For a couple of years now, Lisa Bonchek Adams has been yelling at me about going to the doctor. Okay, fine. She wasn’t yelling at me. She was greeting me gently on Twitter to remind me to “make that medical appointment you’ve been putting off.” She does this as a sort of social media public service announcement, and her tweets reminded me to see my gynecologist, to get a mammogram, and go ahead and make an appointment with my regular doctor because that cough really hasn’t gone away.
I’m deeply grateful to her for this.
Why has Lisa made this part of her personal life mission? She’s battling breast cancer. Stage IV metastatic breast cancer, to be specific. Lisa has the extraordinary grace to gift us with her struggle; she shares about it in her blog and particularly on Twitter. Here’s what she said in a recent blog post about why she uses social media this way.
“As I attack the cancer cells in my body I must always search for ways to bridge to the outside world. My family and friends have made that easy. They are my heart and soul. The supporters I have online help so much too. Your words of compassion and care keep me going and remind me why what I’m doing is so important. Using the time I have now while I am able to be functional is precisely the point… continue to give those too weak or unable to share the true experience of daily life with this disease a voice. To teach, to enlighten, to share, to support, to fundraise for research… and to always honor those who have died.”
It’s been rough for her, particularly these last few weeks. She’s currently in the hospital gearing up for radiation treatments, and in incredible pain that she and her doctors are desperately trying to control with medication. It’s a time she has relied heavily on social media, tweeting many, many times a day while she’s hospitalized.
For some ungodly reason, this also seemed like a good time for Emma and Bill Keller to write a pair of editorials (yes, they are married) in The Guardian and The New York Times, respectively questioning if Lisa is being inappropriate on social media. Here are a couple of key quotes.
From Emma Keller’s piece in The Guardian:
“…I felt embarrassed at my voyeurism. Should there be boundaries in 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? Why am I so obsessed?”
From Bill Keller’s piece in The NY Times:
“Her digital presence is no doubt a comfort to many of her followers. On the other hand, as cancer experts I consulted pointed out, Adams is the standard-bearer for an approach to cancer that honors the warrior, that may raise false hopes, and that, implicitly, seems to peg patients like my father-in-law as failures.”
I’m not going to claim that I’m a neutral bystander here; my history with oversharing on the web is well documented. I’m also a huge fan of Lisa’s, and I enjoy our discussions online. Her generosity knows no bounds, in my opinion. When I was recently diagnosed with arthritis in my knees and struggling to accept the news, Lisa took the time to reassure me and encourage me to walk away from shame even as she continued to battle her far worse medical plight. I love her for that.
So I read the two editorials above through a haze of rage. In particular I was enraged at Bill Keller’s article, his description of Lisa’s poetry “she pecked out after a blast of radiation” such an incredibly diminishing way to talk about her amazing writing and his implication that being a “cancer warrior” is a bad thing and can raise “false hopes” is, frankly, bulls**t. Not to mention that he suggests it would be better to let Lisa die rather than pursue more treatment (like his father-in-law did, with oh so much dignity, apparently). As if he’s got any clue whatsoever something he makes clear when he makes several mistakes (like the number of children Lisa has) in the original article he published.
It’s particularly annoying that neither Emma nor Bill Keller see any irony at airing their breathless admonishments of Lisa in public. Why is their personal angst about Lisa’s choices perfectly acceptable for public consumption, but Lisa’s journey of treatment and survival is not? Even more disturbing is the fact that Emma Keller apparently has a similar relationship to Lisa that I do yet never bothered to give her a heads up about writing her piece. (Before you ask, yes, Lisa gave me permission to write about this.)
Not exactly the sort of surprise Lisa was hoping for while hospitalized.
As you can imagine, support for Lisa has been fierce. Within moments the hashtag #TeamLisa started generating buzz, and myriad articles have been written in response to the original editorials. Social media may have a vicious side, but when it comes to supporting those that are struggling it can be an incredible force for good, as many of us in the mom blogging community know. Some us who know Lisa also knew the lovely Susan Niebur, another woman that blogged and shared through her struggles with cancer before she passed away in 2012. Being a witness to her journey was an honor, and proof of what social media can do in hard times.
Lisa starts out each day with the following tweet:
Find a bit of beauty in the world today. Share it. If you can’t find it, create it. Some days this may be hard to do. Persevere.
— Lisa Bonchek Adams (@AdamsLisa) January 13, 2014
If only the Kellers could have taken her advice. Maybe they’ll hear this tweet more clearly, from Lisa today.
@nytkeller The main thing is that I am alive. Do not write me off and make statements about how my life ends TIL IT DOES, SIR.
— Lisa Bonchek Adams (@AdamsLisa) January 13, 2014
Well said, Lisa. Well said.
You can donate to the hospital that has been treating Lisa in her honor here.