Jackie Collins died on September 19, 2015 from breast cancer. She was 77 years old. She was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer six years ago. She kept this news to herself and her immediate family only. She didn’t even tell her elder sister Joan Collins until a week ago when the end was probably near, a sister with whom she was very close. She also didn’t inform any other close members of her family besides her three daughters. She didn’t want to burden them as she knew they would be distressed and upset. She battled her disease quietly, bravely and carried on with her work and career as usual. Towards the last few months she looked more frail than usual, but most could chalk that up to age and not a terminal illness. She was, after all, in her late seventies, some signs of frailty is to be expected. The public found out about her terminal illness only 5 days prior to her death when she gave an interview to People Magazine.
I am not a Jackie Collins fan. I’ve never read her books. I know them by reputation and they were not, shall we say, Pulitzer or Nobel Prize worthy material. She sold over 500 million copies a la Barbara Cartland and Danielle Steele style, appealing to the common denominator of readers who craved romance and sex that were not found in real life. She was known as sparkling and witty personality to those who didn’t read her books, she was a lady about Tinseltown and showed up at the smartest parties. She was well liked and well loved by all that met and knew her.
In her interview with People Magazine, she gave no apologies of how she chose to handle her illness (with utmost secrecy) and cited Frank Sinatra ‘I did it my way’.
Bravo to her.
In this age of emotional incontinence, where every illness, personal failing or peccadillo is broadcasted for mass consumption by ‘celebrities’, in a cynical bid to appear ‘relatable’, just to sell their latest ware, self-help book, movie, album or just to fill up a lull in a 24 hour ‘news’ cycle, Jackie Collins’s approach was dignified and refreshing.
She wanted to battle her illness her way, in the manner that she chose. By making her illness public at the time of her diagnosis, especially with something like breast cancer, she will be subjected to all kinds of unsolicited advice of all persuasions in the medical or wellness field. Besides being bombarded with unsolicited medical or lifestyle ‘advice’, she would be obliged to take every advice thrown at her with grace and patience, or else she would look ungrateful to all the people that wish her well. As if battling cancer isn’t arduous enough already, she’s got to plaster on a smile for every person who feel compelled to give her advice. So she saved herself the agony and told no one outside of her immediate family. Good for her.
As her tributes and condolences make its way to the airwaves, one can be sure that there will be some mumblings as to why she chose to hide her illness from everyone. After all, she’s not known as a woman that shunned publicity, in fact quite the opposite, she basked in the limelight when she sold her latest books and didn’t seem bothered by it.
In this day and age where a few empty headed people with a poor grasp of English grammar from the Jersey Shore can sit around a house and do nothing all day and get wasted at night and become ‘legitimate’ celebrities flogging clothing lines, makeup and self-tanning lotions, simply because they are able to make a complete fool of themselves on camera, society has lost all sense of what’s for the public domain and what should remain private. With the trend of reality TV shows, where the only talent required is the willingness to make an absolute ass of yourself on television and in that process reveal everything about yourself without any consideration for its appropriateness, Jackie Collins’s quiet dignity in battling her life threatening illness is worthy of praise.
While she was battling her illness, it’s not as though she’s shut herself inside her mansion and waited for the end to come. Absolutely not, during her illness, she has:
Written five books since the diagnosis, I’ve lived my life, I’ve travelled all over the world, I have not turned down book tours and no one has ever known until now when I feel as though I should come out with it,” said Collins, whose treatments over the years included a lumpectomy, radiation and various drug courses and combinations.
“Now I want to save other people’s lives.”
Her courage and example is a lesson to young people today of how one should handle life’s adversities and that spilling your guts to anyone who will listen may not always be the best. The old fashion value of personal restraint can still be of value in the social media and internet age. It didn’t die with our grandmother’s generation.
Some would argue that Jackie Collins being a celebrity, by making her illness public, she could help others. Perhaps. But breast cancer, unfortunately, isn’t a rare disease and a lot of awareness has already been made about it. Whether Jackie Collins made her illness and her treatments public or not won’t really change the discussion about breast cancer much.
Perhaps it was her stiff upper lip or her English upbringing of not making a big fuss about oneself that kept her from disclosing her illness. Whatever the reasons, it was dignified, beautiful and rare in this age of gross boundaryless oversharing. It was a dignified end to an extraordinary life.
Judging from her last interview, despite her fame and the riches that came with it, she knew what was truly important, and that’s her family. In her final days, she only thought of her children and grandchildren and worried that they might miss her and she reassures them that she will always be there for them regardless if her physical body is on this earth or not.
She did it her way. Bravo. RIP Jackie Collins.