing-remitting MS in The Sun, of all places:
MS is one of the most common diseases to affect the brain and nervous system, yet the cause is still a mystery.
The diagnosis turns lives upside-down, but is not a death sentence.
The most common type of MS leaves the person fairly well between attacks, and the symptoms themselves are very variable.
While MS cannot yet be cured, symptoms can often be controlled and life is becoming a little easier for sufferers and their families.
A good, balanced diet and healthy lifestyle are important. New drugs and reducing stress can help prevent attacks.
That's actually pretty good... if a few people have read that and learned something, then that's a good thing, right?
Since my diagnosis, I have run a couple of half marathons, thrown myself out of a plane above the Namibian desert and learned to dive on the Great Barrier Reef. The day might come when I can't do those things, but that's true for everyone, and that day hasn't arrived yet. Jack Osbourne says that his mantra for life is "adapt and overcome". Not bad, but I'd go for something a lot simpler:
What is it that they guy says at the end of Blade Runner? "It's too bad she won't live! But then again, who does?"
Good luck, Jack Osbourne.