Unranked media power couple Bill and Emma Keller have discovered a question so pressing, so important to our time that they both felt the need to write a column in their respective papers about it in the same week. Is Lisa Bonchek Adams, a stage four cancer patient, having cancer wrong? According to the Kellers, the answer is "yes."
The biggest problem in their views, seems to be that Adams — who is aggressively blogging and tweeting about every aspect of illness and treatment — just won't be quiet about having cancer.
Emma Keller, who has had cancer herself, published a critical op-ed in the Guardian last Wednesday about Adams's Twitter feed. In it, Keller seems to be concerned about whether Adams's decision to publicly discuss her diagnosis and treatment is "dignified," both for Adams (who "is dying," according to Keller, even though this is a characterization Adams rejects), and for Emma Keller personally. You see, a particularly intense series of updates from Adams apparently ruined the Kellers' Christmas, because Emma couldn't stop reading what Adams wrote, and that gives her complicated feelings:
She could hardly breathe, her lungs were filled with copious amounts of fluid causing her to be bedridden over Christmas. As her condition declined, her tweets amped up both in frequency and intensity. I couldn't stop reading – I even set up a dedicated @adamslisa column in Tweetdeck – but 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?
But the Kellers' concern with how Adams is doing cancer actually goes deeper than Emma's reading habits. Keller's Sunday New York Times piece goes after the aggressive, no-holds-barred manner in which Adams has decided to pursue treatment for the disease. She is willing to try anything, no matter how risky, if it might prolong her life, instead of a more peaceful pain management and palliative approach that others have chose, like Keller's father-in-law. He died from cancer in the U.K., and Keller decides to compare Adams's approach (which he characterizes as "her decision to treat her terminal disease as a military campaign") unfavorably to that of his father-in-law's:
[In the U.K.] 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.
For the record, the "military" metaphors Keller repeatedly associates with Adams's approach to treatment and choice to be public about it is a metaphor Adams herself soundly rejects.