Patrick McKenna, one of the funniest guys on Canadian television (perhaps best known for playing the ultra-nerdy, buck-toothed Harold Green in the long-running Red Green Show), is helping raise awareness for a decidedly unfunny topic — lupus.
Lupus has been a shadow in McKenna’s life because his mother, who is now 75, has had the disease for about four decades. The family didn’t know what it was for many years; her symptoms were baffling. “She just generally felt like she wasn’t herself,” says McKenna. “We only knew that she couldn’t go out in the sun and didn’t like standing in lineups.”
Lupus is a serious disease, but tricky to diagnose. It has been dubbed “the disease of a thousand faces” because symptoms differ so widely from person to person. Until recently, the disease was very isolating. “People suffered in silence. There was not a lot of vocabulary around it,” McKenna says.
McKenna and fellow comedians Colin Mochrie and Debra McGrath are helping Lupus Canada raise the profile of the disease. “If there is awareness, then there is discussion and if there is discussion, there are answers,” he says.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease, meaning that the body’s immune system, which is designed to fight foreign invaders, turn inwards and attacks the body’s own cells. The resulting inflammation can occur in many different places — the skin, muscles, joints, blood vessels, lungs, heart, kidneys or brain.
While there’s nothing comical about any of this, McKenna hopes that people with lupus find comfort from each other as they connect and tell their stories. “Tragedy plus time equals comedy,” he says. “Right now, we’re still in the tragedy part. The funny will come.”
There are walks to raise awareness of lupus all over Canada. Go to walkforlupus.ca for more information.
Lupus at a glance
Lupus often mimics many other illnesses.
Lupus affects nine times more women than men.
The cause of lupus is unknown.
Symptoms include: joint pain and swelling; fatigue; unusual reaction to sunlight; rash; sores in the mouth; chest pain; swollen feet and weight gain.