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OPINION - Kate Middleton's secret is now out, and it’s tragic. After this cancer diagnosis, we must all rally behind her

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So, the secret is out. After all the speculation, all the online prurience, we now know the reason for Kate’s no-show over the last few months. She has cancer. The diagnosis isn’t the death sentence it once was, but it still, as she says, “a huge shock”, especially in a woman of 42 with an exemplary lifestyle.

It’s shocking for us; how much more for Kate, her young children, her husband, the Royals. It’s one of the functions of royalty to share, and to be seen to share, in the joys and sorrows of the rest of us; to project the human condition on a grand stage.

Well, this is a tribulation shared by an awful lot of people – about 1,000 people a day get a cancer diagnosis. And it is typical of the kindness of Kate that, at the close of her statement, she says: “For everyone facing this disease, in whatever form, please do not lose faith or hope. You are not alone.”

Pale, drawn, thin... this is a woman undergoing chemotherapy

We now know that the family photograph she released for Mother’s Day really did not give a true picture, in more senses than one. It shows a smiling, healthy, happy woman, very different from the Kate of the video released today, where she looks ill – nicely made up, of course, but pale, drawn, thin. This is a woman undergoing chemotherapy. And while she’s upbeat about her condition – I am well, and getting stronger every day, she says – be in no doubt about it: chemotherapy is a gruelling, debilitating treatment.

For the Royal family, it must seem that troubles don’t come singly, but in battalions. A year and a half from the death of the late Queen, the King has cancer and now so has the Princess of Wales, both of them models of healthy lifestyles. The statement today makes clear that William will be with his family for now but the Palace suggests he’ll be back in business after the Easter holidays.

Harry could make up much of the gap, perhaps just for the short term. Is it too much to ask?

There is, nonetheless, rather a large gap in the royals available for the stuff royals do – being the public face of charities, the colonels of regiments, the figure in the royal box at grand premieres, opening hospitals. The slimmed down Royal family might have seemed a good idea as originally envisioned by Prince Philip, but that was then.

It’s a bit too slim now. And there is only so much Princess Anne can do. This doughty trouper, the toughest nut in the Royal Family, is already the hardest working royal. She can’t do much more. So, with Kate, the most popular royal, out of action, plus the King, Prince Edward will have to be more in evidence. And it is a non-runner for Prince Andrew gradually to be reintroduced to the fold, even now.

There is one absentee who could make up much of the gap, perhaps just for the short term, and that is Harry, Duke of Sussex. There are, admittedly, a number of difficulties, not least that he isn’t on speaking terms with his brother – when he was in the country visiting his father, he stayed at an hotel – avoiding the spare rooms at three royal palaces. His lovely wife has just launched a new lifestyle brand, and he has been dropped from the official Royal website. But needs must.

What would actually prevent him from returning to the fray while the King and Princess of Wales are unwell and undergoing treatment? He’s got a popular touch, he’s good with veterans, he is, after all that time in California, terrifically on message with the mental health issues.

Could this once-popular royal give his idyllic lifestyle – and his children – a miss for a bit to help his family, preferably without his controversial wife? Is it too much to ask? If the King could ask his son to help – and if Prince William could bear to have the prodigal back in the fold (as in the parable, the elder brother is more of a problem than the father) – then who knows what might be possible. If Harry has a sense of duty remaining, perhaps he might do so himself.

Meanwhile, Kate’s situation will have occasioned pity and understanding across the nation. Perhaps we can give her a break for a bit now?

Melanie McDonagh is an Evening Standard columnist