Perspective | Kate Middleton gave us her health news. Are we happy now?


There’s really only one certainty to come out of watching Kate Middleton’s video announcement, which is that the woman would rather not be making it. Not just because she’d rather not have to be receiving cancer treatments. But also because she might have preferred to keep those treatments private and instead conspiracy theories had metastasized, forcing the Princess of Wales to a teleprompter to disclose what the doctors had found inside her body.

Behind Kate’s acknowledgment of the “love, support and kindness that has been showed by so many of you,” lurked the unacknowledged fact that an equal “many of you” were not supportive and kind. Many were instead generating memes about how Prince William had murdered his wife and buried her in the backyard.

So now Kate, amid chemo, had come to set everyone straight. Wearing a casual sweater and sitting on an outdoor bench, the princess explained that the “major abdominal surgery” she underwent in January was not thought to be cancer-related at the time, but later tests showed that cancer “had been present.” She and William had done “everything we can to process and manage this privately for the sake of our young family.” She was now undergoing chemotherapy, and was asking for more “time, space and privacy” as she completed her treatment. She felt that she was getting “stronger every day,” and was focused on making a “full recovery.”

For context, I might note that when the palace announced the surgery, earlier this year, it described the procedure as “planned” — which certainly doesn’t preclude “major” but does connote a routine mundanity. Palace sources said at the time that the Princess’s illness was “noncancerous” which is partly what made royal watchers feel as though it was fine to treat the whole news story as delicious and tawdry, Massively Multiplayer Online Game of Clue.

For even more context, I might add that semantics and word choice — “planned” vs. “major” — probably mean absolutely nothing to a 42-year-old mother of three who is undergoing the scariest health challenge of her life while trying to reassure her kids that mommy is going to be okay. I can’t imagine it’s a lot of comfort for her to hear that when people were mocking her they didn’t think it was cancer, just, you know, something else terrible that had upended her world.

The question of what happened to Catherine, Princess of Wales turned out to be, in the end, a question of what you think you are owed by the British royals? How much privacy should be awarded to a family that not only lives on the public’s dime but whose primary role is to be public-facing?

Queen Elizabeth II once famously said, “I have to be seen to be believed,” and the entire Catherine, Princess of Wales saga proved that statement correct: When the princess went missing, people lost their faith in the crown. Lacking a steady feed of royal mythology, they created their own weird myths. Stephen Colbert propelled rumors about Kate and William’s marriage, recycling an old theory that William had had an affair. The segment seemed exceptionally misguided in hindsight. Contrary to the speculation about the health of their marriage, Kate said in her announcement that “having William by my side is a great source of comfort and reassurance.”

Within minutes of Middleton’s announcement, I was already seeing some preemptive backpedaling online, all of which amounted to the idea that this is what she should have said to begin with. If she had simply been honest from the beginning, the media and public would have known to leave her alone. I tend to agree that might have been the case — before her announcement, I made the argument for transparency myself — but it also implies that she should have had the presence of mind to consider optics before she considered her health.

And anyway, when I watched Catherine, Princess of Wales — a woman who had to interrupt her cancer treatments and her family tending to get her hair done and put on makeup and prove to the world that she was not dead, not a body double, not leaving her husband, not growing out a bad haircut, just sick — when I watched her give us her bad news, what I thought wasn’t that she should have told us sooner. It was that it was sad she had to do it at all.

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