Cancer Awareness: Putting Cancer in the Spotlight

12 months 2 days ago
Posted under Cancer Awareness

Cancer, it’s one of the most notorious and frightening villains to ever star in movies. Just hearing its name invokes fear in most people. It has a long standing relationship with the film industry, from the Golden Age of Hollywood to contemporary times. It’s more horrifying than Freddy Krueger and more evil than Darth Vader and Lord Voldemort. It can wreak havoc on the lives of innocent and unsuspecting souls. The American Cancer Society reports that in the US males have a 1 in 2 lifetime risk of getting cancer and females have a 1 in 3 lifetime risk. Now that’s a terrifying statistic! Whether in the movies or in real life, cancer doesn’t discriminate. It’s more ruthless than any gangster and it strikes people of all ages, ethnicities, economical backgrounds and occupations. Fame and fortune do not exclude anyone from cancer’s ghastly clutches.

Hollywood and Cancer

Here’s a list of some of the many stars of the big and small screen who have fought cancer— some survived it, and some have sadly lost the battle.

  • The 3 leading men from Meet the Fockers: Robert DeNiro and Ben Stiller (prostate) and Dustin Hoffman (undisclosed).
  • 3 of Harry Potter’s professors at Hogwarts: Richard Harris who portrayed Dumbledore (Hodgkin’s Lymphoma), Alan Rickman who portrayed Professor Snape (pancreatic) and Dame Maggie Smith who portrayed Professor McGonagall (breast)
  • 3 of the original Rat Pack: Frank Sinatra (bladder), Dean Martin (lung) and Sammy Davis Jr. (throat).
  • The original Charlie and his 3 Angels: John Forsythe (colon), Farrah Fawcett (anal), Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith (breast).
  • Sex and the City’s fictional character Samantha had breast cancer, but in real life it was Cynthia Nixon (Miranda) who battled this disease.
  • Famous movie couples
    • Casablanca’s Ingrid Bergman (breast) and Humphrey Bogart (esophageal)
    • Dirty Dancing’s Patrick Swayze (pancreatic) and Jennifer Grey (thyroid).
  • Cancer and the Leading Men:
    • John Wayne (stomach) and Gary Cooper (prostate) fought many outlaws in the Wild West but lost their battles with cancer.
    • Roy Scheider fought back against that great white shark in Jaws, but in real life he battled Multiple Myeloma.
    • Sir Alec Guinness may have had the force with him as Obi-Wan Kenobi when he fought against the Empire, but in real life he lost his own battle with liver cancer.
    • Richard Roundtree, the tough and cool Detective Shaft, not only fought gangsters but he also fought breast cancer, and he won.
    • Wolverine may have unique physical powers but they could not stop Hugh Jackman from getting skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma).
  • Cancer and the Leading Ladies:
    • Breast cancer has a strong presence in the actress category. Starlets who had this disease include Jane Fonda, Bette Davis, Shirley Temple, Ruby Dee, Rita Wilson and Christina Applegate.
    • Kathy Bates not only won the battle over the parking space in Fried Green Tomatoes but she also won her battle with ovarian cancer.
    • Fran Drescher used her experience as a uterine cancer survivor to start her own organization: Cancer Schmancer.
  • Leaving legacies, two men who made their mark on film in different ways also made the world better for children. They died from lung cancer, but their dreams still live on today.
    • Walt Disney, the creator of Mickey Mouse and other loveable characters.
    • Paul Newman, actor and founder of The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, a place to help children with cancer and other chronic illnesses experience the joy of camp.

Raising Awareness

One of the biggest stars to raise awareness for cancer is Academy Award-winning actress Angelina Jolie. She brought genetic testing for breast cancer mutations into the spotlight.  Because of her decision to go public with her testing and subsequent preventative mastectomy, there was an increase in women getting genetic testing. This is known as the Angelina Jolie effect.  

A Happy Ending

Getting a cancer diagnosis doesn’t have to mean it’s the finale to your life’s story. The good news is that, just like in the movies, evil doesn’t always triumph. The number of people surviving cancer is increasing and today there are more resources than ever to help you fight cancer.

As part of cancer awareness, it is everyone’s responsibility to learn more about cancer prevention and early detection and discuss what’s right for you with your doctor(s). As Glinda said to Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz: “You've always had the power to go back to Kansas.” And you have the power to educate yourself, make better lifestyle choices and become more in tune to changes in your body. You have the power to be the shining star in your story. Go forth and shine!


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American Cancer Society

American Institute for Cancer Research



Gwen Spector, RN, BSN, COCN, CCP