Bill Keller: cancer blogging may give "false hope" to other sufferers

Former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller criticizes Lisa Adams' blogging of her experience as a Stage 4 cancer patient. He writes that it elevates a misguided "heroic measures" ideal of cancer treatment and "may raise false hopes" in other sufferers. Referencing her refusal to tell him how much all this is costing, Keller insinuates an unethical component to her reportage:

But any reader can see that Adams’s online omnipresence has given her a sense of purpose, a measure of control in a tumultuous time, and the comfort of a loyal, protective online community. Social media have become a kind of self-medication.

Lisa Adams’s defiance has also been good for Memorial Sloan-Kettering [hospital]. She has been an eager research subject, and those, I was surprised to learn, are in short supply. Scott Ramsey of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle cited a study showing that only 3 percent of adult cancer patients who are eligible to enroll in clinical trials do so, and, he said, their reluctance has been “a huge bottleneck in cancer research.” Some 40 percent of clinical trials fail to get the minimum enrollment. Adams has been a cheerleader for cancer research in general and Memorial Sloan-Kettering in particular. In fact, she has implored followers to contribute to a research fund set up at the hospital in her name, and has raised about $50,000 so far. “We love it!” the hospital tweeted last week about the Lisa Adams phenomenon. “An important contribution to cancer patients, families, and clinicians! :)”

"I am about anything but 'heroic measures,'" Adams responded on Twitter. "I am currently doing standard run of the mill therapy for metastatic breast cancer."

Many others (Including Xeni!) have criticized Keller's ghoulish column. But the most telling thing for me is not his cynicism, or the policing, or that weird way Keller projects, onto an entirely undeserving target, journalistic ethics issues. It's the way he drizzles the whole thing with smarmy, justifying praise for Adams. It's transparent. It's admiration as a substitute for empathy, a performance, a bulwark against the essential nature of what he knows he's doing.

But still, the Essential Bill Keller shines though: you are responsible for how I feel when I look at you.

Notable Replies

  1. Christ, what an asshole.

  2. hallam says:

    This is just an example of the essential narcism of Keller and the establishment media in general.

    I can't remember when we held the meeting and decided that the legacy media decided what was ethical for bloggers. Perhaps I was sick that day.

    Is the New York Times going to apologize for giving people false hope that Geroge W. Bush was competent and his case for invading Iraq was honest rather than the opposite?

  3. Talia says:

    You know, I don't think he was criticizing her. He was just saying that those who don't, or can't, put as much effort into the battle as her deserve recognition too, and aren't "failures" for it. The key phrase I took from it, that suggested to me where he was going with it, was .."But her decision to live her cancer onstage invites us to think about it, debate it, learn from it." I think that's all he was trying to do, to reflect on different approaches to how people deal with it. But its a touchy subject for obvious reasons, so...

  4. Um. No. Do you have cancer? Have you had cancer? No? Then you simply are not qualified to judge. You have no idea. And for that, I am sincerely grateful.
    Losing someone to cancer is not the same thing a actually having it. Trust me on that.

    Me? Yep. I have cancer. And even I would not judge. Xeni can write whatever she likes, so can Adams. They are not me or you. Their experience is their experience, their opinions are their own. We're all different. My first gig was as a candy-striper at the City of Hope on the cancer ward. I saw things there no kid should witness - but I saw what I didn't want in my life. The people there are wonderful. The practitioners, amazing. But those are the worst cases in the world. And on ly the people willing to have all kinds of body parts amputated or chemo-ed. It's still ugly and horrifying. I will not live like that - ever. If you want to? Fine. Go for it. But, subjected anyone who loves you to that? Nuh-uh. I would not.

    Look - he makes some points there - the whole Pink Ribbons thing has turned into a corporate nightmare of big bucks and slick marketing. And they have cured jack all in decades with hundreds of millions.
    And, it's another 'War on' something - with just about as good a result as the others. Cure? Since when? Didn't happen. And all your good wishes helped not one bit. You cannot even say that your money went anywhere particularly useful or even just promising. All those many, many 'unproven treatments' don't get tested, because they do not benefit the money-makers and 'stakeholder'...if you don't count actual people with cancer.

    Fight? Hey - nobody hands you a rifle and a target. There is none. Oh, bemoan the many who will not become research subjects? Screw you. The hundreds of million already spent didn't
    fix that, and neither will another $50 k. What stops them from participating are things like...ohhh - being sick already? Not wishing to (or being able to) tolerate being made even more sick? That 'Aushwitz Look" they see all around them when they roll into a large cancer center? Even in some cases (Moffett in Tampa) being required to answer government surveys as a requirement prior to receiving any treatment whatsoever. Or, unethical situations such as being denied various treatments because you are 'not a candidate' - then, you find out later that you not only are a candidate - but you were lied to, simply because they do not happen to own the equipment required for that treatment.

    Thing is, the moment you hear that word? You are first in deep shock. But then, all the things you thought you would accomplish that could matter somehow. And all the people you thought matter to you and you to them. And all the ideas and beliefs that blow up right in your face when reality hits them. Some people will decide that they want that 'I matter somehow', no matter the cost. It's not heroic - it's an ego thing - the most essential ego thing there is. But I still cant criticize them - they get to. Hell - if you can't do that? what's the point? But, I choose not to do the heroics. And I can choose that.

    Nope. I don't get to choose how you see me. Sometimes, even choosing how I see you is beyond me. But...I choose. Not you. And he can choose, and she can choose, and no, this is not a proper subject for anyone to tell anyone else what to do, how to be, how to be seen, or anything else. Because, all of that is just more ego bullshit - with incredibly less justification and a whole lot more pontification. All you need to know about cancer for now is this: You are mortal. You will not last forever. You don't know that, most likely. It's just an idea in your head right now. Glorious tales of heroes and saints, right? Pffft.

    All II know to tell you about it is - YOU choose. Not me, not some blogger you will never meet, not a church, not anybody. If there is one single thing only you may choose, how you deal with your own mortality is it. do what you can now, live all you can now, and then, when it becomes real? You choose.

  5. I was diagnosed with leukemia around age 25. I made it through but one of my pet peeves was peple constantly telling me to be positive and visualize destroying the cancer and how heroic I was.

    One of the reasons I disliked it all was the insinuation that if I just tried hard enough I'd beat it, but if I died maybe it was because I didn't have the right attitude or was too weak.

    It's a complex set of feels. The doctor brings up valid points of how a certain subset of people approach their cancer and being told the 'proper' was to handle it. I certainly don't begrudge my parents their encouragement. It just wasn't helpful to me (What was helpful for me? Distractions. Games, movies, anything to get me out of myself for a little while)

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