Death presents a problem every time. Everybody’s a rookie, everybody’s afraid.
Lisa Bonchek Adams typed her way unto the breach. A realist, an atheist and not at all sappy, she detested the notion that cancer was a gift. (Really, she asked, would you give it to somebody?) But one tweet and one blog post at a time, her illness became her subject matter. Part diarist, part Dear Abby, she chronicled her experience with cancer — dispensing insight and advice, avoiding euphemism and sentimentality.
I am a private person. Given that three of the eight books I’ve written are memoirs, this may come as a surprise. When people ask if I feel exposed writing about my life, it always slightly baffles me—and it baffles them that I would be baffled. “But I feel like I know everything about you,” they’ll say. My only response is to put my head down and keep writing. It may simply be denial, my own way of dealing with the peculiar public life of the memoirist, but my words, hundreds of thousands of them by now, feel somehow like the opposite of self-revelation. They are, at the very least, an attempt to push past my own singularity—chaos, randomness, loss, grief, failure, and love—and connect to the rest of humanity using the only tools I have been given.
Like many, many people who were lucky enough to call Lisa Bonchek Adams a friend, I never met her. But like thousands of readers who followed her story, I knew her. Because Lisa Bonchek Adams had the courage to be known.
When a person is diagnosed with cancer, making meaning out of life and developing a broader social support structure can be powerful tools for coping. That was certainly the case for blogger Lisa Boncheck Adams, who lost her eight-year battle with breast cancer on Friday, March 6. Her blog was a place of refuge for her to chronicle her journey and to share support and advice for others.
Lisa was pulled onto the national stage in January 2014 when Emma Keller, then a contributor to the Guardian, and Keller's husband Bill, then an op-ed writer at the New York Times, wrote a pair of bruising columns about her. Emma criticized Adams for oversharing, and Bill suggested she give up non-palliative treatments. Their harsh treatments created an uproar, and also highlighted sensitive issues relevant to detailing health information on the Internet, medical journalism and goals of cancer care.
Ms. Adams, who died on Friday at 45, wrote voluminously — on her Facebook page, on the website lisabadams.com and on Twitter, where she had more than 15,000 followers — as she dealt frankly with the medical, emotional and psychological issues she confronted in her eight years of treatment.
“The thousands upon thousands who knew and loved Lisa Bonchek Adams … will find it hard to believe that her steely will and indomitable spirit were finally overcome by the disease she had lived with for so many years,” the announcement on her website read. “In keeping with Lisa’s wishes, this web site will be maintained as a resource of Lisa’s writings about metastatic breast cancer, grief and loss, life, and family.”