Beliefnet
Idol Chatter

patrickswayzepicforidolchat.jpgAs we all know, representatives for Patrick Swayze recently announced that the “Dirty Dancing” actor has pancreatic cancer, but allayed the initial rumors that he has mere weeks to live. Now the New York Times is reporting that the actor’s diagnosis “may bring attention to a neglected cancer,” which claims the lives of nearly 35,000 Americans per year; almost always fatal, its five-year survival rate is just 5 percent. (Other celebrities lost to pancreatic cancer were Luciano Pavarotti and Michael Landon.)
Over the years, there have been many celebrities—either because of personal commitment or a connection to someone who suffered from the illness—who have emerged as activists and voices for those afflicted with AIDS (Elizabeth Taylor, Sharon Stone), spinal cord injuries (Christopher Reeve), Parkinson’s Disease (Michael J. Fox) and colon cancer (Katie Couric, in memory of her late husband).


Back in the mid-80s, there was a show called “It’s a Living,” which focused on waitresses as characters, most notably the character played by actress Ann Jillian. Jillian went on to play a ghost in “Jennifer Slept Here” (the theme song for which still occasionally runs through my head). But another reason I remember her is because she was the first celebrity that I remember publicly announcing an illness, and one that people didn’t talk about all the time: breast cancer.
When she announced this, in the mid-1980s, she was 35 and had a double mastectomy, after which she became a vocal advocate for cancer research and prevention. Her battle with the disease was chronicled in the 1988 TV film, “The Ann Jillian Story” in which Jillian portrayed herself.
I have a love-hate relationship with celebrities. I’m as pop culture-obsessed as any blogger should be, and I hold people with a pulpit of any sort responsible for the words that they utter. I’m also sometimes critical of something that seems like charity and pandering at the same time (which I’m not saying this is). But when a person comes forward with a personal story and expresses a commitment, even if it’s as self-serving as “I have this cancer and I’m going to fund the research to eradicate it,” what comes from that is good.
May the afflicted experience the healing of mind, body, and spirit, and encounter a full recovery soon.

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