After Olivia Newton-John shared about her metastatic breast cancer diagnosis, there was hope expressed by some in Cancer Land she might possibly become a voice for others with metastatic disease. There was hope she’d morph into an advocate extraordinaire and tell the truth about the insidious, deadly nature of metastatic breast cancer. This could potentially lead to the unraveling of the glossed-over, overly-pinktified version of breast cancer. This could in turn, potentially lead to more outrage, more advocacy, more dollars earmarked for mets research and so on. You could almost sense some holding their breath in anticipation.
That hope didn’t last long.
Olivia Newton-John seemed to quickly pivot to the traditional narrative we typically get from celebrities when they are diagnosed with cancer, in her case, even a metastatic diagnosis. You know the one, the let’s put a positive spin on it, keep smiling and get on with beating this.
This whole deal got me thinking…do we expect too much from celebrities when they are diagnosed with cancer?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Sure, celebrities are just people, too, but they also generally have huge platforms. Therefore, some of us keep hoping one of them will step up and speak truth without sugarcoating it. Generally, we end up feeling disappointed, or at least I do.
But again, is it fair to expect something different, something more from celebrities?
I’m not entirely sure, but fair or not, perhaps it is.
Do you remember Joan Lunden’s revelation and how she chose to handle her diagnosis?
Me too. You can read my take on that bald cover shoot she did for People magazine if you care to. I have Joan’s memoir, but so far, I can’t bring myself to read it. I didn’t get past the acknowledgment page, or rather pages. My memoir has one brief paragraph for that. I mention this to illustrate the huge, potentially influential platforms such celebrities have to truly educate and inspire.
Some would say Joan has inspired and educated countless people about breast cancer. Others might say, not so much.
What would you say?
An example of a celebrity who ruffled some feathers, especially in the BRCA community, was Melissa Etheridge. She implied she had turned on her BRCA gene mutation with an unhealthy life style. She also implied after making significant life style changes and getting her body back in balance was when her cancer disappeared. Don’t think it’s quite that simple. There isn’t an on and off switch. In addition, she did not encourage others to be tested for the BRCA gene mutation, but was tested herself. WTF?
I wrote about Melissa Etheridge and Sheryl Crow (there’s another big name with loads of influence) in this post, Who Should Take the ‘Heat’ for the Melissa Etheridge/Sheryl Crow AARP Article?
Btw, Melissa Etheridge blocked me on Twitter after I wrote that post. She’s the only one who’s ever blocked me, as far as I know anyway.
Interesting, don’t you think?
There are many more celebrities who share about their cancer diagnoses. Generally, they share minimally about the hardship parts of cancer and quickly go on to share about life lessons gleaned. This of course, leads to offers of advice and inspiration for the rest of us. And this is fine. Until it’s not.
Everyone has the right to “do cancer” any way they choose. This is true if you are famous and it’s true for you and me as well. I have absolutely no problem with anyone doing cancer any which way they like.
However, the trouble with celebrity sugarcoating is that they DO have huge audiences and platforms and sometimes their “inspiration” has the opposite effect of its intent. It sometimes makes us non-celebrity types feel worse because many of us keep struggling (long after diagnosis, I might add) to get through each day in one piece. And of course, there is very real danger when celebrities speak inaccurately or incompletely about cancer facts and reality. Messaging matters when your audience is a worldwide one, and even when it’s not.
Has there ever been a celebrity who bared it all, who didn’t sugarcoat?
If there were to be such a celebrity ready to step forward to share about the ugly side of her/his cancer experience, I think that’d be far more helpful and perhaps far more inspirational to far more people than sugarcoating things. Because as I’ve said time and time again, truth inspires us all, even if that truth is hard, painful and downright ugly to tell and/or hear.
But maybe it’s just me that feels this way.
What do you think?
Additional note: One “cancer celebrity” I do admire is Kathy Bates. She’s dealt with ovarian cancer and breast cancer. I don’t know or remember how much she shared about her cancer experiences, but what I admire her for today is her advocacy work on behalf of those dealing with lymphedema.
Is it fair to expect more from celebrities when it comes to sharing about their cancer experiences?
Can you think of a celebrity who’s bared it all (not literally) after her/his cancer diagnosis?