Kate Middleton has cancer. How awful was our speculating?

It’s hard not to feel some guilt about indulging in speculation when the truth was more devastating than we imagined.



March 26, 2024 - 1:47 PM

From left, Prince William, Kate Middleton, Princess of Wales, join Massachusetts Gov.-Elect Maura Healey and Boston Mayor Michelle Wu in Boston in 2022. The Princess of Wales recently announced she has cancer. (Nancy Lane/Boston Herald/TNS)

Finally, there was the explanation everyone was clamoring for but no one was expecting:

Kate Middleton, the wife of Prince William, the heir to the British throne, reappeared in public after a three-month absence, telling the world that she has cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy.

Never a particularly glib or comfortable public speaker, in a video shared on Instagram she sat on a bench on the grounds of Windsor Castle and gave arguably the most compelling and powerful speech of her life in the public eye explaining that after “major abdominal surgery” in January her doctors thought the condition was noncancerous. “However, tests after the operation found cancer had been present. My medical team therefore advised that I should undergo a course of preventative chemotherapy and I am now in the early stages of that treatment.”

Then she took a moment, casting her eyes downward before looking back at the camera. “This of course came as a huge shock,” she continued.

It was stunning, awful news, which followed the February announcement that King Charles has cancer. Prince William now has a father with cancer and a wife with cancer. That’s a lot for a family to go through in private, but this one has to go through it in public as well.

And it was a huge shock to us, too. Not that the moment of her announcement about having cancer and undergoing grueling chemotherapy should be about how we feel. But it is kind of about us — us being the millions of people around the world who watch every move by Kate (or Catherine as she prefers to be called, though we only occasionally accede to her wishes) and William on X, Instagram and other social media platforms — because we turned her disappearance into a public parlor game.

In the three months that the princess vanished from public view, we were awash in wild theories: She was in a coma. She was recovering from a Brazilian butt lift. She was divorcing William. She was just on an extended leave from her high-pressure life. Her Photoshopping a publicly released picture of herself and her three young children only made us wonder what had possessed her. And what kind of abdominal surgery requires two months of recuperation, we all asked in exasperation. Well — the kind that leads to a finding of cancer and the start of chemotherapy.

It’s hard not to feel some guilt about indulging in speculation when the truth was more devastating than we imagined.

But Kensington Palace, where Kate and William are officially based, left the door wide open for all that speculation when it put out a release in January saying she was doing well after surgery, and added that her illness was not cancer-related. The palace said the Princess of Wales would be back on her feet after Easter.

Though that was accurate at the time the palace put out the statement (Middleton said Friday that her cancer was discovered later) the palace also said it would have no further comment on the princess’ condition unless there was “ significant new information to share.”

Well, it certainly didn’t keep its word on that.

OK, so Kensington Palace could manage its communications team better. What’s extraordinary is that Kate has now told the world what she’s going through. Eventually she would have had to. But better to do it now, before the self-imposed Easter deadline, and before even one more theory exploded online.

Although the real benefit is not that she puts to rest all the wacky speculation but that, without even preaching it, she’s a reminder that cancer doesn’t discriminate. 

If a 42-year-old healthy woman (who has better health care than most of us) can get cancer, we all can and should get recommended cancer screenings. Her message Friday offered a moving coda: “For everyone facing this disease, in whatever form, please do not lose faith or hope. You are not alone.”