Celebrity and the Big C – Part 1

I’m going to be really quite serious for once, but so many things are going on in the world of the stars that I can no longer just sit here in my own little world and pretend things are fine, because sometimes, things are not fine. And it makes me sad. Behind the headlines, the stars are real people, with families who care for them.

Zsa Zsa Gabor is fighting gangrene and might lose a leg, but she’s age 93 now, so let’s face it, while that’s obviously sad for her and a terrible worry for her family, I’m not too bothered by it personally. I hope she gets better, obviously, but I can’t sit here and pretend that it pulls my heartstrings too much. She’s almost a century old – NONE of my grandparents lived to her age. Maybe it’s also because I can’t relate to her either that makes it less of a biggie.

Coming down in ages, and while not young, Dame Maggie Smith (76) battled breast cancer in 2007 and was declared cancer-free in 2009. You wouldn’t think it when seeing her as Professor McGonagall in Harry Potter or as the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey. I was shocked when I found out that she had been ill or was ill (can’t remember which) and just hoped she’d recover. Maybe because she had cancer and was a grandmother, to which I can relate (see below); maybe because I know a little about her family, namely that Toby Stephens is one of her sons, so I’m sad for his sake; maybe simply because the fact that she’s McGonagall and I am a big Harry Potter fan, or just for the fact that she’s a fantastic actress regardless of the role. I don’t care WHY I care about her, I’m just happy she’s better and I hope she’ll stay that way!

Another survivor who has been declared cancer-free (in 2010) is Michael C Hall, Dexter Morgan on Dexter. For him, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Another person I was really sad to hear was ill. Granted, I really like watching Dexter so that the star of t he show has been diagnosed with the Big C is one of those “but I know who that is … and I like him!” moments. Also, the little I know of him, he’s married to Jennifer Carpenter (who plays Dexter’s sister Debra), so again, I can relate to him having a family worrying.

But it’s more personal than that.

When I was little, only about two years old or so, my dad battled with lymphoma. While I was too young to remember most of it, the fact that I almost grew up without a father is still something I carry with me every day, and has certainly helped form the person I am today, and I think a lot of the issues I should be talking over with the therapist I don’t have have their roots back in those days. For many years, I didn’t actually know what had been the matter with him, as it was never mentioned. If spoken of, it was “when daddy was ill”. In my teens, I started putting two and two together, and one day, I asked one of my sisters, “You know when we were kids and dad was ill … was it cancer?” She confirmed it, and it was like having a bucket of ice-cold water poured over my head. My dad had not just been a little bit poorly, he had been seriously ill and we very nearly lost him. It’s curious, because even though my fears had been confirmed, I had also never been more grateful about having a father. I’m still so grateful and happy that he managed to pull through and see his daughters grow up, graduate and get married. Thanks for just being there, dad. I love you, more than words can say!

A family who were less fortunate recently were the wife and children of Pete Postlethwaite. My thoughts are with you. I can’t say too much about him as an actor, simply because I’ve not seen a lot of things that he’s been in, but the people who have remembered him on various news sites have been very warm and have fond memories of him, as have people of Susannah York, who also passed away recently and Patrick Swayze, who passed in 2009. Again, of cancer. When are we finally going to figure it out and be able to cure it properly? As in, you might get it, but it’s only a 0.01% risk of it actually being fatal. I really hope the future will turn out like in Time Trax, where they had found a universal cure while still in the 2000s (as opposed to the 2100s). More research needs to be done, and I know it’s being done, but to everyone who has ever had to witness a loved one battling it (winning OR losing), the cure can’t be found soon enough.

I was at the doctor’s for a health checkup recently, and got asked standard questions like if there’s a history of particular conditions in the family. When it came to cancer, my response was, “oh gosh, where do I start?” She told me to keep it to the immediate ancestors, as in parents and their parents. Well, we’ve covered one, but there’s also the fact that both of my grandmothers passed in cancer within five months of each other, when I was 15. Not a good year. The one of them who died of lung cancer said to me, before she was diagnosed, “whatever you do, never pick up smoking”. At the time, it was a “err, yeah, had no plans to but umm, sure”. She started smoking at the age of 16 and continued until her 60s, when the doctor gave her an ultimatum after diagnosing her with emphysema: quit or die. She decided to quit, but it was too late. I think she was smoke-free for maybe three or four years, but a life-time of tar inhalation had already taken its toll, and she died way before her time. I have kept the promise I made her maybe 15 years ago, and I intend to continue keeping it.

On a more cheerful note, and one which I’d like to end on because of that, Michael Douglas presented one of the Golden Globes recently, and got standing ovations as he got on stage. He said, “There’s gotta be an easier way to get a standing ovation”, but the fact that he got one warmed my heart and made me smile. He was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer earlier this year, but news broke a week or two ago that he had been declared cancer free. I’m delighted for him, for his wife Catherine Zeta Jones (I congratulate both on their mutual good tastes in partners!) and children. And whilst we’re on the subject of heartfelt confessions, Michael Douglas was actually my first celebrity crush. 🙂

I don’t know what the point of this post was. Maybe I just needed to get some stuff off my chest (I’m not fishing for sympathies – a lot of people have been so much worse off than I have!). Maybe that I just wanted to remind myself and others that while these people are famous, they’re also human beings. While we might get sad or shocked that a celebrity has a serious disease or even passed away, remember that there are people who mourn them, not because the person’s their favourite actor, writer or what have you, but because the person’s their parent, grandparent, sibling, partner or friend. It hurts to lose a loved one, regardless of if they’re famous or Joe Schmoe down the street.

(I thought I was going to finish here, but apparently I had more to say on this subject, so there will be a part two as well, as this would be insanely long if I didn’t. So part two will be along shortly.)

Continues in Celebrity and the Big C – Part 2

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