Caring Currents

RIP Farrah Fawcett, Who Wanted Us to Take Her -- And Cancer -- Seriously

Last updated: Jun 25, 2009

Farrah Fawcett Poster (Charlie's Angels)
Image by Hobo! used under the creative commons attribution license.

She may have started her public career as a fluffy pin-up girl, but Farrah Fawcett couldn't have ended it with more dignity in her role as a public figure. Diagnosed three years ago with anal cancer, Fawcett talked openly about her battle with a type of cancer that's particularly embarrassing to talk about.

With her mane of beautiful hair, white teeth, and sun-tinged skin, Farrah was the picture of health and the quintessential California girl (though she hailed from Texas), adorning many a teenage boy's wall in her famous red tank top. Thanks to the gritty documentary "Farrah's Story" that she allowed her friend Alana Stewart to film, we saw her as she finished her life lying in a bed, barely moving, unable to recognize her own son. She brought the horrors of cancer and the infallibility of cancer treatment into our living rooms and got us to talk about really hard topics, like what it would be like to suffer like that, and how far we'd be willing to go to stay alive.

When Farrah's Story aired in May, it prompted a worldwide discussion about cancer prevention and treatment options that continues today. Here are some of the things Farrah Fawcett wanted people to know:

"¢ Be Alert. Anyone can get cancer and not know they have it; access to plenty of money and top-notch medical care doesn't guarantee safety from this deadly and often symptomless disease. Get every possible test, talk to your doctor anytime you experience unexplained symptoms that might be cancer, and generally stay on the alert.

"¢ Cancer Treatment is Brutal - and Very Worthwhile. With headlines like "Farrah Fawcett Shaved Her Famous Hair During Chemotherapy" -- and images of herself bald and gaunt -- Farrah put a celebrity face on the traumatic realities of cancer treatment. Yet she also made it clear that she weathered the side-effects of [chemotherapy] ( and radiation bravely because she was focused on beating her cancer, and she never wavered in that determination.

"¢ There's Always Room for Hope. Those of us in Cancer World know we'd be nowhere without hope. With her famous pronouncement that she was "hoping for a miracle," Farrah told us that she never gave up hope, and neither should we give up hope for the cancer patients in our care.

"¢ Talk to Your Doctor About Lifestyle Risks. Like cervical cancer, anal cancer can be caused by exposure to HPV (the genital wart virus), so having unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners puts you at risk. Your doctors need to know if you've been exposed to these risks or they can't help you protect yourself.