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Should Celebrities Go Public About a Cancer Diagnosis?

Should Celebrities Go Public About a Cancer Diagnosis?
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Published on May 21, 2020

Kareem Abdul Jabbar at Pre White House Correspondents Dinner Reception Pre Party

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Wikimedia Commons)

Over the years, a number of celebrities have disclosed serious health concerns that they or a loved one were living with—Rob Lowe, Jane Alexander, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Olivia Newton-John, to name a few.

Sometimes celebrities are paid by pharmaceutical companies to go public. Others come forward to profit on the speaking circuit. And others have simply donated their time to charity and disease awareness. It’s a mix of personal privacy decisions, business decisions and a decision to simply do good.

Olivia Newton John

Olivia Newton-John (Eva Rinaldi/SplashNews)

This past weekend, former Miss America and female sportscasting pioneer Phyllis George passed away at age 70. It was later revealed that she had been living with polycythemia vera (PV), a rare blood cancer that we cover extensively at Patient Power.

Several people in the PV community have written to me that they wished Ms. George had disclosed her 35-year journey with PV to help raise awareness and funds for research. But, as someone else noted, it is a private matter, and privacy should be respected.

In contrast, NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw has been very public about his cancer diagnosis and journey. He even wrote a book about it. In my view, it elevated my respect for him. 

Phyllis George

Phyllis George (John Mathew Smith/

Given that Patient Power reaches approximately 200,000 people a month affected by cancer, there may be some celebrities among our viewers. If that’s you, I invite you to consider “coming out” about your diagnosis, so we can work together to underscore that we are all in this together and that greater awareness is a good thing.

I know some celebrities have concerns that a disclosure will affect their ability to work—such as actors getting a big role. That’s not a trivial concern, again, and it’s one to be respected.

We do not know the circumstances of Phyllis George’s passing. I hope she was well-informed about her PV, had a specialist guiding her care, and maybe had connected with other patients, even confidentially, to receive support and know she was not alone.

We send condolences to Ms. George’s family, including daughter Pamela Brown, a CNN correspondent.

I welcome your comments at

~Andrew Schorr 

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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