Gongol.com Archives: March 2024

Brian Gongol

March 23, 2024

Health A diagnosis of hardship

A 42-year-old woman with three young children at home has been diagnosed with cancer and faces a period of recovery ahead. It is, objectively, an unpleasant and unwelcome development that still happens too often, despite many advances in oncology over recent decades. ■ But the 42-year-old woman in question is Catherine, Britain's Princess of Wales, and that means her condition has been the cause of tabloid speculation for weeks and will remain fodder for a considerable time to come. ■ Every person who gets a cancer diagnosis deserves to bring that news forward on their own terms. But being open about it early in the process, rather than late, should be the default strategy for anyone who hasn't intentionally embraced a different path for good reason. ■ In the case of a cancer diagnosis, the patient needs to know that a story will almost certainly be told about them, so it is usually best to grasp the lead in forming that narrative. It helps especially to have an oncologist who will treat you with respect for your intelligence and autonomy and who will engage you as part of your own medical team. ■ Sharing the news with friends enlists them in carrying some of the burden along the way. The problem for the woman set to become the next queen consort of England is that her condition is a matter of inordinate attention even in good times. ■ Oliver Carroll, a correspondent for The Economist, puts it wisely: "I have no right to know this information. I have never had any right to know any of this information. But like all normal people am hoping for her swift and full recovery." ■ Monarchies are problematic like that: They turn entire families into casts of characters in mass-market dramas, and that's really no way for anyone to live. It is a fundamentally dehumanizing social structure, in no small part because the cockamamie theory of the divine right of kings specifically placed monarchs (and their immediate families) in a place not all that different from demigods. (Alas, it is dehumanizing to call other human beings "subjects", too.) ■ By right as a human being, the news of Catherine's cancer diagnosis should be hers to share with whom she wants, when she wants. But that cannot be the case for someone whose life is invariably on center stage and in the spotlight. The physical diagnosis is sad, but the social pathology at play is harmful, too.

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