Last Updated: December 08. 2010 1:00AM
Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul, stricken with cancer
Susan Whitall / The Detroit News
Friends and fans of Aretha Franklin offered prayers and good wishes after learning that the Queen of Soul, one of Detroit’s beloved musical artists, is suffering from pancreatic cancer.
Sources familiar with the singer’s ailment told The Detroit News today that she was diagnosed with the often lethal form of cancer. Experts, however, say it can be beaten if detected early enough.
Franklin has been quiet about the nature of the illness that prompted her to cancel all upcoming events, including Thursday’s planned Christmas concert at the Fox Theatre. She did acknowledge last week that she’d successfully undergone a surgical procedure.
Her illness had been an increasing subject of speculation, including a post today by the National Enquirer. Separately, Fox 2 in Detroit reported that Franklin has cancer, attributing the information to “a close relative.”
The News contacted Franklin’s publicist, Tracey Jordan, who did not have a comment from Franklin.
Gospel singer Vickie Winans, who performs at yearly revivals at Franklin’s father’s church, New Bethel Baptist, was “hurt” by the reports.
“That’s devastating,” she said. “I love Aretha. I pray for her every single solitary day.”
The 68-year-old Queen of Soul announced in November that she was taking six months off under doctor’s orders, but did not reveal the nature of her condition.
She underwent a procedure at a Detroit hospital last Thursday and released a statement calling the surgery “highly successful,” praising her “superb doctors and nurses who were blessed by all the prayers of the city and the country.”
Cancer of the pancreas is the only major cancer with a prognosis in the single digits, and those diagnosed with it typically have a 5 percent chance of living five years, said Dr. Diane Simeone, director of the multidisciplinary Pancreatic Tumor Clinic at the University of Michigan. Of those, 85 percent are not candidates for surgery and must undergo treatments which are not curative.
“It has the worst prognosis of any major human malignancy,” Simeone said. “It is the most dreaded cancer to get.”
But the news isn’t always bleak. While actors Michael Landon and Patrick Swayze succumbed to pancreatic cancer, Apple CEO Steve Jobs and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg have survived it.
The pancreas, located in the deep recesses of the mid-abdomen behind the stomach, produces insulin to control blood sugar and enzymes to aid digestion.
The primary risk factor for developing cancer in the pancreas is smoking. About 10 percent of patients have the cancer in their families. It is often deadly since often there are no noticeable signs in the early stages of the cancer. When present, it can imitate signs of several other illnesses. Symptoms of the cancer can include jaundice, unexplained weight loss, pain in the abdomen, fatigue and loss of appetite.
An estimated 36,800 were expected to die from pancreatic cancer this year, making it the fourth-leading cause of cancer-related death in men and women, according to the National Cancer Institute. In Michigan, 1,355 residents died from pancreatic cancer in 2007, the latest data available.
Franklin was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has had 45 top 40 singles since 1961, the most of any female performer. Born in Memphis, she grew up in Detroit after her father, C.L. Franklin, was appointed pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church, where she soon became known for her singing.
In 1967, she left Columbia Records and signed with Atlantic, from which she was propelled to stardom with the hit song “Respect” and several other chart toppers.
Staff Writer Kim Kozlowski contributed to this report.