By Stacy Jenel Smith
It's fabulous to see Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts going out on the Stones' Bigger Bang world tour this month after recovering from throat cancer.
That 13-year breast cancer survivor Olivia Newton John is coming out with a new studio album, "Stronger Than Before" -- which will be sold at Hallmark stores as a breast cancer fund-raiser beginning Sept. 1 -- is hugely inspiring.
And it's enough to bring tears to one's eyes that Lance Armstrong won his 7th Tour de France race - even as Nike was playing parts of his 1996 press conference in a commercial spot, with the now-healthy cycling legend controlling his voice as he talked about facing testicular cancer so advanced that it had already spread to his lungs and brain.
Just do it, indeed.
Knowing that such admired and diverse famous personalities as Edie Falco, Colin Powell, Kylie Minogue, Anastacia, and now, Christopher Reeve's widow Dana, have faced down or are facing down cancer gives countless patients all the more resolve.
The fact is, when it comes to battling debilitating or life-threatening ailments, celebrities find themselves in the unique position of being able to quite literally help millions by their own examples.
It was a coincidence that our story about Gerald McRaney doing well a year after his lung cancer surgery appeared in print even as the world was learning the sad news of Peter Jennings' death due to lung cancer. But it was no coincidence that McRaney was suddenly hit with numerous requests to appear on television talk and news magazine shows to tell his story. We're hungry for examples of celebs we love who've made it.
It is an act of courage and enormous generosity toward their fans and the general public when they choose to share, inspire, fund-raise, lobby on behalf of cures. Melissa Etheridge, 44, is the embodiment of that courage, flipping off her breast cancer with her Grammy show performance of Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart" in February, her head shaved bald rather than showing a chemotherapy hair loss. This month, she announced herself cancer-free.
Going public with an illness can be a career-ender, which is why it's unusual for performers to be as open as Etheridge. Or Tom Green.
That the king of tacky taste was chosen by fate to get hit with testicular cancer - which predominantly strikes men between the ages of 15 and 35 -- turned out to have unforeseen pluses. Who else would have turned the occasion into an MTV "Cancer Special"? The show caused a surge in testing for testicular cancer, which Green told Playboy wasn't "the main plan." Still, he added, "I hope the show made kids realize that testicular cancer isn't embarrassing. It's #$@!% hilarious. Feel your balls!"
Uterine cancer survivor "Living With Fran" series star/women's health advocate Fran Drescher says she never made the decision to tell the world of her disease. "I was outed by the tabloids while I was still in the hospital. I turned that into a positive, because it forced me to come to terms what had happened," she says. "Some people make believe they never had cancer. They keep it a big secret. With me, everyone had heard about it before I had a chance to digest it."
Fran has found that in her case, "There is a silver lining of cancer. Being a survivor has given a purpose to my life and an importance to my fame that works in astounding way I could never have imagined."
Fran has received many messages from cancer patients and their loved ones thanking her for the inspiration in her best-selling "Cancer Schmancer" book. She's become the unlikely pal of legislators including Arlen Spector, lobbying for legislation on behalf of cancer prevention education and cancer care, particularly for women's cancers, which she believes have received far less attention and research funding than other forms.
Many stars have come through the trials of illness or disability with insight and appreciation, and their words have staying power.
"My teacher told me at the age of 10 that when I grew up, I was going to be given a gift. Diabetes turned out to be it. It gave me the strength and toughness I needed for my life," said Halle Berry, at a Diabetes fund raiser.
Michael J. Fox's autobiography, "Lucky Man," takes readers on a journey through his self-indulgent days as a young star through his denial of his illness to his final acceptance and then advocacy for Parkinson's sufferers. He's often bitingly funny and never allows himself to get maudlin - and makes it clear he really does believe in the title. His Michael J. Fox Research Foundation has seen "more than $54 million funded since November 2000 directly or through partnerships," the organization is proud to report.
"The overcoming of adversity and, ultimately, denying it the rite of passage, has been a constant and perpetual motive throughout my life," said Heather Mills, who lost part of a leg in an automobile accident and went on to establish an organization providing amputees with prosthetic limbs, to campaign for land mine removal - and, of course, to marry Paul McCartney.
And breast cancer survivor Suzanne Somers sums up how life feels with a drastically changed perspective: "The birds are singing more sweetly and the foxes don't scare me. Everything has slowed down. Cancer does that for you," she told People magazine. "That's the first of the blessings. Worrying about work and all those things that were so urgent seemed so stupid. I just want to live."