Much has been said about Bill and Emma Keller’s very public war on Lisa Bonchek Adams, a woman blogging and tweeting about her life as a stage IV cancer patient. You can find Bill’s post here. Emma’s post caused enough of a stir that the Guardian took it down, but here’s a link to the cached version.
I read both Keller posts and think they’ve lost their minds. I don’t know where they’re coming from; I don’t know why this married couple decided to use their bully pulpits at two major newspapers (Emma at the Guardian; Bill at the New York Times) to bully a woman dealing with Stage IV cancer. I don’t know why Bill Keller didn’t report facts correctly. I don’t know why Emma did not reveal to Lisa that she was going to use private messages in her very public story.
I don’t know why it irks Emma Keller that Lisa is “dying out loud. On her blog, and, especially, on Twitter.” But certainly, it irked her enough to write a story about the wrongness of such a public discussion.
Emma wonders: “should there should be boundaries in an experience like this? Is there such a thing as TMI? Are her tweets a grim equivalent of deathbed selfies, one step further than funeral selfies? Why am I so obsessed?”
Maybe Emma is obsessed because she, herself, is a breast cancer survivor. She blogged about her double mastectomy in 2012 – just one post, and then no more. Maybe Emma realizes there’s an audience for a discussion of dealing with breast cancer treatment. And maybe, just maybe, this is a discussion that terrifies Emma, cancer survivor that she is, and so instead of looking away from the blogs and tweets, she attacks Lisa for writing about her struggles. I don’t know. All I know is that a cancer survivor’s attack on a Stage IV cancer patient for writing about being a Stage IV cancer patient reeks of irrationality and fear.
Bill, for some inexplicable reason, decided to follow up on his wife’s controversial post with one of his own in the New York Times. The “heroic measures” he thinks Lisa should take are to simply stop talking and die like his 79-year-old father-in-law did after being diagnosed with cancer. “He died gently,” Bill noted.
“In October 2012 I wrote about my father-in-law’s death from cancer in a British hospital. There, more routinely than in the United States, patients are offered the option of being unplugged from everything except pain killers and allowed to slip peacefully from life. His death seemed to me a humane and honorable alternative to the frantic medical trench warfare that often makes an expensive misery of death in America.”
But quite frankly, I don’t know why Bill thinks that Lisa Adams should emulate his 79-year-old father-in-law’s approach to cancer. Lisa is not just some elderly patient relentlessly pursuing hopeless and expensive treatments in search of just a few more days.
First, she’s not dying. She’s living with cancer. She’s getting palliative treatments to help her manage the pain of cancer.
And she’s not an old person at the end of a very long life. She’s young. And she’s a mother whose children are 15, 11 and 7.
And she’s blogged about how terrifying this is – to be a cancer patient who has children who are so young. Here’s a section from one of her poems about the nightmares cancer brings (I encourage you to read the entire poem, which you can find here:
I will be there, with them, but only in memories.
It will have to be enough.
But I know it won’t be.
This is what cancer nightmares are made of.
This is what grief does.
I cannot do more, be more, than I am right now.
But I can want more.
It is a parent’s prerogative.
I am greedy.
I make no apologies for wanting to see the things I want to see,
Wanting to share the things I want to share,
Wanting to live the life I want to live.
So I don’t know why Bill feels comparing the death of his 79-year old father-in-law is in any way remotely comparable to what Lisa Adams is going through. And I don’t know why the Kellers feel that enhancing the conversation about “end-of-life” heroic measures should be framed in dual attacks on a young mother dealing with cancer.
I come at this from the perspective of the someone who lost both parents to cancer by the time I was 22. My mother died of metastatic breast cancer when I was 12; she was 41. My father died of metastatic kidney cancer when I was 22; he was 54.
What I know from my experience – every day matters to a mother who is dealing with cancer. When my mother’s cancer came back, she was told she had just nine months to live. She lived 18 months instead. The doctors told us that her will to live was so strong because she did not want to leave us, her children. She wanted to stay with us as long as she could. And that will to live doubled her time with us. She got to see me win first place in a horse show; she got to see me with my braces off. She had nine more months to live with us than the doctors thought possible. And I appreciate those nine months, even as I mourn all the months lost since.
That’s why Lisa is doing what she SHOULD do – she should explore EVERY avenue available to her to stay alive. She’s not just doing this for herself. She’s doing this for her children. That’s what the Kellers don’t understand. And that’s why their columns are so stupidly misguided and offensive.