Home Australia LIBBY PURVES: Why George, Charlotte and Louis will be key for Kate getting through the next few months

LIBBY PURVES: Why George, Charlotte and Louis will be key for Kate getting through the next few months

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In her video statement, the Princess of Wales displayed that rare grace: sitting calmly in front of the camera, very much herself

When life puts you on the line, you can’t rely on beauty and wealth and fame and titles. You need love and family, self-control and dignity.

In her video statement, the Princess of Wales showed that rare grace: sitting calmly in front of the camera, very much herself. She simply gave the facts and wished us well, ending with a kind hope for others in the same situation.

It felt like an echo of the late Queen in the Covid years saying ‘We meet again’. Indeed, Elizabeth II would be proud of her son-in-law, and so should we all.

Meanwhile, the merchants of fantasy should be cringing in recent weeks at all the happy speculation about everything from abdication to infidelity and bulimia to Brazilian butt lifts.

Now we know. It’s similar news that reaches millions and is always a bombshell. Probably even more so for someone so young, healthy alive, busy and happy.

In her video statement, the Princess of Wales displayed that rare grace: sitting calmly in front of the camera, very much herself

In her video statement, the Princess of Wales displayed that rare grace: sitting calmly in front of the camera, very much herself

The first cancer diagnosis forces reconsiderations, rearrangements, changed priorities. For a family woman, a first urgent instinct is to minimize the shock to everyone else because you realize it’s happening to them too: children, partner, parents, siblings.

When I received my rather sudden cancer diagnosis, I must admit that my first phone call to my husband rather uncharitably began ‘Look, you didn’t come all Yorkshire gloom on me, but…’.

Any philosophical or frightened musings about your own possible mortality will just have to wait until you’ve stabilized those closest to you, so to speak.

My immediate family were adults, but when children are involved, it has to be an even higher priority.

For the Welsh, it must have been annoying for Kate to already be on chemo, discreetly, under all the ridiculous cardigan-sleeves-photoshop nonsense.

So there is the work of settling the family, and adjusting the diary of work and friendships and holidays, and then there is the treatment itself to face.

I was lucky because I hadn’t started to feel really sick: an alert GP and quick biopsy gave an early warning and as it was a blood cancer it didn’t mean surgery. But chemotherapy, despite its progress in clearing the little monster cells, is a mess in itself.

Prince William will be a rock for his wife to cling to, but the children will be life's wild surf and joy around them both

Prince William will be a rock for his wife to cling to, but the children will be life's wild surf and joy around them both

Prince William will be a rock for his wife to cling to, but the children will be life’s wild surf and joy around them both

It must have been annoying for Kate to be on chemo, discreetly, under all the ridiculous cardigan-sleeves-photoshop nonsense, writes Libby Purves

It must have been annoying for Kate to be on chemo, discreetly, under all the ridiculous cardigan-sleeves-photoshop nonsense, writes Libby Purves

It must have been annoying for Kate to be on chemo, discreetly, under all the ridiculous cardigan-sleeves-photoshop nonsense, writes Libby Purves

I asked ‘what if I don’t have this chemo?’ To which my cheerful hematologist replied that I might have six or eight months at most. In other words, I was biologically designed to die sometime in 2020. Oh.

I get a bit laddish at times like this and mirrored ‘Worth a punt then?’ The fine and indulgent dr. Sadullah put it more strongly: my particular can, like many these days, be ‘zapped’.

But having complicated poisons pumped into you is strange. Some get away with pills, but often the treatment involves being attached to a drip or, in my case, a tube placed down the chest or arm. I spent a week in the ward, on a 100-hour drip, then two weeks at home to get over the side effects. Then I returned to the ward for round two – and this cycle continued for five months. While of course they take 17 pills a day to counteract them, all with dramatic Game-of-Thrones character names like Domperidone and Acyclovir.

The good news is that the anti-nausea ones are brilliant. The bad news is the interludes of ‘neutropenia’ – when you are forbidden to socialize. I used to sneak into empty cinemas and hide at the end of a row.

Let’s hope the princess gets away with a minimum of medical tricks. But it is tiring, boring and frustrating if your nature is to work and play hard in the full flow of life.

If you’re a woman, there’s usually the bleak issue of hair loss to face, although the young seem to be growing it back somewhat more convincingly than older heads like mine.

Cheerfulness must be fought for, family jokes nurtured.

I found that silly hats helped me make peace with my reflection in the mirror: the Christmas one with the stuffed pheasant model on top still comes to mind.

Libby Purves, pictured, says that for a family woman, a first pressing instinct is to minimize the shock to everyone else after a cancer diagnosis

Libby Purves, pictured, says that for a family woman, a first pressing instinct is to minimize the shock to everyone else after a cancer diagnosis

Libby Purves, pictured, says that for a family woman, a first pressing instinct is to minimize the shock to everyone else after a cancer diagnosis

The sympathy of outsiders at such times can feel downright creepy. Never ask a cancer patient ‘How (ital) are you?’ with a soupy voice, with a sympathetic tilt of your head, or rush to stop them from doing a job they are perfectly capable of. (My older brother defiantly painted his boat between treatments.)

So it behooves us all to offer the Princess of Wales absolutely no unsolicited advice or sentimental sympathy in the coming months, just the odd thumbs up and cheers.

As for medical privacy, the pair are in an unusual tension: my own instinct was to put my diagnosis on my theater website at the very beginning, complete with a drug treatment profile, just to bore people from speculating. It worked.

But global royal fame would make anyone wary: the King spoke boldly about his prostate and the Welsh about ‘abdominal surgery’, and it’s their right to leave it at that while we mind our own business.

The encouraging thing is that the very factor that made their task of revelation so difficult – their three young children – will make the next few months happier.

Children raised in joyful affection are not doomsayers or depressives. They like family jokes, and parents within reach and talk about their own enthusiasm. And more jokes.

And when you’re down, they have a natural effortless animal empathy, like a cat who snuggles up when you have a fever or a dog who drops his chew toy at your feet out of pure companionship.

I am sure that Prince William will be a rock for his wife to cling to, but the children will be the wild fire of life and joy around them both.

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