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What Does King Charles’s Cancer Diagnosis Mean for Prince William?

Less than two weeks after King Charles III was admitted to a London hospital to be treated for an enlarged prostate, Buckingham Palace disclosed that tests had revealed “a form of cancer.” As Charles has been “advised by doctors to postpone public-facing duties,” many expected other members of the royal family to step up to the plate. So what does the news mean for Charles’s two sons, William and Harry?

Any of the small handful of working senior royals could theoretically be called upon to attend events in King Charles’s place and take on other duties while he receives treatment. Queen Camilla, Princess Anne and Sophie, the Duchess of Edinburgh, are expected to absorb some of them.

But a great many of Charles’s duties are expected to fall to his son William, the Prince of Wales, who is the heir to the throne. The prince had only recently decided that he would be taking some time off from his public duties while his wife, Catherine, was hospitalized for a “planned abdominal surgery.” (To allow for her recovery, Catherine would not be undertaking any public activities until after Easter, the royal family said at the time.)

“With the Princess of Wales undergoing abdominal surgery and being out of the public eye, I think the spotlight will surely fall to Prince William,” said Elizabeth Holmes, a journalist who has written widely about the royals. Camilla had also been keeping a full schedule recently, Ms. Holmes added, saying that last week the queen consort had had “public engagements every day, which is a lot.”

William’s life had already been turned upside-down by his wife’s hospitalization, but in the weeks ahead, he is likely be asked to add events and ceremonies from his father’s schedule to his own.

“The Prince of Wales is currently taking time to support his wife, the Princess of Wales, as she recovers from abdominal surgery at home in Windsor,” Lee Thompson, William and Catherine’s communications secretary, said in an email on Tuesday. “Although the prince has been working privately, he will commence public duties tomorrow.”

Mr. Lee added that as Charles receives treatment, Prince William “may undertake some duties on behalf of the king in addition to his own diary of engagements.”

Since Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, announced their intention to “step back” from their roles as senior members of the royal family in January 2020, Prince Harry has largely remained in California with his wife and the couple’s two young children. At least some of that time was spent on a lush estate in Montecito, Calif., giving a tell-all interview to Oprah Winfrey in March 2021, and participating in a Netflix documentary series, “Harry and Meghan,” released the next year. It’s unlikely that Charles’s health troubles will meaningfully alter that arrangement, Ms. Holmes said.

“I can’t imagine a scenario where Harry is called back into this,” she said. “Not perhaps because he’s not willing to, but because that relationship is so fractured at this point.”

Prince Harry, who has had a strained relationship with both his father and his brother over the past year, met with the king on Tuesday. It’s unclear how long Harry’s full visit will be, but Ms. Holmes noted that reports indicated that the meeting with the king was very short.

“Harry flew from Los Angeles — it’s a very long way to then have a 45-minute meeting,” Ms. Holmes said. “I think you can kind of read the tea leaves a little bit there.”

According to Cheryl Fisher, a licensed clinical professional counselor who specializes in helping families dealing with cancer diagnoses, any family that is touched by cancer is going to be affected; the question is how. “Different family members respond differently to the news,” she said.

“While grief and anticipatory grief is a family thing, it’s also an individual thing — each individual person is going through their own process,” she said. “With the royal family, we’ve got this patriarch and the role, the expectations, and then the rest of the family kind of looking like: ‘OK, well, what happens if he’s not able to perform his duties? What does that look like?’”

Probably not.

“I don’t see that happening,” Ms. Holmes said. “Even if Harry wanted to, there have not been any signs from the royal family that that’s what they’re asking of him or that’s what they were wanting of him.”

Though Buckingham Palace has not provided specifics on the type or stage of the king’s cancer, its remarks on the “benign” prostate issue Charles suffered from earlier this month may indicate that the cancer diagnosis is, by contrast, more serious.

“The royal family considers health matters to be private, and there’s a long history of health matters remaining private until after their death,” Ms. Holmes said. “It’s not a given that they’re going to share this information with the public, so the fact that the palace released a statement sharing this is a big deal for the royal family.”

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