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To blog or not to blog about your cancer treatments through social media?
Cancer patient’s tweets are a lifeline:
By: Mary Mitchell
You may not have heard of Lisa Bonchek Adams, the young mother of three being treated at Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York for metastatic breast cancer.
But a controversy erupted last week over the 166,293 tweets that chronicle her treatment.
Bill Keller, a former New York Times executive editor, now a columnist at that publication, and his wife, Emma Keller, a freelance journalist, have been skewered over their opinions about the prolific tweeting.
After a barrage of complaints on social media, theGuardian.com removed Emma Keller’s blog post about Adams’ use of social media to chronicle her cancer experience.
Many of Adams’ followers have accused the Kellers of being “insensitive” and “callous” in their commentaries about a woman who is literally fighting to stay alive.
On Jan. 10, in a blog post titled “Places of Refuge (walking the pole),” Adams wrote:
“My body shakes, my hips cry out in bony futile gasps. I gather up my pump cords and release myself from the wall’s grip. I walk, counter-clockwise around the nurse’s station with a vengeance, trying to push the pain and discomfort away.”
Obviously, this blog is not for the weak-kneed.
But Adams’ powerful writing about a disease that some of us can barely call by name obviously has struck a chord.
Her Twitter followers exploded from 6,000 to about 14,000 in one week after the controversy surfaced in mainstream media.
Both Kellers wrote commentary questioning Adams’ need to share intimate details of her cancer journey.
“Should there be boundaries of this kind of experience? Is there such a thing as TMI? Are her tweets a grim equivalent of deathbed selfies, one step further than funeral selfies?” Keller asked.
Bill Keller pondered whether Adams’ aggressive cancer treatment amounted to extreme measures.
Additionally, in choosing to tackle the same sensitive issue his wife addressed in her column, Bill Keller might as well have said: “Stand back honey, I got this.”
As a columnist, I know when you write about your personal life, you are painting a bull’s-eye on your back and giving critics an opportunity to bash you for your human flaws.
I’m not sure bloggers like Adams are prepared for the criticism, and given Adams’ condition, the Kellers’ writings on this subject just appear to be cold-hearted rather than the kind of edgy commentary that stimulates debate.
Frankly, you would think that Emma Keller, a cancer survivor herself, would have been the last person to judge Adams’ tweets.
Some cancer patients can’t even bear to confront the disease, let alone write about it.
When I got the news in 2009 that I had breast cancer, I fell on the floor and wailed.
It was weeks before I could write a column about the diagnosis. I am still unable to put into words what it felt like to wake up without the breast that had been part of me since I was 12 years old.
Adams is more like TV’s Katie Couric, who lost husband Jay Monahan in 1998 to colon cancer.
Two years later, Couric allowed the camera to capture her first colonoscopy, convinced that her openness on the disease would help others turn to early detection to fight the disease.
The Archives of Internal Medicine published an observational study in 2003 that assessed the impact of Couric’s tell-all colonoscopy and found a sizable spike in colonoscopy rates across the
U.S., according to a medical website.
In 2012, “Good Morning America” caught a lot of flak when host Robin Roberts underwent a bone marrow transplant with cameras rolling.
“It’s become a soap opera” wailed the Daily Mail, while the ABC News website encouraged people to “follow Robin’s journey.”
Interestingly, no one with the stature of a New York Times or Guardian columnist accused either of these celebrities of offering too much information.
Social media has forever changed the way we communicate, and the technology is still evolving.
But we will all die.
Some of us will slip away and others will fight the unknown until our last breath.
Unlike the fools that text behind the wheel, there is a reason for Adams’ obsession.
Under these circumstances, her tweet is a lifeline.
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