The Obscenity of Cancer Death

A discussion with my friend Michael Kupperman @MKupperman on Twitter about Jade Goody reminded me that I had written a blog about her death long ago on My Space where of course it can no longer be seen probably and it occurred to me that it might be an idea to repost it.

In the last few days several chats with friends about cancer and the losses we have all suffered because of it made me want to look again at the Jade Goody post which was written as a reaction to an article by John Walsh in The Star from March 2009  in which he said

“But Goody’s decision to let a film crew follow her around during her last few weeks, recording her gradual decline in return for
money, is unprecedented. Much is being made of Goody’s “bravery”, her management of celebrity to ensure that her children get an expensive education, the exploitation of her imminent demise to persuade more young women to have cervical smear tests.
But for Goody, of Big Brother fame, who will die in public, in front of a camera that will relay to millions of television watchers the dwindling of light in her eyes – what kind of choice is that? Is it disgustingly ghoulish?”

My reaction

Who is finding Jade Goody’s death disgusting or obscene or in poor taste?
What is this? the “Don’t mention the elephant in the room” scenario?
Shouldn’t we perhaps be a little less precious about death, is it not something we all must face?
Doctors and nurses are of necessity pragmatic and professional. They see a lot of death, Police, and other emergency services too.

When I was a little kid I remember sitting around and hearing an elderly relative shushed for saying
“I love a good funeral”…
It’s “not the thing to say” is it? So many taboos, so many awkward silences,
Death has become the Great Taboo, and it occupies the place formerly occupied by what was once coyly know as “Married Love”

Death is the modern replacement for pornography as people turn to and Ogrish for their kicks  as much pornography itself goes mainstream and dare I say it “G- Rated”
We turn to increasingly sickeningly violent films and images and are appalled and thrilled equally by death, real or verisimilitudinous.

Are we appalled and thrilled by a 27 year old mother of two dying by inches before our eyes? Someone many of us feel we know from her several years in the blaze of the public eye?

Its a difficult question actually. I think we have been separated from the reality of death for quite a long time, we are curious, we want to know, but is it prurience?

There’s nothing  noble or beautiful about this appalling obscenity of a disease which strikes so indiscriminately. It is the disease that is disgusting, not Jade Goody, who is making the utmost out of her plight… because she CAN.. she has children to provide for, and she is dying as she lived, finding comfort in knowing (I suppose) that as many love her as hate her, much as she has been used to since 2003 or whenever it was that half the nation took her to their hearts and the other half wanted her put down like a dog.

Jade has always sold newspapers, They have loved her.. they have hated her, but they could never ignore this poster child of the Tabloid generation.
That someone so monumentally uneducated could make herself a millionaire in just a few short years, by doing very little other than be totally at ease with being watched.. well everyone has to make a living I guess.
She has chosen to die in a way she feels comfortable with, a way that gives her some solace, a way that helps her to bear the trial
We have no right to judge that. It’s whatever is good for her as far as I am concerned, and good luck to the poor girl.

It seems to me that those that believe she should shut up and go die in a corner are the ones that have the problem. Jade’s lingering demise
has already saved hundreds of lives as women mindful of her plight actually make a point of attending cervical smear appointments rather than ignore them.
The people who want her to just die, and who still cannot find any compassion or tolerance for her are the ones that need to vanish.
We are all getting a lesson here, though we may not yet recognise it. We need to know about this horrible disease and what it does to people we care about.
We need to be 100% against it in all its forms whoever we are, however young, however old and not shy away from it or gloss over the awkwardness.
We all need a lesson in how to talk about cancer, how to relate to and help sufferers in anyway that we can and not turn away in disgust any more..