What Having a Brain Tumor Can Do for Your Brand

For a few famous, alluring women, a brain tumor diagnosis strangely added to their appeal. 

by Marian Salzman • More.com Member { View Profile }

For the record, I’m not suggesting that anyone try to give herself a brain tumor. (How would that even be possible? Tape your smartphone to your head? Slather your scalp with parabens?)

But I can’t help thinking about the fact that for a handful of famous, already alluring women, a brain tumor diagnosis has strangely added to their appeal. It gives them complexity, a problem to make them seem more empathetic and human, another dimension to their stories. These women made meningiomas glam.

When Sheryl Crow received her diagnosis last year, she put on her game face, first mentioning it in passing during an interview with the decidedly non-A-list Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I worried about my memory so much that I went and got an MRI. And I found out I have a brain tumor,” she told her interviewer. “And I was, like, ‘See? I knew there was something wrong.’”

Crow went on to say that because it was benign, she didn’t really have to be anxious about it, which proved to be true for her. The breast cancer survivor told Katie Couric that she blamed her cellphone — though she couldn’t find a doctor to confirm that — and said learning that she had a tumor was “a sobering moment” but “nothing I have to worry about.”

When Mary Tyler Moore was diagnosed with her meningioma in 2011, she was similarly nonchalant, dispatching a representative to share the news with the media — which responded to word of a famous actress having a brain tumor by providing some education that most likely wouldn’t have been part of the story if an inadvertent celebrity spokesperson hadn’t been involved.

Going back a bit farther in time, Elizabeth Taylor got a glam boost from her craniotomy in 1997. The Los Angeles Times couldn’t wait to report that the actress was “resting comfortably” after her surgery.

It makes it all look so effortless.

And yet I know that it isn’t. I’ve been there myself. As I’ve chronicled in a series of posts on the Huffington Post, I was flying high in 2007. Chief marketing officer at JWT Worldwide, I’d been credited with popularizing the word metrosexual, and my annual trend predictions were being picked up around the globe. Between all that, plus international speaking engagements and a busy calendar of media appearances, I was the picture of the energetic, successful executive.

Yet I wasn’t myself — not quite sick, but I knew something was wrong.

After I insisted on a CT scan from a local radiologist, I got the not-so-warm-and-fuzzy call in my office the next day and was told what I already “knew” — the scan showed a brain tumor, probably benign.
I was one of the lucky ones myself. After an eight-hour surgery, I had a remarkably quick recovery. When I came to, I asked for my corporate credit cards and BlackBerrys (yes, plural), panicking that I was out of control and out of touch. I logged on for a conference call at work less than a week later and appeared on 60 Minutes about six weeks after my surgery — looking tired but with my speech, thought processes and head of blond hair intact.

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