Robin Roberts, Elizabeth Edwards and Breast Cancer Celebs: Why Do We Care So Much?

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • When "Good Morning America" co-host Robin Roberts revealed her breast cancer diagnosis July 31 on national TV, she was all over the airwaves. All over ALL the media, in fact, including blogs, where her announcement was topic #1 for cancer bloggers. One more woman, one more diagnosis. Statistically speaking, probably one of about 740 American women who were told they had breast cancer that day. Yet we found her story riveting. What kind of breast cancer? How far advanced? What would her treatment be?

    Interesting that, as survivors ourselves, we didn’t seem to particularly care about how she found her cancer. I imagine women without cancer felt an uncomfortable shiver down their spines when they heard she’d discovered a lump–and realized they weren’t doing their self-exams regularly. But we’re more interested in the future. What will Roberts’ treatment be? How will it mirror our own experience? We want the down-and-dirty details. I don’t believe we felt this way about the other 739 women diagnosed the same day as Roberts. Why is this?
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    Fascination with celebrities, with the glitter of fame. I’ll bet there’s not one person reading this who can truthfully say they don’t feel a little prickle of excitement when they hear someone famous is going to visit their town. “Wow, maybe I’ll see them,” we think. “Maybe I’ll get to shake their hand.” Well, so what if you shake their hand? That and about $1.50 these days will get you a cup of coffee. Yet there’s no denying that thrill.

    I live about half a mile from Dartmouth College, an Ivy League school whose commencement speaker and honorary degree recipients each year always include a bevy of celebrities. Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, David McCullough, Elie Wiesel, Fred Rogers (“Mr.Rogers”)–all have spoken at graduation in the past few years. And I inevitably cave in to the urge to ride my bike up to the college green and “mingle” among the celebs as they await their marching orders. (I can report that Mrs. Albright is VERY short, and President Clinton really good looking.) And I inevitably ask myself why I care. And find no answer. I just do.

    Yes, we’re fascinated by Robin Roberts’ diagnosis, and Elizabeth Edwards’ prognosis. Part of it is our hearts reaching out to another woman in the sisterhood. We care about them like we care about all of those 740 women, each day, who join us on the journey. But part of it is seeing these famous women take their struggle public. They have a huge forum in which to express their feelings; maybe we hope their feelings will mirror ours. And that through these women, our story will be told, too. Because, in the end, don’t we all want to tell our cancer story?

    Edwards is following a fairly straightforward path. We know that, statistically speaking, she has about a 20% chance of living longer than 5 years. We’ve read about her decision to “keep on keeping on,” as I believe most of us would. From what I can gather, she’s stable; taking oral chemo, and hanging in there.

  • Roberts revealed last week, however, that her treatment might not be quite as minimal as she’d initially thought. She apparently had a lumpectomy when she underwent surgery August 3, and she returned to "Good Morning America" on August 13. Last week, she announced in an "Entertainment Tonight" interview that the cancer is out of her body and "the plan now is to keep it out." However, she also noted that “The road getting there is going to be a little bumpier than I anticipated and they [the doctors] anticipated.” She said that she didn’t want to reveal specifics of treatment until there’s more clarity around what it’ll be. And you know, I can’t wait to read her update. Fame: there’s no denying its allure.
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Published On: August 27, 2007