New York Times' Criticism Of Connecticut Woman's Cancer Fight Sparks Debate

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Lisa Bonchek Adams of Darien was criticized for her use of social media to document her fight against breast cancer in a story in The New York Times. The commentary has sent the Internet ablaze in support of Adams.
Lisa Bonchek Adams of Darien was criticized for her use of social media to document her fight against breast cancer in a story in The New York Times. The commentary has sent the Internet ablaze in support of Adams. Photo Credit: Facebook/Lisa Adams

DARIEN, Conn. – After a Darien woman who has taken to social media to detail her battle with breast cancer was criticized in an op-ed Monday in The New York Times, readers have lit up the Internet to weigh in on the debate between Lisa Bonchek Adams and writer Bill Keller.


Lisa Adams & The Times: What's Your Opinion?

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Lisa Adams & The Times: What's Your Opinion?

  • The Times Commentary Is Off Base

  • Ms. Adams Should Be Involved Less In Social Media

  • I Can See Merits To Both Sides

  • No Opinion

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Adams has been fighting breast cancer for the past seven years. She runs a website that documents her battle by writing about “my experiences as a wife and young mother of three with breast cancer.”

She began by posting on her Facebook page, it says on her website. “I was writing about the darker, richer emotions I was feeling – aimlessness, fear, despair – but also the dogged commitment to always be strong with an enthusiasm for life,’’ she writes.

Adams is also active in Twitter, where she recently posted her 165,000th Tweets, many of them about breast cancer.

Keller, former Times executive editor who is now a columnist for The Times, takes issue with Adams' social posts and the aggressive treatment she is receiving from the medical team at Sloan-Kettering in New York despite her grim diagnosis. He illustrates his point with reference to his father-in-law, who died 2012 in England.

“What Britain and other countries know, and my country is learning, is that every cancer need not be Verdun, a war of attrition waged regardless of the cost or the casualties,’’ he writes. “It seemed to me, and still does, that there is something enviable about going gently. One intriguing lung cancer study even suggests that patients given early palliative care instead of the most aggressive chemotherapy not only have a better quality of life, they actually live a bit longer.”

Keller’s wife, Emma, also wrote an article on Adams’ cancer fight on The Guardian, where she also criticized Adams. The post was taken down by the news outlet for violating the paper’s editorial code, according to

According to a story in The Nation on Monday, Emma Keller wrote that Adams is “dying out loud”, and compared it to a “Reality TV show.” The headline on Emma Keller’s story read “Forget funeral selfies. What are the ethics of tweeting terminal illness.”

The commentary by both Kellers ignited a firestorm of criticism of both writers. The Washington Post wrote a story detailing the criticism of the Kellers. Bloggers across the country, many of them cancer patients and survivors, have taken to the web to condemn the couple and praise Adams.

Adams has remained undeterred from criticism by the Kellers. On her Twitter account on Tuesday, she wrote “sharing some of the science of my cancer treatment in an understandable way helps current and future patients and their family members.”

Later in the day, she seemed to be growing weary of the attention. “I am not granting any interviews,’’ she wrote. “Please do not make any requests. I am focusing on cancer treatment only. Thanks.”

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Comments (15)

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I think Mrs. Adams might be on to something: To be a cancer survivor for that long and to be able to document in such detail what it takes to persevere should not trigger expressions of annoyance. Mr. Keller correctly cites evidence that palliative care SOMETIMES results in better outcomes than aggressive treatment. However, we must chart our own paths when faced with life's most insidious challenges. That Mrs. Adams has chosen to involve, inspire, and instruct so many should be applauded.

P.S. I have been a life-long liberal, but I don't see any role, at all, for politics in these discussions. I am always looking for common ground in today's distressingly divided society, and I think that one thing that unites ALL Americans is the inspiration we get from these stories of personal courage and determination.

Simple fact is if you don't like it don't read it. I do not agree with opening your whole life to the world via Facebook or Twitter but that is her choice not mine , yours or the NY Times.

As a cancer survivor and the mother of a cancer survivor, I know how helpful it is to know that the emotional and physical rollercoaster you're on is also being experienced by others. Once upon a time, the "big C" was something whispered about. People who had it were treated as though it was contagious. The reason we've come a long way from that mindset is the ability of people like Lisa Adams to share and explore their experiences. Stand strong, Lisa!

If dying out loud is a known possibility, perhaps living out loud will help only takes one thing you relate to and yes we all have at least one book in our being and just perhaps it is better than some writers and isn't a genius born every day and knowledge is power...let it go, make choices and you might feel better or help someone. We were given a brain to think feel and analize and perhaps a soul to analize and grow...give it a might even dance with new insights to seeing a different perspective...something to think about! Marilyn H Kaye

I'm appalled that anyone would drag politics into a woman's struggle w/ breast cancer? Seriously, how low can you possibly go jlombard. Cancer doesn't recognize party lines, you fool, so if it happens to cross your threshold, you need not say what your affiliation is.

