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A cancer diagnosis is shocking for anyone, but particularly for younger people, in whom cancer is much rarer. In the UK, adults aged 25 to 49 account for 9% of new cases. For people with dependent children, this dreadful news can be even harder to manage; sometimes the person most upset by bad news is not the patient. It was clear from Friday’s video recording of the Princess of Wales that the impact of her illness on her three children – aged 10, eight and five – was foremost among the reasons why the news was kept from the public until then. Her explanation resonated with millions of people, whatever their opinions about the royal family.

The sharing of more details about the future queen’s health was inevitable. Her three-month absence, after a 13-day hospital stay and abdominal surgery in January, led to an information vacuum. The coincidence of the king’s cancer diagnosis – and the fact that the pair were in the same private London hospital at the same time – served to magnify interest in the royal family’s health.

The issuing of a digitally altered photograph of Catherine with her children to mark Mother’s Day (10 March in the UK this year) was a disastrous misstep. Far from cooling the rumours about her absence, the furore surrounding the image’s withdrawal by picture agencies – on the grounds that it had been manipulated – poured fuel on the fire. However, one former adviser said at the weekend that while the choreography of Friday’s announcement might have changed as a result, the timing did not. The family was determined not to tell the public until the children broke up from school.

By appearing on camera, and making the announcement herself, Catherine has done what she can to calm the media frenzy. In a two-minute message, filmed by the BBC, she thanked people for their support and understanding – a message echoed at the weekend by Kensington Palace. But she was also very clear in her appeal for “time, space and privacy” while she undergoes chemotherapy.

This is an appeal that must be granted. Even for holders of high-profile public roles, illness is a deeply private matter, unfolding as it does inside the body. Catherine, who is 42, made a point of being positive in her statement, saying she is “well and getting stronger”. But cancer is a serious illness and chemotherapy is a challenging treatment.

Curiosity about her condition comes with the territory. She is the wife of the future head of state, not an ordinary citizen. Netflix’s The Crown, Harry and Meghan’s move to the US and Prince Andrew’s disgrace have all fed the global appetite for royal drama – and blurred the line between fact and fiction. In our social media age, anyone with an account has a platform to share their fantasies, however cranky – indeed the algorithms of some platforms seem to positively encourage it. But in recent weeks the rumours swirling around Catherine have become prurient and unpleasant, as gossip has shaded into conspiracy theories.

No single politician or media organisation has the power to end such speculation. But journalists and public figures can set an example. Those who treated Catherine’s illness as a voyeuristic guessing game should be ashamed – as some have already admitted. Most of us have no idea what it would be like to have such personal information so widely shared. Despite her global celebrity, Catherine is entitled to privacy regarding her health. Once the apologies are out of the way, some reticence is called for.

#Guardian #view #Princess #Wales #heal #privately #Editorial

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