Farrah Fawcett's Timeless Fight

One of the most provocative offerings on television in recent memory was the 2-hour May 15 documentary about Farrah Fawcett’s battle with cancer. After her initial diagnosis on October, 22, 2006, Fawcett brought a video camera into the doctor’s office to record a follow-up visit to make sure that everything was clear and on the record.


From that point on, her friend Alana Stewart has chronicled Fawcett’s struggle, often covering some very troubling moments and producing a true docudrama called Farrah’s Story that Fawcett certainly never could have predicted when, as a perky young celebrity, she recorded a cancer-awareness TV public service announcement in 1981.


The most noteworthy subtext of the whole piece is Fawcett’s frequent wearing of a Christian cross, the documentary’s repeated visual hook of a diary with a cross emblazoned on it, and Fawcett’s repeated references to God. From a casual viewer’s perspective, her Christian faith never seems to have been discussed in all the years she has been in the public spotlight, and so you wonder whether she is just a Christian of convenience like those who pray to God only when their end seems near. Or is she really devoted to the love, caring and the very existence of a Supreme Being?  If so, it has been one of the best-kept secrets in atheist, materialist Hollywood.


The documentary includes Fawcett’s personal history and several scenes including her 91-year old father James, a sweet, soft-spoken former Texas oilfield contractor who lost his other daughter Diane to cancer in 2001. Perhaps they had a strong Christian bond during Farrah’s upbringing, but that is not discussed. Perhaps Farrah turned to God for strength as her sister passed away, never knowing her own coming fate.


She was born Ferrah but changed her name to Farrah, an Arabic word for “joy”. For the old-timers among us, she was known for years as Farrah Fawcett Majors, for her marriage to actor Lee Majors from 1973 to 1982.


From the day a scout picked Fawcett out of a college photo and brought her to Hollywood to do hair care, Noxzema skin cream, makeup and toothpaste commercials, Farrah’s life has been a charmed one. From her one-year stint on the 1970s TV mega-hit Charlie’s Angels to her famous pose as the maned, bathing-suited beauty of the best-selling pinup poster in history (12 million sold) to her TV-movie roles in The Burning Bed, to films like Extremities and Cannonball Run to Broadway appearances (during one of which she was physically attacked by a crazed fan)  Farrah Fawcett has been in the public consciousness for more than 30 years.


“The drive to live, I will never compromise” she says in her documentary, and then resignedly, “After all, it is in His hands” and then at another point “Thank you God”.


Is she really a Christian? In Hollywood? How have we missed this? Or is this the way it is out there, with private belief contrasted with public skepticism?


“Cancer is a disease that is mysterious, headstrong and makes its own rules,” said Fawcett, who is 62. And the documentary is brutally honest and that is to Fawcett’s credit. She is shown writhing in pain at various treatments, and never shies from showing the real anguish that she is in, while most celebrities would hide from anything that made them look bad or weak. Fawcett is seen tired, haggard and dispirited. At one point she is shown being pushed in a wheelchair covered in blankets and clutching a tub in her lap to prepare for vomiting. It is a very disconcerting image.


Starting in 2007, Fawcett went to Germany for repeated treatments, first having the main tumor removed which improved her prognosis. She traveled by private jet, an obvious perk of the high-octane life of her and her longtime companion actor Ryan O’Neal, who himself has survived CML leukemia, a lesser form of cancer.


“I feel like Alice in Wonderland, everything is surreal,” Fawcett says at one point. Then: “Sometimes this disease makes me feel like a stranger to myself.”


Later she finishes her German treatment and says “I want to go. I don’t want to be here,” but is warned about flying so shortly after her treatment due to the potentially negative effects of air pressurization in the plane’s cabin. She suffers on the ride home, expectedly.


One German doctor calls cancer “a terrorist” that is “filled with hate”. And you wonder how that quote got through the left-wing PC censors who generally make such films.


After Fawcett’s diagnosis, her condition became fodder for the tabloids, which she spoke aggressively about. “Why don’t these guys have some respect for anybody?” she wonders at one point where she is confronted by a paparazzo. This quote really reflects the double-edged sword of American celebrity. The tabloids have been vicious about her condition, predicting her imminent death repeatedly. Another major incident occurred when her medical records were breached by an employee at UCLA Medical Center, leading to new nationwide regulations.


Cynics might say that Fawcett is seeking publicity for The Greatest Performance Of All Time, better than any Oscar win. But in fact she is the real deal and is considered a heroine in the cancer community. She certainly will go down in history for this documentary and deservedly so. It is a bold move and a great gift to cancer survivors worldwide who struggle with the disease. “This is what cancer is,” Fawcett says, and there can be no misunderstanding. On air, she reads letters from cancer sufferers and it is touching that they see her as a light in their darkest hours.


Like a Hollywood movie, however, she is out front while the real power lies in the background in the miracle of the advanced medicine developed over centuries in prosperous, Christian-based Western societies. Most of us never will know who cured various diseases, but we all will remember Farrah Fawcett who chronicled her innate human will to survive.


Obviously Fawcett has tremendous resources at her disposal thanks to her success as an actress/celebrity. As usual, some will claim that this is unfair, that she can afford extraordinary measures while the rest of us make do with less. But in fact all the world’s people today are benefiting from the advancements in Western medicine that our society has developed and is generously offering free to all.


Easily the most significant but underreported message to come from Fawcett’s public battle is that the God that is guiding her through these difficult times is offering His comfort to all willing to follow in His path. It is hard to know exactly when Fawcett came to realize what all mankind has known for millennia – that people with faith do better in every way than those without. “It is in His hands,” she herself said. And that is the most noteworthy quote to come out of this documentary, that the life-saving treatment that we all have access to is right here before us for the asking, no matter our station in life.


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