Friday, July 3, 2020

Benign (?) Deception

I found an old 1957 movie on TV the other day, Les Girls, staring Gene Kelley.
He may have been the titular star, but the person who absolutely radiated from the screen was an English actress I didn’t know, Kay Kendall. Besides being stunningly beautiful, Kendall’s comedic skills stole the show and earned her a Golden Globe. I was surprised I didn’t remember her from other movies, but she had starred in predominately British films and died of leukemia only two years later.

          When the movie was over, the Turner Classic Movie host, Ben Mankiewicz, revealed that when Kendall was diagnosed with cancer, her doctor told her husband Rex Harrison, but let Kendall believe she had an iron deficiency. The two had only recently married and Harrison cared for her till her death.

          Can you imagine?

          I knew this wasn’t that unusual at the time, but still had to look it up. In fact, a 2006 study by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine stated that in earlier times doctors usually felt it was in their patients’ best interest to conceal a diagnosis that was most likely fatal, quoting the attitude as that of “hope over truth.”

          In 1953, a questionnaire sent to 444 doctors in the Philadelphia revealed that 69% of respondents never or usually did not inform patients of a diagnosis of cancer.

In those days, cancer really was often a death sentence.

          By the late 1970s, things had turned in the other direction, with a survey to American doctors showing that 97% said they would disclose a diagnosis of cancer.

          It must have been a bit like losing your mind, knowing full well something was terribly wrong, but everyone assuring you that you’d be up and around in no time.


  1. That 'doctor knows best' thing really irritates me. Sadly in some areas it continues.
    Someone who was diagnosed with MS at about the same time as I was had a neurologist who forbade her to join the MS Society or read up about the illness, telling her that he would give her information when he thought it appropriate.
    Physically she wasn't too badly affected. The impact on her mental/emotional health was very, very different.

    1. Wow. There's a doctor with a God complex if ever there was one.

  2. I remember the "C" word- nobody ever said it out loud. People avoided the cancer victim also, not knowing what to say or do. Also huntington's chorea- "you are just dizzy"..."maybe addicted to drugs"...sent to an asylum to die alone, family shamed. Cruel ignorance! AIDS was the same way for a while- the shame of illness. Crazy!

  3. I think it's criminal to keep a diagnosis like that from the patient. Everyone has the right to make peace with the inevitable, and it might take a long while to get one's affairs in order.

  4. I can only imagine women clawing to know the truth.

  5. That IS astonishing. Surely at some point the patients realized they'd been lied to. What did that do to their perceptions of their relationships at the end of their lives?! Terrible.


Thanks for stopping by and I'd love to hear what you think.