The association representing patients of rare skin diseases called Pemphigus and Pemphigoid is hoping Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's decision to go public with his health condition will help raise public awareness of the condition.
Dan Goodwill, who was first diagnosed with a version of the disease nearly 20 years ago and has been living symptom-free since 1999, said it's been hard to find a high-profile Canadian who has the disease.
Mr. Goodwill is the volunteer chair of the Canadian Pemphigus and Pemphigoid Foundation – a non-profit and charity created in 2008 – and he hopes Mr. Flaherty will eventually choose to speak more about living with the disease.
"If he would share his story… If he'd be able to help us in any way, it would be much appreciated," said Mr. Goodwill. "I'd be very delighted if he would speak out, just to help bring attention to the illness and the challenges that people face.
"And as a very high profile person, we've been searching for somebody like that in Canada… but we've never found anybody anywhere near as high-profile as Mr. Flaherty… There's no shame in it or anything like that, it's an illness and it's very treatable. And with good help with his doctors he should be able to bring it into remission, so there's no cause for alarm."
The disease is so rare that there are no Canadian statistics available that show how many people are living with the disease. European data indicates that the incidence rate of bullous pemphigoid – the variant that Mr. Flaherty says he has – can range from seven cases per million per year to 43 per million per year, depending on the country.
Mr. Flaherty offered to talk to The Globe and Mail about his condition this week in order to clear the air in response to persistent questions about his health. Mr. Flaherty's physical appearance has changed in recent months. He said the weight gain and puffiness in his face are side effects of steroid medication he is taking to treat the illness.
Mr. Goodwill said Mr. Flaherty's symptoms are common for people receiving treatment for the disease.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement via his spokesperson Andrew MacDougall. The statement wishes Mr. Flaherty well and states that the Prime Minister looks forward to continuing to work with him.
Opposition MPs took to Twitter Thursday morning to express their support.
"Wishing Jim Flaherty a speedy recovery," wrote Liberal Leader Bob Rae.
NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen wrote that he was sorry to hear about Mr. Flaherty's illness.
"Glad it's not more serious," he wrote.