Farrah Fawcett, 1947-2009

After a long, brave, public battle with cancer, Farrah Fawcett passed away today.

Fawcett, 62, had been fighting anal cancer since 2006. She invited cameras (and in doing so, the American public) into her private life to better document the grim realities of living with the disease. It was while filming her documentary, "Farrah's Story," that she learned the cancer she thought she conquered had returned. Despite her commitment to health—even going so far as to try experimental treatments found only in Europe—the effects of the illness on her body were evident in the past few months, and the stories about her condition leaked to the press and shown in her film were heartbreaking.

Anal cancer, when left unchecked, can be particularly undignified, and the stigma surrounding it remains. There are no pink-ribbon walk-a-thons or public spokespeople—at least, not until Fawcett spoke up. Though anal cancer is rare, (Fawcett was one of the 710 Americans who will die from the diseases in 2009, according to the National Cancer Institute), the world is now intimately familiar with the devastation it can wreak. The increased awareness will help lead to earlier diagnosis and less shame for survivors.

Farrah Fawcett first graced the public with her great beauty. but her final, and more lasting, gift may be the lessons learned from her public pain.

More resources about anal cancer can be found at the American Cancer Society and the National Institutes of Health.