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Toni Braxton says she was told to hide her lupus diagnosis because 'people get scared around sick celebrities'

Amanda Goh   

Toni Braxton says she was told to hide her lupus diagnosis because 'people get scared around sick celebrities'
  • Toni Braxton says she was told by her management to hide her lupus diagnosis.
  • "People get scared around sick celebrities," she said on Tuesday's episode of the "SHE MD" podcast.
Toni Braxton, 56, is speaking up about how her lupus diagnosis has impacted her life and career.

On an episode of the "SHE MD" podcast released on Tuesday, Braxton — who brought along her rheumatologist, Dr. Daniel Wallace — spoke to co-hosts Mary Alice Haney and OB-GYN Dr. Thaïs Aliabadi about her medical journey.

"I was told to hide I had lupus," Braxton said, adding that it was her management's idea. "I worked hard to hide it. For the longest time, I was ashamed, especially being a performer. I would make light of it."

Lupus is a chronic disease that occurs when a person's immune system attacks their healthy tissues. It can cause pain and inflammation in any part of the body.

Braxton, who was diagnosed with lupus in 2008, added that being upfront about her illness hurt her career.

"People get scared around sick celebrities," Braxton said. "You would not get work, because the second I told I had it, I didn't get work at first. No one wanted to put me on a stage. 'Well, suppose she collapsed onstage, and the insurance, how are we going to do that?' And so I couldn't, at first, I did not work."

The "Un-Break My Heart" singer shared that it ended up taking her almost 10 years to get a proper diagnosis.

"Lupus can be very challenging and difficult to diagnose because everything has to line up; it's almost like an eclipse," Braxton said. "And no one could find out what was wrong with me."

She added that she also developed chronic anxiety as a result of having her medical concerns dismissed.

"I felt like a hypochondriac. Like I'm just telling people, 'I don't feel well,' and no one's listening," Braxton said. "And lupus doesn't have a look to it — not to say that other things do, but we always try to fake that we're feeling great or we don't want to worry anyone. As mothers and women, we tend to do that anyway."

In April 2023, Braxton told Today that lupus "attacked" her heart and that she had narrowly avoided a deadly heart attack because she decided not to skip her doctor's appointment.

Braxton isn't the only celebrity who has been candid about her struggles with lupus.

In 2017, Selena Gomez shared that she had to get a kidney transplant as a result of kidney failure due to lupus.

She first revealed her lupus diagnosis publicly in 2015, after rumors started circulating that she went to rehab for a drug addiction.

"I was diagnosed with lupus, and I've been through chemotherapy. That's what my break was really about. I could've had a stroke," Gomez told Billboard. "I wanted so badly to say, 'You guys have no idea. I'm in chemotherapy. You're assholes.' But I was angry I even felt the need to say that."

British musician Seal, who has scars on his face as a result of lesions caused by discoid lupus, told Yahoo Lifestyle in 2020 that he was first diagnosed with the condition when he was 21.

While initially conscious of his appearance, he eventually learned to accept how he looked.

"Something that had kind of been initially traumatizing turned out to be something that has made me instantly recognizable," Seal told Yahoo Lifestyle.

Lupus can be difficult to diagnose. Since it can affect multiple body parts — such as the skin, lungs, kidneys, heart, liver, and bones — it can cause many symptoms that are often mistaken for other diseases.

According to estimates from The Lupus Foundation of America, 1.5 million Americans and at least five million people worldwide have a form of lupus. Additionally, nine out of 10 adults with the condition are women.

A 2016 study found that a person with lupus spends about $33,223 a year on average as a result of direct healthcare costs, per The Lupus Foundation of America. The average productivity cost for a person with lupus — stemming from the hours of economic productivity lost due to the illness — was between $1,252 and $20,046 annually.

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