How King Charles’ public cancer battle will differ from George VI’s secret diagnosis



As recently as September 2022, when Elizabeth II died, the cause of death was given as “old age”. But according to Queen Elizabeth: An Intimate Portrait, a biography by Gyles Brandreth published two months afterwards, she had been suffering from myeloma, a rare form of bone cancer. Brandreth, who had been friends with Prince Philip, said Elizabeth II’s doctor had known about her condition for some time. When his claims caused a stir, Brandreth said: “I really didn’t want to upset anyone, yet if it’s going to be confirmed – and one day it will – at least I, as a reporter, am saying what was out there.”

The King’s decision to be open about his condition, and treatment, reflects a modern medical environment that is very different from the one in which George VI’s cancer was kept from him. Medical conditions are no longer thought of as secrets to be kept under cloak and dagger. A cancer diagnosis is less of a cause for pessimism than it used to be, with modern diagnosis and treatment improving outcomes for almost every form of the disease.

While the King is the most senior royal to have come forward about his cancer, he is not quite the first. In 2002, Princess Michael of Kent showed that royals could be open about these things, when she revealed that she had been treated for skin cancer. She said that she felt “very fortunate” because the cancer wasn’t life-threatening. In 2014 her husband, Prince Michael said that he considered his medical matters private, but confirmed that he had been successfully treated for prostate cancer.

Last year, Sarah, Duchess of York announced that she had undergone a mastectomy. Two weeks ago, she revealed that she had also been diagnosed with skin cancer. “Naturally another cancer diagnosis has been a shock, but I’m in good spirits and grateful for the many messages of love and support,” she said.

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This is in keeping with how many cancer sufferers cope with their diagnosis today. They remain positive about their condition, express gratitude for support from their friends and family, and hope that by coming forward they will encourage others to be vigilant about their own health.

According to the palace statement on Monday, the King remains “wholly positive about his treatment” and “looks forward to returning to full public duty as soon as possible”.

In being honest about his cancer, King Charles is reinforcing what millions of non-royals prove every year, all over the world: that how you handle such a diagnosis can be a display not of weakness, but of strength.

The Telegraph, London

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