Funny cancer story

Not a joke, something that happened, but it’s pretty funny.

If someone said “this cancer”, what would you think he meant? Your choices are (a) a particular form of cancer or (b) a particular case of cancer. It’s kind of ambiguous without context, and it’s usually not funny, except in this case, someone told a Guardian (UK) reporter, “Without getting too specific, this particular cancer is caused by something called HPV, which actually comes about from cunnilingus.”

OK, now it’s a little funny, except the reporter took the sufferer, actor Michael Douglas, to mean not that his form of throat cancer can be caused by HPV, but that Douglas personally contracted it that way. An offhand ironic remark became the subject of the article (the headline of the long piece was “Michael Douglas on Liberace, Cannes, cancer and cunnilingus”) and Douglas apparently got upset about it.

Michael DouglasOr I think he did. When the AP ran a meta-story headlined “Michael Douglas: Oral sex can cause throat cancer”, Douglas’s spokesman—whose mother must be so proud of her derivatively famous son—clarified, “In a discussion with the newspaper, they talked about the causes of oral cancer, one of which was oral sex, which is noted and has been known for a while now.”

Was Douglas upset? Yes, oral sex can spread HPV, and HPV can cause throat cancer, but it’s much more likely that he got from 50 years of smoking and drinking. Maybe he wasn’t upset; maybe he just wanted to take some personal responsibility.

The Guardian understood the Douglas, upset or not, to be impugning their institutional veracity, and didn’t take it lying down. They actually published the audio of the exchange, defiantly citing Douglas’s exact words, and interpreting it their way.

I’m disappointed to tell you that the story died there. I was hoping that there would be more accusations back and forth, a lawsuit or two, and ideally, some risqué name for the contretemps. Throatumorpussyeatinggate, something like that. Sadly, though, it was not to be.

The moral of the story, kids: don’t smoke or drink. Do have oral sex though, despite its (minor) risks. As Douglas said, “It giveth and it taketh.”

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