It’s not her role as a detective in the 1970’s series, “Charlie’s Angels”; or her long, feather-shagged sun-streaked locks; or even her legendary 17-year tumultuous love affair with Ryan O’Neal, that make Farrah Fawcett a cultural icon.

There are three more important reasons – reasons that though related, stand out discreetly in my mind:

1. Farrah Fawcett was a courageous advocate. As the LA Times’s Tom O'Neil wrote before her two-hour documentary, “Farrah’s Story” aired last May, “Fawcett became an outspoken advocate for early detection and treatment of colo-rectal cancer. She worked tirelessly to raise the profile of this disease. And by documenting her own struggles, she will make viewers aware of the need for testing and research.” As an advocate for a disease whose name is also sometimes whispered, as anal cancer’s is, I know the inherent challenges of getting people to acknowledge and accept words that need to be spoken.

2. Farrah Fawcett was honest. Though hope is vital – no, more than vital, it’s necessary – it’s also crucial to call a spade a bloody shovel. In her documentary, she revealed the devastation of cancer; NBC reported, “At one point she can be heard saying, ‘I wish it would just be over.’” Though I’m a fierce supporter of trying to stay positive and surrounding oneself with positivity when battling cancer, I also agree with oncologist and New Yorker writer Jerome Groopman, who said in The Anatomy of Hope that hope is clear-eyed and “has no room for delusion.” As a documentary producer myself who has struggled with balancing truth and hope, I have immense respect for Ms. Fawcett’s commitment to revealing her truth, “Warts and all,” as NBC’s Matt Lauer said.

3.Farrah Fawcett allowed herself to be shown naked. In Ms. Fawcett’s Emmy-nominated role in “The Burning Bed” (1984), as well as her performance 13 years later as the wife of a philandering minister in "The Apostle," she allowed herself to be filmed without makeup (or, rather, she was probably made up to look her worst). LA Times critic Kenneth said she was "gaunt, almost unrecognizable." What courage it takes to put one’s art before vanity. I know how difficult it is for me to be photographed when I’m not at my best; I can’t imagine what that was like for her. Interestingly, during the same year, Ms. Fawcett appeared literally nude in a Playboy photo video, “All of Me.” I love multi-faceted individuals, and she certainly had many sides.

Perhaps most compelling to me is that Ms. Fawcett wanted to use her cancer, rather than letting it use her, and she never gave up hope.

Said Fawcett, "I'm holding onto the hope that there is some reason that I got cancer and there is something – that may not be very clear to me right now – but that I will do."

I hope that somewhere, somehow she can see now how much she did and will continue to do for all of us, whether we’ve been personally impacted by cancer or not.

Always hope,
Author • Editor • Essayist
This post originally appeared on Hope's blog, Hope for Cancer: what helps. what hurts. what heals.

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