As I am sure you all know, Farrah Fawcett died last week from anal cancer.
After initially denying or at least avoiding whether she had cancer, Fawcett
was later open about her diagnosis, and I for one thank her for it. Her
documentary was actually not too bad, and I thought it captured a realistic
short period of time in living with cancer.
One of the cover
stories this week in Slate relates to the difficult balance in being a
celebrity and having cancer. (One small beef with the article: It states that
Farrah having chemotherapy and radiation and surgery for her anal cancer proved
she had advanced disease. I totally disagree.
I cannot find that she initially had surgery, and
chemotherapy and radiation together would be standard treatment for anal
However, I do agree with the author, Dr. Barron Lerner, that frequently,
news from celebrities' publicists about their cancer usually has an
unrealistically positive spin on things, if they acknowledge the cancer at all
(recall Steve Jobs or Paul Newman). The Slate article argues that this may be
giving patients false hope, and while I am sure that might be true, I'm not
certain that is the intent of the celebrity. I think at the end of the day they
desperately believe they are in that great health state and are headed towards
a cure or at least a long remission. I believe most cancer patients believe
this, and this explains why
the majority of patients in phase-1 studies personally believe
they will benefit from the experimental therapy despite also realizing the
very low (<5% for all studies pooled) odds of success overall.
So, I am not sure it is fair to hold celebrities with cancer to a
different standard than we hold all non-celebrities with cancer, and I am also
not sure that it is right to make them de facto spokespeople for whatever kind
of cancer they have. They should be allowed their own journeys, even if their
personal beliefs are in contrast to the medical probabilities.