Kate Middleton’s Cancer and the Constant Battle for Royal Women’s Privacy

Kate Middleton’s Cancer and the Constant Battle for Royal Women’s Privacy

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On March 22, while sitting on a bench surrounded by spring flowers, Kate Middleton made an emotional admission to the world: she had been diagnosed with cancer.

“In January, I underwent major abdominal surgery in London, and at the time, it was thought that my condition was non-cancerous. The surgery was successful. However, tests after the operation found cancer had been present,” she said in a video posted on social media. “My medical team therefore advised that I should undergo a course of preventive chemotherapy, and I am now in the early stages of that treatment.”

She also explained that recovering from her surgery—and processing her surprise diagnosis—was the reason she has not appeared in public since December 2023. “As you can imagine, it has taken time to recover from major surgery in order to start my treatment. But most importantly, it has taken time to explain everything to George, Charlotte, and Louis in a way that is appropriate for them.”

It no doubt took courage for the Princess to make such a private health matter public. However, she also likely had little choice. A few days earlier, a spokesman for the Information Commissioner’s Office—a U.K. watchdog agency for data protection issues—announced that a report had been filed against employees at the London Clinic. It alleged they attempted to access the princess’s personal health records. If the princess didn’t tell the world, there was a good chance that someone else would have for her.

In January, the Princess of Wales underwent a planned abdominal surgery at the Marylebone hospital. It was a clandestine operation, both literally and figuratively: Kensington Palace informed the public after it happened and noted she wouldn’t be making a public appearance until after Easter. “The Princess of Wales appreciates the interest this statement will generate,” a representative wrote at the time. “She hopes that the public will understand her desire to maintain as much normalcy for her children as possible.” On January 29, they announced she had left the hospital.

There was a deep hunger for more information from the public, and yet a notable lack of said information. So social media conspiracy theories about her health and whereabouts filled the void—especially after her husband, Prince William, abruptly pulled out of the memorial service for his godfather King Constantine of Greece without explanation. While many of the posts were humorous, others were sinister, even salacious, in their content. Grainy paparazzi photos of the Princess of Wales driving in a car with her mother, Carole Middleton, did little to quell the noise.

Then, it reached a fever pitch. On March 11, the Wales family released a photo with Middleton and her three children for Mother’s Day in the U.K. It featured several Photoshop manipulations. A day later, the AP issued a kill order for the photo and it was removed from news outlets like The New York Times. Suddenly, those fringe “Where’s Kate” internet rumors were catapulted into the mainstream. Everyone, everywhere, couldn’t help wondering what on earth was going on with Kate Middleton. And within that time frame, it seems an employee at the London Clinic might have attempted something illegal to find out.

Let’s get this out of the way: Kate Middleton works for the Crown, a taxpayer-funded institution. Therefore, a certain amount of transparency about her life is expected. Yet the level of scrutiny over her health has become akin to a political world leader, despite, frankly, having far fewer and far less important responsibilities. Sure, President Biden releases in-depth results of his physical, but he also has access to the nuclear codes.

The princess’s health batters have always been highly publicized, such as her struggle with Hyperemesis gravidarum during her pregnancies. Speaking of pregnancy: each time Middleton went into labor with her three children, Kensington Palace released a statement notifying the world’s press. Then, within 24 hours of their birth, Middleton participated in a photo call outside the hospital. She wore a dress, heels, and her hair was fully blown out as she smiled in front of a sea of cameras with an infant in her arms. To do that so quickly after labor feels equal parts superhuman and inhuman. But Middleton did it anyway, knowing it came with the job.

When it came to this most recent health issue, by the way, she wasn’t secretive: the Kensington Palace statement clearly stated she had abdominal surgery. But the lack of specifics around that abdominal surgery sent royal watchers into meltdown—and possibly led to a crime being committed.

Now, everything is out in the open. The Princess had abdominal surgery, is undergoing chemo, and needs time to heal as well as handle this life-altering diagnosis. Despite the online rumor mill, there were no highly orchestrated lies, conspiracies, or secrets. There was just, well, a sad situation: Middleton is only 42 years old and has three children all under the age of 10. “This of course came as a huge shock, and William and I have been doing everything we can to process and manage this privately for the sake of our young family,” Middleton said. There was a slight tremor in her voice.

It’s not just Kate. Royal women, in particular, have been routinely hounded about medical matters to an unreasonable degree. Although admittedly less serious than Middleton’s cancer battle, when Meghan Markle was pregnant with her first child, she came under scrutiny for not doing a photo call at the steps of the hospital after his birth like her sister-in-law. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle revealed in the Netflix docuseries, Harry & Meghan, that it wasn’t because Markle wanted any special treatment. Instead, it was because Portland Hospital in Windsor said they couldn’t handle the press. “We couldn’t barricade these streets off, and it would create a threat for the emergency room entrance, because that’s where you would have to do this picture,’” Markle recalled the hospital telling them. Instead, Harry gave remarks to reporters a few hours after the birth. Then, two days later, they introduced Archie publicly to reporters and cameras at Windsor Castle. Yet, the couple was still painted publicly as difficult.“The amount of abuse that we got, especially [Meghan], but both of us, for not wanting to serve our child up on a silver platter, was incredible,” Harry said.

Nor does it only impact the royals themselves. In December 2012, Middleton was admitted to London’s King Edward VII Hospital for her acute Hyperemesis gravidarum. One night, two Australian DJs prank-called her hospital pretending to be Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles. A night nurse, Jacintha Saldanha, answered. Confused, she accidentally revealed details about the princess’s condition. After finding out she’d been duped—and feeling overwhelmed with shame—Saldanha took her own life.

At the end of her two-minute video, Middleton asked for privacy yet again. “We hope that you’ll understand that, as a family, we now need some time, space, and privacy while I complete my treatment.” Everyone is human—and all humans, even royals, have a legal and ethical right to medical privacy. Let’s finally let Kate have it, too.

This article was originally published on Vogue.com

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