The entertainment world awoke to a shock on Monday, when representatives of John Travolta and Kelly Preston shared the news that Preston had died of breast cancer at age 57.
Preston’s ailment caught many by surprise, however.
“Please tell me the news of Kelly Preston is not true,” actress and television host Jillian Barberie said Monday. “I had no idea she had breast cancer. My heart aches for her family. This is an insidious disease.”
So, why did so few people know that Preston had breast cancer? Here’s what you need to know:
A Representative of Preston & Travolta Said She Chose ‘To Keep Her Fight Private’ As She Underwent Treatment for 2 Years
Preston was apparently diagnosed with breast cancer about two years ago, according to a statement her representative gave to People Magazine. “Choosing to keep her fight private, she had been undergoing medical treatment for some time, supported by her closest family and friends,” the representative told People.
She was last photographed in public at the premiere of Travolta’s 2018 mob biopic Gotti, when she walked the red carpet with her husband, CNN reported.
Preston and Travolta belonged to the controversial Church of Scientology for more than 40 years, NBC reported. This led many to speculate online that perhaps their beliefs might have hampered treatment or prevented her from getting it.
Travolta seemed to repudiate that notion in advance, however, when he said on Instagram that his wife was being treated at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Camden, New Jersey.
“My family and I will forever be grateful to her doctors and nurses at MD Anderson Cancer Center, all the medical centers that have helped, as well as her many friends and loved ones who have been by her side,” Travolta said.
MD Anderson is recognized as the best cancer care treatment center in the country, according to its website.
It’s Not Uncommon for Someone With Breast Cancer to Keep Their Diagnosis Private, Cancer Experts Say
Breast cancer is the most common diagnosed cancer for women in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society.
Until the 1970s, it was uncommon for women to share the diagnosis. First Lady Betty Ford helped to change the trend in 1974, sharing her diagnosis and even allowing the press to photograph her in the hospital, Cancer Today Magazine reported.
Dr. Jesse Fann, of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, told a publication of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in 2016 that it’s not uncommon for people to ask that their diagnosis be kept private.
“Some say that they don’t want others to ‘pity’ them, or don’t want others to ‘treat them differently,'” she said. “Some just don’t know how to bring up the topic. Some don’t want to sound like they are whining and complaining all the time.”
People in positions of power often may want to keep their diagnosis to themselves, clinical psychologist Michelle Davey told the Financial Review, because they don’t want it to tarnish their professional image.
“High-achieving people are concerned about keeping their professional appearance,” she told the outlet. “If they’ve worked hard to have a reputation for being dedicated at work, they don’t want to let that perception slide.”
When musical and cinematic legend David Bowie died of liver cancer in 2016, after a nearly two-year fight, it was a shock to all but those closest to him, the Independent reported. Bowie’s producer, Tony Visconti, told the Independent that he knew for a year the cancer was incurable, but still kept it a secret, instead folding his diagnosis and impending death into his last album, Blackstar.
Preston is survived by her husband and their two children, Ella, 20, and Benjamin, 8. Their eldest son, Jett, preceded Preston in death at age 16 in January 2009.