Why can’t you die quietly, like a gentleman?

Have you read Bill Keller’s New York Times column about Lisa Adams, who’s blogging her way through cancer treatment?

I did, and it resulted in the first official King of States! Dander-Raising of 2014. Huzzah!

Note: I don’t read Lisa’s blog. Apparently, there are inaccuracies in how Keller characterizes her approach to blogging and in some facts about her, like how many kids she has. This post has nothing to do with his shoddy journalism; it pertains only to his general, “Please TRY to be a human being”-level grossness, which is in evidence whether or not you’ve ever heard of Lisa Adams.

Here’s the crux of Keller’s piece:

In October 2012 I wrote about my father-in-law’s death from cancer in a British hospital. There, 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.

Among doctors here, there is a growing appreciation of palliative care that favors the quality of the remaining life rather than endless “heroic measures” that may or may not prolong life but assure the final days are clamorous, tense and painful. (And they often leave survivors bankrupt.) 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. It seemed to me, and still does, that there is something enviable about going gently. 

Read the entire piece if you must; I can wait.

Now, I’m wondering if the Times pays by the word, because I could write the same column much more succinctly, while still managing to impugn an ill woman and the Sloan-Kettering Memorial Cancer center at an equivalent level:

There is a right way and wrong way to have cancer.

There is a right way and a wrong way to die.

Death should be noble (rich men) or tragic (poor men), not mouthy (women).

We never should have told women about the internet, because of their tendency to be mouthy.

If you have better-than-average healthcare, be ashamed. Also, shut up: poor people might hear, and agitate for better healthcare, and then we’d lose out on all the valuable life lessons gleaned from their tragic deaths.

Also, fuck you, therapy dogs. Get a real job, like pulling a sled or hunting foxes.

(Note also that his wife, also a writer, besmirched the SAME WOMAN in another article in The Guardian, which has now been taken down. Keller family, what has Lisa Adams done to you? Did she burn your house down, or kill your pet cat? Because you seem to have a fixation.)

If Twitter had been around when I’d had chemo, I would have tweeted every goddamned detail. I would have Instagrammed the shit out of each treatment and scar. There’s no reason to tell any person how they get to deal with an illness, and there’s no need to continue shielding people from the brutal horror that is modern cancer treatment.

Which makes it even more of a shame that this column spends its inches mischaracterizing and belittling one woman’s choices, instead of digging into the very real questions of how the medical establishment frames cancer treatment.



  1. What is wrong with these people, seriously? I feel like this is Bill’s attempt to take his wife’s side without taking her ridiculous position, to smooth things over. What he doesn’t realize is that both he and his wife suffer from Head-In-Ass Syndrome, something that can’t be treated through medical science, twitter, “going gently” or The New York Times.


  2. Jolly well said. An appalling and all-too pervasive attitude. Forgive me if I pass on Keller’s column: I might write something I would regret!


  3. I read about this yesterday and was immediately disgusted and plagued with every single one of your same questions, except I wondered if she had perhaps burned down their house, AFTER lighting the pet cat on fire to throw into the house and get the fire started.. Unacceptable. What bugged me a tad bit more, were the amount of people who agreed with them.

    And more, why can’t she just ignore Lisa Adams’ posts if she doesn’t like them? Because, she was quoted as saying, “Why am I so Obsessed?” This isn’t a guilty pleasure like Honey Boo-Boo, like when you get trapped in a marathon viewing and wonder every step of the way why you’re watching this….hypothetically. This is a woman who is writing about her experience with a deadly disease. This disease was not a choice, like having your little girl fart on National Television is. This is her way of dealing with the cards she was dealt. Don’t like it? Don’t read it and certainly don’t admit to being “obsessed” yet disgusted.

    GAH! Freaking people…..
    K. I’m done now.


  4. Lisa is performing an invaluable public service in her thorough documentation of what she is going through, and Keller makes a sound point about life versus Life. It’s every individual’s absolute and unassailable ‘right’ to die the way they choose, and it’s the anthropological survival imperative writ Large and Human that causes us to make such ornate, overthinking hay out of dying, and for most of us to fight for all we’re worth at the end. We know we’re going to die from an early age and build literal and figurative cathedrals around the fact. I have to agree with Keller (who is not taking the piss out of Lisa, all populist outrage notwithstanding) that we ought to want to Live and not just live, and that is a good lesson. I happen also to believe Lisa is yet Living as long as she can enlighten us all on what it really means to be Dying. They’re both performing a service. Death is a private affair but if you take the arguably admirable decision to share your end with those who will go on, take the slings and arrows. It’s all good. We’re all in this together. Nice head-up-ass post, too, Michelle. You’re a great writer.


    1. I don’t deny that there’s an interesting point somewhere in what Keller is writing (even while I’m not sure I agree with it it). But there’s a way to make that point without the condescending tone he used while singling out this one woman, in an column based on massive mischaracterizations of what she does (e.g., she also eschews the “fight/war” language he’s railing against). He undermines himself, and sounds like a jerk in the process.

      Glad you enjoyed the other piece; thanks for reading 🙂


    2. Juicy post, Michelle! I agree that Lisa’s documentation is invaluable. Seems to me that many of us are running faster and further away from the incontestable fact: we are all going to die. In my opinion, we need to be reminded.


      1. True enough, Buns. But I don’t know that many of us forget that very often. Death is the churlish nanny that won’t leave you alone to relax with your friends, the tactless asshole chaperone that follows you to the punch bowl after every freaking dance. But it is good to see and convey, as Lisa does, that death IS life. The notion that they are separable, or that one is a ‘chapter’ of the other; that’s The Church and Captain Kangaroo talking. It’s just too bad it hurts sometimes. Death, I mean. Well, most of the time. It’s a dramatic transition, though. You wouldn’t want to be bored by it.


  5. Now why on earth would anyone get to the heart of the matter (healthcare) when there is so much pettiness to fringe first (mouthy women)?


  6. Didn’t read Keller’s piece but now I’m seething. Enough to go to his column to leave a comment. Unfortunately comments were closed. I only wanted to tell him to go eat dirt! What he and his wife did makes me sad.


  7. If his father-in-law’s choice was “slip quietly…” isn’t trumpeting that choice in major publications and on the internet dishonoring that choice?

    Seems to me that either approach is correct, and the moment someone makes that choice for themselves it becomes absolutely correct for them. In that moment it also should become un-Keller-able.

    Oh, and therapy dogs are a bunch of jerks who go to the bathroom in public and expect someone else to clean it up.


  8. Your comment on not being uppity is right on. That would be a hell of a start. If the mess bothers you, don’t read it. On a lighter note, I should notify you that you are the 300th follower of peachyteachy! Mine has been a long, slow journey to that number, so I will let you know when I have determined the appropriate doorprize at sufficiently low cost. Congrats! Thanks!


  9. I’m guessing Keller and Goodman are not fans of Dylan Thomas:
    “Do not go gentle into that good night.
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

    I’ve seen loved ones battle cancer until their dying breath. I’ve also seen loved ones stop battling after weighing stacked odds. They all faced their last moments with “dignity and grace.” There is no one size fits all approach to death, as Kellerman seems to advocate. He comes across angry and vindictive. If he doesn’t like her blog or her messages, he should do what we all do in similar situations–go read something else.

    His bullying a dying woman says more about him than her, don’t you think?
    – Christy


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