Where Have All the Lung Cancer Celebrities Gone?
Last week Eric and I saw the movie Wild. Wild tells the story of Cheryl Strayed’s journey hiking the Pacific Crest Trail after losing her mother to lung cancer. Conspicuously (to me), the movie flashbacked to her mother’s illness several times, including a scene where she received her diagnosis, without ever mentioning lung cancer specifically. I may be getting paranoid about this, but I can’t help but wonder, would that detail have been omitted if it were another type of cancer?
I had been warned against seeing Wild, that it would hit too close to home. But, rather than being relieved that the movie swept the lung cancer detail under the rug so it would be easier for me to watch, the omission irked me. Such a great awareness raising opportunity lost! Reese Witherspoon (playing Cheryl in the movie) and Cheryl Strayed are doing a major press tour. I know lung cancer isn’t the main subject of the movie, but even if they mentioned it occasionally in their interviews, think of the visibility, the impact they could make. (If it had been breast cancer, you know the Susan G. Komen Foundation would have slapped a pink ribbon on every poster and created an entire world-wide fundraiser around the movie. Dang it, why didn’t we do that?!)
For being the #1 cancer killer in the world, lung cancer is surprisingly light on celebrity representation in the media. Statistically, this doesn’t make sense. There are surely more public figures out there impacted by this disease. It must be that the stigma silences most of them. Or, sometimes the media censors the information itself, by referring only obliquely to the fact that someone has cancer, omitting the type, or by reporting on the site of the metastases as if it were the source of the cancer. Valerie Harper is the most vocal celebrity I know on the topic of lung cancer. But, when People magazine covered her disease, they referred to it as brain cancer, rather than lung cancer that had metastasized to the lining of her brain.
I’m so grateful and proud of Valerie Harper for her work on behalf of lung cancer. It takes guts and intention for a public figure to announce a lung cancer diagnosis in the face of the stigma. How many can you think of?
We need more celebrities to step forward, put a face on this disease that people can relate to and help the cause. Valerie Harper is doing a wonderful job, but she can’t do it alone. George Clooney reportedly asked his new wife to quit her smoking habit before the wedding since so many of his relatives have succumbed to lung cancer (chemo = lots of time to catch up on my US Weekly reading).
Dear George: I’m kind of busy, but if you’d like to work together on a lung cancer advocacy project, give me a ringy-dingy and I’ll try to clear my calendar. No, seriously George, call me. Or you too, Cheryl Strayed & Reese Witherspoon. I can find a spot in my schedule for either of you, as well. How ‘bout a nice “Lungs. They’re Right Under Your Boobs!” shirt for awards season attire? Hawt. Express train to the best dressed lists fo’sho. Who’s in?