I had a chance to interview Gena about her new focus on patient advocacy and thyroid awareness.
Mary: How did you decide to become a thyroid patient advocate?
Gena: After years of suffering with symptoms, and after really struggling with a variety of thyroid-related complications during my third pregnancy, I was finally diagnosed with Hashimoto's hypothyroidism. I have to tell you, at that point, something in me had a true awakening. From that time forward, I've felt compelled to do whatever I can to help create awareness for others who are needlessly suffering with thyroid issues and who, like me, are misdiagnosed.
Mary: Why do you think there is such a stigma about thyroid disease?
Gena: I think people assume thyroid means older and overweight but in reality, thyroid disease strikes at all ages, and affects all sizes. It's unfortunate that people stereotype thyroid disease as being only something that is about being overweight, when it has many faces. You can be thin and have a head full of hair, and still be suffering... in my case, I've been at all the different stages, from being fit and having a head of healthy hair, to being overweight, puffy, and losing hair by the handfulls. Again, this is why I feel it's so important to advocate for thyroid patients...and to help give thyroid a new face.
Mary: Do you think that more celebrities will start to become more public about having a thyroid condition now that you're leading the way?
Gena: I really hope so...it would be an added benefit to my efforts if other celebrity thyroid patients would "come out of the thyroid closet" so to speak. People see celebrities up on a pedestal, perfect looking, and so being able to get real and talk about health challenges makes them more human and accessible. So I'm hoping that some other celebrities will join me in helping with the thyroid awareness cause down the road.
Mary: You and I are currently writing a thyroid book together, titled Beautiful Inside and Out: Conquering Thyroid Disease with a Healthy, Happy, "Thyroid Sexy" Life, which is being published in October of 2013. What do you personally hope the book accomplishes?
Gena: For me, writing this book is a mission, it's truly something I have to do. And I have to do this because of what I went through. I hope people get a sense of reassurance and a sense of hope when they learn how thyroid disease can affect any of us in many different ways. Too many people are suffering. If this book helps raise awareness, it will have accomplished its mission.
Mary: What is your biggest challenge right now?
Gena: Dealing with having Hashimoto's, and the ups and downs, which involves going from hypothyroid to hyperthyroid, and back again. Also, I'm having to realize that there isn't a magic pill, and that I have to work through the options, find my own path. It's why I find websites like this one so valuable, and why I created my own support community on Facebook -- because on the web, we can read, research, gain information, and then formulate a sensible plan to go forward.
Mary: What is one fun thing about you that people may not be aware of?
Gena: I am a quirky, down-home kind of girl. People have had this image of me from my Baywatch days, and assume I'm some sort of diva. Really, I'm just a girl in a ponytail, shorts and a t-shirt, chasing my kids around the park, and trying to figure out how to get my hair back in shape after all the thyroid adventures, and how to have enough energy to be a good Mom and wife, and now thyroid advocate.
More information about Gena is available at her the book's page.