My mom passed away from the same disease, and chose to fight it for a number of years through a variety of forms, via surgeries, radiation and finally chemo. The interesting thing is, she said if it ever happened to her, she'd never go through it all. Well, when it did hit, she fought w/ everything she had, and kept at it, beating it into remission until it reared its head and fought, again. Point is, you've no idea what you'll do until it's at your doorstep.

I don't know Ms. Adams, and hadn't heard this story until now, but she lives in my town. Having watched my mom go through it, I've an idea of what she's struggling w/ and admire her courage to face this down. Anyone who takes exception w/ what she's doing, ought to peek in the mirror and question their agenda. My advice would be, leave her and her family alone to live her life as she chooses, and in peace.

Ms. Adams, I wish you well on your journey wherever it takes you.

The NY Times is against personal liberty and free speech? Obviously, there are those who want to hear what she has to say-nobody's being forced to listen to her.

In theory, the NYT editors are old fashioned liberals who believe in personal freedom and civil liberties but the policies they support are big government directed, heavy bureaucracy oversight, 'progressive' solutions to any social or economic challenge. The result is only freedom and liberty at the good graces of the state. Not really the same.

Native New Yorker has a right to his/her opinion. Also, the NYT is nothing but a Liberal rag. Is Lisa Adams a Republican?

Native New Yorker has a right to his/her opinion. Also, the NYT is nothing but a Liberal rag. Is Lisa Adams a Republican?

That's just stupid. Please change your screen name -- you give NYers bad publicity.

It was said in an unbelievably stupid, knee jerk way but really as the government takes over more and more payment for healthcare, like the NHS in the UK, policy will likely shift to less care for terminal illnesses. This is how state run, single payer systems in Europe contain costs. This is what people voted for when they supported Obamacare whether they realize it or acknowledge it or not. State systemization of the 'general welfare' means less individual choice and personal freedom.

Have you ever lived under the NHS in the UK or any other European health system of 'socialized medicine?' If not, please don't display your ignorance. I experienced the system for the better part of three decades. My mother-in-law is over 90 years of age, and seniors in the US would envy her care. When was the last time you expected a doctor to go to your home for a 'house call?' The 1950's? Happens in the UK all the time -- at no cost to the patient. Her prescriptions are at no cost, her cataract surgery was at no cost, her knee replacements were at no cost, her nurse visits twice a week are at no cost, her check-ups every six months are at no cost (a van transports her to the facility at no cost). And forget about the 'death panels' -- I repeat, she is over 90. Our uncle in his 80's felt ill at home, and the ambulance was summoned at no cost. How many people here in the US hesitate to call for help if they worry about the bill? (Our community just raised the service fee to $3,600 for emergency personnel to come.) Most of the 'specialist' doctors do work on the NHS. My spouse recovered from a badly broken leg, and his specialist was on the NHS hospital staff, so even if you paid privately for it, you received the same treatment.

The 'no cost to the patient' treatment is 'not free' -- it is paid by employee wage deductions from paychecks and therefore in line with their salary.

Would you be surprised to hear that the exec of a US medical devices manufacturer was on one of the financial networks in the past discussing his company shares price and explaining that the business would sell a piece of equipment abroad for the equivalent of $5,000US (because prices to European hospitals must be negotiated by law), but that a US facility 'would not blink an eye' at charging $35,000 for the same device? Is it any wonder then that US patients have such large medical bills that can decimate a family's finances to the point of bankruptcy? One of the employees at my spouse's work got a phone call to say their child had fallen at school and needed to go to the ER to see if there were any injuries to be treated -- the anxious parent actually responded asking if the ER visit was 'absolutely necessary' because the insurance deductible was several thousands of dollars that the family could not afford. This is from someone WITH medical insurance. It would not have happened in a European country. My Canadian friends return there to receive medical treatment when they are able, and I know an American who purchases a prescription there because the price is 1/3 of the cost in the US. How many people avoid going to see a doctor in the US because they can not afford it? Your doctor may be the 'best in the world', but if you stay away because it is 'beyond your means' financially, you have zero treatment.

I've been following Lisa Adams for about a year now. Her very candid, no nonsense perspective on her life with metastatic cancer raising school age children is inspirational and gives me perspective everyday on my life as a healthy person and the gift of raising my same age kids. Her divergent thinking on the cheerleaders at 'Pink Inc' and the cultural mantra that cancer is won or lost because of how hard you 'fight', rather than the complicated intricacies of cell biology, is welcome and refreshing.
That said, this past fall when her latest treatments and participation in a clinical trial were not working, I was surprised that she continued such an aggressive fight. Her voice is so valuable and I will miss her personal observations on the simple beauty of everyday life but my choice, I hope, would be to spend my last Christmas with my family and accept where my life was going. Acceptance is not giving up; it's just acceptance.
Everyone is different and you can never, ever know what you will do in the same situation. The Kellers have a point of view that does need to be discussed but it should have been about their own experience not an indictment of someone making a different choice. Ms. Adams has to decide for herself when it's time to accept and let cell biology have its way. Hopefully that won't be for a while.