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Mourning and learning

mj_1988.jpg

Yesterday was a busy day for celebrity media coverage, with actress Farrah Fawcett losing her battle with cancer and King of Pop Michael Jackson dying suddenly of what was apparently cardiac arrest.

Over at the NPR Health Blog, Deborah Franklin rounds up the medical sidebars to stories of both deaths. She notes that both celebrities have become medical cautionary tales, though Fawcett's (arguably more preventable) death gets shorter shrift:

"Fawcett died of metastatic anal cancer, an illness that is often diagnosed too late because people are reluctant to report rectal bleeding, itching or other symptoms to their doctor. Station WYFF in Greenville, S.C. was one of few outlets to tell its viewers what to look for, and to explain that early chemotherapy and surgery of the relatively rare cancer are often curative."

So why does Jackson's ailment get more explanation? Is it because he was a bigger star? A more shocking death? Are we, even in this post-Katie Couric world, uncomfortable talking about topics like anal cancer?

Or maybe the answer is in the numbers: While anal cancer kills about 700 people each year, sudden cardiac arrest kills nearly 300,000.

Photo (circa 1988) by Alan Light

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