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.

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