Actor and strong science advocate Alan Alda recently revealed that he has had Parkinson’s disease for the last three years.
The 82-year-old told the CBS This Morning show he was diagnosed three-and-a-half years ago but had only decided to speak about it now.
“The reason I want to talk about it in public is… I’ve had a full life since then,” he said.
“You still have things you can do,” he went on, revealing he was “taking boxing lessons three times a week.”
Parkinson’s is a progressive condition in which the brain becomes damaged. It can lead to tremors, difficulty moving, speech changes and eventually memory problems.
What struck me in the article was a passage at the very end.
Other celebrities to suffer from the disease include comedian Billy Connolly, who was diagnosed in 2014, and singer Neil Diamond, who announced earlier this year he would retire from touring after a recent diagnosis.
It is common to see reports that someone ‘suffers’ from a disease. But I would venture that most people who have some disease, even serious ones, do not see it as defining their lives. They have come to terms with it and deal with it in their own ways. To say they ‘suffer’ from it is to suggest that the disease dominates their lives and that they see themselves as victims of it, which may not be the case. Like Alda, they continue to live full lives.
There are moves try to use language more sensitively, which I see as a highly positive trend however much reactionaries may deride it as ‘political correctness’. For example, commenter Trickster Goddess wrote in response to a recent post of mine that dealt with Anthony Bourdain and pointed out to me that I had written that he had ‘committed suicide’ and that this language was a relic from the past when suicide was seen as a criminal act. Goddess said that there was a movement nowadays to use instead the phrase ‘died by suicide’. Since then I have noticed this better usage in other articles and I will do so also.
Maybe ‘suffering’ from a disease could also be eased out of common use and replaced by saying that someone ‘has’ a disease.