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Princess Kate surgery announcement leaves questions, but here's what we know

Princess of Wales undergoes abdominal surgery
Kate, Princess of Wales, undergoes abdominal surgery 02:06

London — At their most recent public outing, attending the annual Christmas Day church service in Sandringham, England, Britain's King Charles III and his daughter-in-law Princess Catherine were the picture of health. So, the twin announcements in January that the future queen was already in a private London clinic recovering from abdominal surgery and the monarch was set to undergo treatment for an enlarged prostate came as a bit of a shock.

A palace source said it was the king himself who wanted to make the details of his diagnosis public — an important openness from the new monarch after being crowned only last year.

"More human than what they used to project"

"It's an area of the body that's generally very sensitive – people are squeamish about," said CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook. "He's saying, 'Look, I'm a human. I have this problem, and here's how I'm going to take care of it.'"

The announcement about Charles came just an hour after it was revealed that Catherine, the Princess of Wales, or Kate as she's more often known, was recovering from what Kensington Palace called a "planned" abdominal surgery.

Catherine, Princess of Wales, with her family
Catherine, Princess of Wales, with her family on Dec. 25, 2023 in Sandringham, England. Samir Hussein/WireImage/Getty

The palace said Kate would spend up to two weeks at the private London clinic where she had the procedure, and then up to several months recuperating at home in Windsor, making it unlikely she will return to public duties until after Easter at the end of March. The palace stressed that surgery was not cancer related, but it has given no further detail, noting that Kate is keen to maintain her privacy.

The initial announcement may have surprised or concerned some people, given 42-year-old Kate's relatively young age and general good health. And amid ongoing social media speculation about Kate's health, a spokesperson for the princess said in late February she is "doing well."

"Kensington Palace made it clear in January the timelines of the princess' recovery and we'd only be providing significant updates. That guidance stands," he said.

One veteran royal watcher and biographer says the limited detail provided by the royals about such a senior family member's hospitalization is par for the course, however.

The royal family has a history of closely guarding, or at least attempting to closely guard its most personal information, and some Brits welcomed them even acknowledging their health issues.

"I think it certainly shows that they're more human than what they used to project to the public," one Londoner told CBS News in January.

"Protecting those three children"

The palace statement reflected the fact that the princess "has always put herself as a mother first, and she doesn't want her children to be exposed to any kind of speculation or intrusion," CBS News royal contributor Amanda Foreman said, adding that it was worded "100% with a mind to protecting those three children."

Prince William, Kate's husband and the next in line to inherit the British throne, will also temporarily step back from his royal duties to be at the princess' side and to help care for their children, Prince George, 10, Princess Charlotte, 8, and Prince Louis, 5, the palace said. William was seen arriving at the London clinic to visit his wife on Thursday.

"The tradition has always been to err on the side of caution, and in particular, with the royal family, as we know there were instances in the young princes' growing up where they were incredibly scarred by media speculation about their mother" the late Princess Diana, Foreman told CBS News. "So, that mindfulness is why they have gone in this direction."

"An incredibly busy time for the princess"  

Kate frequently polls as one of the most popular members of the royal family. Since the death of Queen Elizabeth II, and in the wake of her brother and sister-in-law Harry and Meghan's sensational exit from royal life, she has increasingly undertaken public engagements on her own.

Foreman said Kate was being side-lined from those royal duties at "an incredibly busy time for the Princess of Wales," noting the looming landmark dates on the Christian calendar around Easter.

"There's a lot that goes on around now, and the royal family plays a big role in that, and as an ambassador for mental health and for children, the big thing is that she has a very physical role — she's always standing up, sitting down, kneeling, picking up, and that's where she has to be particularly careful," Foreman said.

William and Kate, prince and princess of Wales, stay busy on Boston visit 05:38

The length of Kate's expected recovery time "is very significant," noted Foreman, "but don't forget there are procedures that can require very long recovery times — for example, a hysterectomy can take weeks to recover — and it doesn't mean it's a life-threatening situation by any means."

"There are lots of procedures people don't want to have discussed. It is personal to them," noted the author. "So, this makes a lot of sense within the framework of what we're hearing."

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