Last week, The Guardian’s Emma Keller wrote an column about the social media presence of Lisa Bonchek Adams, a young woman dealing with metastatic breast cancer. I’d link you to the article, but the Guardian has removed it pending investigation. As I tell my children, everything on the internet is permanent, so here is an archived copy.
The last names aren’t a coincidence — they are married.
A media poopstorm broke out. I found articles all over the place picking and choosing quotes from these op-ed pieces to support a sense of outrage. I am choosing not to do it here. They are short op-ed pieces, so if you want to see what all the hubbub is, please, click the links and draw your own conclusions.
My basic conclusion is this: Mrs. Keller’s piece was lacking in substance and seemed personal in nature. That she published a personal message from Lisa seemingly without her permission is unethical. She operated in poor form throughout, including saying Lisa is dying of cancer, rather than living with it. For someone who is fighting for every inch, that’s a pretty big error. If Keller’s premise was that she was turned off by the volume of Adams’ tweets, why didn’t she simply stop reading them?
However, I have that same reaction to people who have spent so much time hating on Mrs. Keller for this column.
Mr. Keller’s piece, in my opinion, offers the possibility of opening a larger, more important conversation — how we view death as equaling failure, how the medical community values aggressive treatment over palliative care, how we lift up a warrior model of fighting cancer, how many resources are spent on programs that may or may not have an impact, whether everyone has the same access to care. To me, Mr’s column was nuanced and careful not to pass judgment.
Is it perfect? No. The wisdom of using a woman struggling with cancer with a large social media following is questionable. In the end, it risks coming off as an insensitive personal attack.
But I am extremely concerned by the vitriol being returned to him in-kind and the impression that leaves on the casual observers of the breast cancer movement.
Here’s what I saw last night — the Kellers have no right to an opinion about cancer and end of life issues because they don’t have metastatic disease. If you think they were telling Lisa to go away and die quietly, I challenge you to reread with a cooler head.
Most of the time our message is that we need everyone to pitch in to eradicate cancer, that it’s a global problem which needs a global solution. Yesterday the message was quite the opposite – if you’re not in our shoes, shut up or risk angry reprisal from a whole lot of connected people. Most of all, go away.
Keeping my eye on moving the ball down the field toward eradication, I was mortified.
The Kellers are not above criticism just like I’m not above it. Neither is anyone else, including Lisa Adams, who chooses to tell her story publicly. I have read criticisms of the Keller pieces from Pink Ribbon Blues and After Five Years that I find very fair and productive. Mostly, though, I’ve read that the Kellers are morons, unworthy of the title “writers,” and should clam up.
People criticized the Kellers for speculating on Lisa’s motivation on twitter, then speculated on the reasons why the Kellers wrote their pieces. It would be funny if it weren’t all so infuriating for everyone involved.
I plan to take up some of the issues Mr. Keller raised in his piece, but for now, I ask all advocates to think about the real opportunities that are open right now. There are apparently enough receptive ears to justify op eds in two major newspapers. Think about how the casual reader will react to the personal, nasty comments we are flinging out in response.
Answering what you think is a lack of kindness with utter unkindness is not only counterproductive, it’s simply wrong.
We can do better. Much better. We have to do better.