Celebrity Cancer Stories Highlight an Unlevel Playing Field

It’s good that celebrities with cancer raise awareness about the disease, but I think that they can do more.

There have been several celebrity cancer stories over the last few years, and their diagnoses, treatment and sadly sometimes deaths make headlines. Some use their platform to advocate, while others choose to remain very private about what they are dealing with.

I am aware that for some cancer patients, celebrity stories are an inspiration to them to keep going and I understand how powerful that type of motivation can be. There is, however, one thing that always comes to mind for me when I read about movie or music stars who have gone public with their cancer experience.

I bet they won’t have to manage a lot of the life-changing circumstances that most cancer patients do.

I bet a celebrity would not have to wake up and look around their home seeing all the dust bunnies and overflowing trash cans that they don’t have the energy to do anything about.

I bet a celebrity would not have to drag themselves out of a chair or bed to make sure they get health-promoting nutrition into them, or if a fruit or vegetable that is out of season is the only thing that appeals that the cost or availability won’t be an obstacle to them getting it.

I bet a celebrity would not have to be concerned about the practical aspects of who is going to take care of their children when they are struggling with the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation and surgical recovery.

I bet a celebrity would not have to sit in front of a mirror trying to apply eyebrows and eyelashes and figure out how to tie headscarves to go out in public because that’s the only way to see a medical professional.

I bet a celebrity would not have to change bed sheets that have been sweat through or stained with bodily fluids.

I bet a celebrity would not have to set up a GoFundMe account because that is the only way to pay for rent, or food or gas — or the only medication that will help them live, regardless of where they lay their head at night.

I see what I truly feel are horror stories of people who cannot follow their best hope for a future because they cannot afford it. I see stories of cancer patients whose lives were destroyed not only by their diagnoses, but also by having to file for bankruptcy because the medical bills they are facing could not be paid in most people’s lifetimes. I see tales of young women with metastatic breast cancer who cannot get the last-line of treatment because it is only available in another country and they would have to cover all the expenses to get there, stay there and pay their medical costs.

Lately the biggest celebrity cancer story features the newly diagnosed patient advocating for universal health care so that everyone can access the same options. I will not argue that it’s a significant plus to have people with a very public platform advocate for this or for donations to organizations that are conducting cancer research, but I’m not sure that’s the only way or best way to help.

While cancer is an equalizer in many aspects, the harsh truth of the matter it is not a level playing field; pretending it is just doesn’t cut it for me.

If I were to see a celebrity diagnosed with cancer who chose to use their wealth to close the care gap by putting their money towards medical debt or providing funds for others to access financially out-of-reach care options, THAT would be newsworthy to me. If a celebrity with colon cancer either in life or through a part of their will covered the cost for regular folks for colonoscopies or one with breast cancer the cost of screening tests, THAT would grab my attention. If a last-line treatment saved a celebrity’s life and he or she funded access to it regardless of location, I’d trumpet THAT from the mountains.

I am not naïve. I know that if this did come to be, the sheer number of requests would be unmanageable. But at the same time, the fact that so many people need help would be seen, would be known, would be understood. Once the need was demonstrated, the platform that celebrities are privileged to stand on could shout to the masses that so many of us will be impacted by a cancer diagnosis and for those less privileged, the struggle is magnified. It would make the truth of cancer a little less deniable.

Because if it can happen to them…

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