- New York, NY
- ABC News Health (www.abcnews.go.com)
After Bruce Paltrow died in 2002, his wife, Blythe Danner, began fighting to raise awareness about head and neck cancer, which is diagnosed in 40,000 Americans every year and kills 11,000.
“It means a lot to get the word out,” Danner said. “It’s a very unrecognized cancer.”
Paltrow was first diagnosed with cancer in the fall of 1998. He had been hoarse for months but had refused to go to the doctor. By the time he went, the cancer was in stage IV.
“Because it was hidden way back in [his] throat, it was hard to detect,” Danner said. “Stage I or II, he’d still be with us, I think.”
Regular dental checkups are important to early detection, because dentists often see the first signs of the disease, like unusual white spots on the gums or jaws.
There are particular warning signs of head and neck cancer:
Persistent sore throat and hoarseness
Lingering pain in the mouth
An unhealed lump on the mouth or neck
Ear pain on one side only
Sinuses that don’t clear
Paltrow underwent six weeks of radiation therapy, and he went into remission for four years. Then, in October 2002, he flew to Italy for his daughter Gwyneth Paltrow’s 30th birthday. Friends discovered him in his room after the celebration throwing up blood. Gwyneth forced him to go to the hospital, where doctors discovered that his cancer had returned. He died before any other family member could fly to Italy.
Gwyneth talked about her grief with Diane Sawyer in 2003.
“The amazing thing is how unprepared we are in this culture for grief,” Gwyneth said. “And it is a monster. I mean, it is a monster. You know, there were some days where I thought, I can’t believe I’m waking up. I can’t believe I’m still alive. I mean, the weight of the pain was so great. But you just keep waking up.”
Danner said one of her husband’s favorite quotes was from poet Robert Frost: “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on.”
“He would not want us to wallow,” Danner said. Instead, the actress is working to educate others.
“Early detection, prevention, it just has to be out there much more, and it hasn’t been out there in the mainstream media.”
Danner said she hoped to reduce the rate of head and neck cancer by the time her grandchildren from Gwyneth and Coldplay singer Chris Martin were grown.
“They [Moses and Apple] are what has given life a meaning again to me,” Danner said.
To learn more about head and neck cancer, visit www.speakouthnc.com