Nick Cannon with CJ’s Kristin

It is truly rare that a celebrity steps forward to admit that they are battling a chronic illness, much less one as challenging as lupus. My background as a performer and musician taught me about the risks involved when you reveal that you are sick, so I have great admiration and respect for celebrities and entertainers who share that they are struggling with a difficult disease. This is why I was excited to meet Nick Cannon at the recent ‘Walk to End Lupus Now’ in Los Angeles.

Let me be clear—Nick doesn’t know my name. We didn’t have an extensive conversation about our struggles with lupus. This was a “hello and thank you” exchange. But it was important nonetheless for me to say “thank you.”

Nick showed up to the early morning event after three days that would tire anyone out—hosting America’s Got Talent on Wednesday night in New York, appearing on the Today Show on Thursday morning, and attending the ‘Lucky for Lupus LA’ poker event with Toni Braxton on Thursday night. On that thankfully overcast morning in LA, Nick pumped everyone up from the stage, showed off his purple hair (for lupus) and then set a fast pace for the walk, challenging even the healthy walkers amongst us. And by accident, I ended up at the front of the pack right behind him. Nick was generous with his time, posing for photos with everyone who asked, holding babies, and joking with some younger kids about their favorite TV shows (one of which he thought was too adult themed for their age!). His presence motivated a crowd of thousands who were sick and tired of struggling with lupus and needed a glimmer of hope.

From the looks of Nick from afar, he seemed like someone who has it all—he’s fit, he’s got lots of energy, and he’s living his dreams. I figured he probably has access to much better medical care, more medications, and more massages. (And he has drivers! Oh, how much I would want a personal driver).

But up close I noticed something that became much more apparent when I looked back at the photos of us. There we were, posing together, two people from very different backgrounds, but in the same age range, with similar dreams and the same disease. He may not have guessed that I’m sick. Others might look at us and never guess we’ve both come near death. But I could see that telltale face, the face I see in the mirror so often, that lupus or arthritis fatigue face I hate because it serves as visible reminder of my daily fight. My boyfriend commented on it too—there’s an unmistakable sunken, tired look we all get when we are fighting back against our disease. When, on that day, the disease might be starting to win despite our best efforts. It was in that moment, when I saw the disease in Nick’s eyes and felt his energy, that I felt a kinship and understood.

Lupus doesn’t care if you are a celebrity or have privilege. Even though he might have access to better care, he still has to fight every day for what he has. The disease still rages its war against you, no matter who you are. So thank you Nick, for paving a way forward for all of us who have big dreams and big diseases to fight.