Why Are All of Bravo's Dramas Plagued with Medical Mysteries?

Illustration for article titled Why Are All of Bravos Dramas Plagued with Medical Mysteries?

A curious trend is developing across the Bravo Television universe, with one cast member introducing a storyline involving a serious illness while the rest of the cast gossips about it being fake or exaggerated behind their back (though on camera of course).


We’ve seen previous health scares and issues on Bravo’s programming before. Phaedra’s incongruent pregnancy due date was a topic of conversation on the Real Housewives of Atlanta. Kim Zolciak, also from Atlanta, had a bizarre, seemingly fake cancer scare during the first season. And some have been much more serious, like Blood Sweat and Heels star Diasy Lewellyn, who sadly passed away at age 36 of bile duct cancer.

In recent seasons, however, the medical issues of cast members have been met with skepticism and outright doubt, turning into lengthy plot lines that dominate the conversation. First, we had the Real Housewives of Orange County and Brooks Ayers never ending controversy with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which the women on the show understandably doubted following a number of inconsistencies with his stories.


Immediately following that, during the last season of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, we spent the entire season watching the women wonder whether or not Yolanda Hadid really has Lyme Disease, or some other illness, or Lyme and some other illness, introducing the possibility that she might not be sick at all.

Now, the Shahs of Sunset is bringing us a very similar storyline with Golnesa “GG” Gharachedaghi’s battle with rheumatoid arthritis. This season, we’ve watched GG recover from surgery for her illness and receive treatment. She clearly seems to be in pain.

There’s no one way to be sick, but not “seeming ill” has been a criticism leveled against GG by her cast mates, resulting in a controversy that’s come to a head over the last few episodes.


GG’s Shahs friends have one main concern, namely, the lifestyle GG maintains while she battles this illness. We see her on the show frequently going out and getting incredibly drunk, which one of her friends suggests may be a way of self-medicating and dealing the pain. They also discuss the fact that she continues to wear sky-high stilettos and heels even though the RA presumably affects her knees and toes.


Other than having to deal with the pain, there doesn’t seem to be anything about rheumatoid arthritis that would necessarily prevent someone from going out and drinking, though concern about GG’s overall health and wellbeing seem fair.

The consensus among her friends is that yes, GG has RA, but that she might be exaggerating the seriousness of the disease—which sounds very familiar to the song that was sung (and then taken back) regarding Yolanda’s Lyme Disease.


More specifically, the cast has taken umbrage with the news that GG is going to be undergoing chemotherapy for her RA. They are all rightfully upset by the news because, indeed, chemotherapy sounds very serious. The issue is that GG is probably not receiving chemotherapy, at least as most of us understand it.

In an Instagram post from seven moths ago, GG writes in the caption that she is receiving a chemotherapy treatment.


In the following post, she cites the drug Rituxan as her chemotherapy drug.


Much of the confusion seems to stem from general confusion about what chemotherapy actually is.

The American Cancer Society describes chemotherapy thusly:

Chemotherapy (chemo) usually refers to the use of medicines or drugs to treat cancer. The thought of having chemotherapy frightens many people. But knowing what chemotherapy is, how it works, and what to expect can often help calm your fears. It can also give you a better sense of control over your cancer treatment.


They add:

Chemotherapy is the use of any drug to treat any disease. But to most people, the word chemotherapy means drugs used for cancer treatment. It’s often shortened to “chemo.”


In a post a month later, instead of “chemo,” GG calls her treatment a “Rituxan infusion.”


Via the drug’s website, Rituxan is not a form of chemotherapy but is a drug used to treat cancer.

RITUXAN is not chemotherapy

RITUXAN is a type of antibody therapy that can be used alone or with chemotherapy. They work in different ways to find and attack the cells where cancer starts.


Just two days ago, GG shared a photo of a prescription and identified another drug being used for her treatment. Methotrexate can be used to treat certain types of cancer, but The American College of Rheumatology also cites it as one of the most commonly used drugs to treat RA.


So chemo is standard treatment for RA patients and those suffering from other autoimmune diseases. Like cancer patients, they’re intentionally slowing down their immune systems, but using much lower doses of drugs to do so.

In Sunday night’s episode of Shahs of Sunset, we hear GG’s doctor say rather definitively that she won’t be receiving chemotherapy (at least that day) and that he’s exploring other treatment options. What seems clear is that GG is obviously not being treated for cancer and probably should have been a little more specific in her explanation, given how commonly associated chemo is with cancer.


But the other more important, reality television-related issue is that GG is—as evidenced by past seasons—a rather tumultuous individual and has been called a liar by her friends on the show.

Like Yolanda, most of her castmates don’t seem to doubt that GG is actually sick, but they’re skeptical about the information they’re receiving. One of the confusing things about Yolanda and her Lyme Disease were the laundry list of treatments she was receiving which seemingly had little to do with treating the actual Lyme Disease.


The major problem here is that all this information is being disseminated in small bites on a television show via nonprofessionals, and then regurgitated further by their even less informed reality TV star friends. Brooks, GG and Yolanda aren’t great at communicating what exactly is going on with their health. None of them are medical professionals and we rarely hear from real doctors on the shows. Suffering from a disease doesn’t necessarily make someone an expert or qualified to speak about it to millions of people.

Like Yolanda, GG is very open on social media about her illness posting photos of her treatment and memes and quotes about being a #bRAveWARRIOR.


This whole controversy could be as simple as GG not understanding the correct terminology used to discuss her treatment. Saying that she’s receiving chemotherapy sounds very different than saying, “I’m taking medicines for my rheumatoid arthritis that can also be used to treat cancer.” Of course, where’s the drama in that?


At the end of the day, everyone involved is here to make entertaining television. However, the problem with using weird medical mysteries to do so is that you’re potentially pushing a bunch of bullshit information out to an audience that doesn’t know better. It is irresponsible to suggest that someone might not be sick because they don’t “act” like it, just as it’s irresponsible to not accurately present a particular illness.

Like Yolanda, GG talks about raising awareness for her illness and calls for support.


As genuine as their intentions may be, it’s difficult not to see the tinge of narcissism in all this. Reality TV stars are able to keep all kinds of information out of their shows if they truly want to—look at how Yolanda avoided openly speaking about her crumbling marriage all last season.


We’ll have to wait to see whether doubts about GG’s rheumatoid arthritis play out—it’s certainly less shady than Brooks’ probably fake cancer and it might have the potential to snowball like Yolanda’s munchausen debacle. Still, if GG and her medical drama are anything like those past incidences, they will likely bring on the drama and ratings, which, of course, is exactly what Bravo wants.

Images via GG’s Instagram.

Senior Writer, Jezebel

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Um yes, many RA or other arthritis patients can and do rightfully say we’re receiving chemo. Methotrexate is a chemotherapy agent. Here’s the problem: when people hear arthritis, they think of grandma with a sore thumb. The reality is people with autoimmune arthritis are sick every damn day, with joint pain and reduced movement, with intense fatigue, and any number of other problems that come with autoimmune arthritis - especially if it’s systemic, which means it can affect your organs. People can die from this, but one of the few ways to get people to understand the severity of our illness is to say “chemo”. It makes people pay attention. When they hear methotrexate...”shrug”. I can assure you that though the dosing is different, these are still incredibly strong medications with many side effects. She “understands the correct terminology”. It’s you who doesn’t.

Don’t dismiss her expressing the severity of her illness as “drama”. And RA and other illnesses like it aren’t “medical mysteries”. They are very real, very debilitating illness that are more common than you think. Do some research. You clearly did the bare minimum.