A friend of mine told me the other day about a New York Times op-ed columnist who is catching heat about an opinion piece he wrote on Lisa B Adams. The mother of 3 has been battling breast cancer for many years and has a well-followed blog where she details her experience from the front lines. Bill Keller, the NYTimes writer, was criticizing her choice to try nearly every treatment possible to prolong her life. In comparison, he presented the case of his father-in-law who chose to succumb to his death in a manner the author felt was “humane and honorable.”
I understand both sides to this story. It seems appalling that this writer would pass judgement on the most personal and critical of another’s life choices. Part of me wants to say (along with the rest of the stone throwers), “Hey Bill, she’s not your wife, mother, daughter, or sister, what do you care?” But, as he says, “her decision to live her cancer onstage invites us to think about it, debate it, learn from it.” The debate is the part of this that seems so wrong. Yet, the “think about it.. learn from it” is entirely right.
Her readers aren’t the only ones who are learning. As she tries different treatment options, doctors and researchers learn from her, too. Keller points out that ” only 3 percent of adult cancer patients who are eligible to enroll in clinical trials do so.” Perhaps her courage to fight is not only to prolong her life, but also with the higher purpose of furthering medical research so others’ battles don’t have to be so arduous. Her public crusade is commendable and heroic and deserving of the utmost respect.
One of the many reasons I choose to write about my own story publicly is to help anyone else going through something similar by learning from my experience. My path doesn’t have to be theirs and it certainly pales in comparison to most. Every situation is different, everyone makes different choices. Ultimately, I think Bill Keller’s piece shined a light on the opposite ends of the spectrum of medical treatment for terminal cancer patients. Each comes with its own consequences and merits. Perhaps, his article did more good than bad. Maybe he set out to validate his father-in-law’s choice of a quicker, more pain-free death, but what he really did was alert his readers to Lisa’s story and her blog. When you visit her blog, its simple design has a grace and beauty to it. Two eye catching details: blue flowers in the top left and in the top right, “Give to Memorial Sloan-Kettering.” Well played, Ms. Adams, well played.