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Alan Rickman, David Bowie, and a National Call to Cure Cancer

This morning, my Facebook page filled with news that Alan Rickman, or as many of us will always remember him, Professor Snape, had passed away from cancer.

Of course, this is not the only beloved artist to die of cancer this week. Just a few days ago the world learned David Bowie succumbed to cancer as well.

These are the kind of stories that reverberate throughout social media. But they are also, sadly, nothing new. And surely these celebrity cancer deaths won’t be the last. Bowie and Rickman are just the latest casualties of cancer, one of the great enemies of humanity.

The disease has certainly touched my life. This month marks 20 years since my mother died of ovarian cancer, and later this year, I’ll mark the 15th anniversary of my father dying from lung cancer. My aunt, grandmother, and grandfather died of cancer, too.

I lost my mom when I was 25, before I was married or had children. Over the years, as I’ve grown from new bride to mom of two teenagers, I’ve keenly missed having my parents to turn to for comfort and support. It was this missing piece of my life and my efforts to keep my parents’ memory alive for my children that propelled me to write my new book Passed and Present (coming April 12, 2016.)

And yet, in dying, I recognize my mother gave me an unexpected gift. If she hadn’t died so young, I would never have gotten tested for BRCA1. Thanks to a simple blood test, I found out early that I carry the BRCA1 genetic mutation that dramatically increases my risk for ovarian and breast cancer. Like Angelina Jolie, I’ve had my ovaries removed to reduce my risk of ovarian cancer, and have undergone a prophylactic double mastectomy. These have been two of the greatest decisions of my life.  

The reports of Rickman and Bowie’s deaths, following so closely by the passing of Natalie Cole and the reminder that her father, Nat King Cole, also died of cancer, forces me to recognize the fight against cancer is far from over. While I’ve taken every precaution to remain healthy and part of my kids’ lives as long as possible, I worry what their future will hold. Cancer will kill an estimated 590,000 people in the United States this year.

How exciting to hear the news from this week’s State of the Union Address that President Obama has appointed Vice President Joe Biden to lead efforts to eradicate cancer. I was heartened to hear the president’s words, “For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the families that we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.”

Like me, Vice President Biden has felt the personal touch of this terrible disease, losing his son Beau to brain cancer last spring. The CDC reports that naturally-occurring smallpox was eradicated in 1977 as a result of concerted, worldwide effort within the medical community to end a centuries-old killer. I’d like to see the successful end to cancer in my lifetime — for me and my children — and for you.

Has your life been touched by cancer? Share your stories in the comments.