Over the past few weeks, a number of people have asked me what I think of The Jade Goody Story, and so far I've found it difficult to comment. In truth, I've never paid Jade that much attention. And since she's never recorded an album I've listened to, written for any of the media I read or acted in a film I've seen, I can't really say I've ever formed much of an opinion of her, either. I've never read her book or smelled her perfume. I've never bought a magazine because she was on the cover. At least I hadn't until this morning.
I'm hardly breaking any news by saying that Jade's decision to fight cervical cancer in the spotlight, making money from her experience in the process, has been the subject of widespread coverage, debate and attack. From what I've pieced together, her critics' issue appears to be the crass way in which she's chosen to broadcast her life with cancer, through newspaper exclusives and documentary shows and magazine spreads and TV appearances. But is Jade's public experience of cancer all that different to the way the rest of us choose to handle it? Isn't it just an extension of sending emailed progress reports to your friends, updating your Facebook status or Twitter feed with treatment news, or keeping a blog about the whole thing? Is the problem less that she's being tell-it-to-the-world open about her experience, and more that she's making money out of it? For me, whether or not the money she's making is for the benefit of her kids, her pets, her agent or her wardrobe is beside the point. The point is that she's dealing with having cancer in her way; in the only way she knows how. Just like the rest of us.
I can't help but conclude that a lot of the vitriol directed at Jade's life choices post-cancer stems purely from the fact that she is Jade Goody. The same Jade Goody who made herself look stupid by assuming that East Anglia was a foreign country. The same Jade Goody who collapsed during the London Marathon after a training schedule of 'Chinese food, curry and drinking'. The same Jade Goody who joined in with Celebrity Big Brother bullying, famously referring to Shilpa Shetty as 'Shilpa Poppadom'. The same Jade Goody who, I'm sure we'd all agree, has chalked up a catalogue of bloody stupid actions. But what I really can't stomach about this is the tone that suggests she somehow deserved to get cervical cancer as a result of this catalogue of stupidity. Granted, if she'd twisted her ankle or broken a rib or got the flu, maybe then I could understand how people's karmic radars could have flashed red. But terminal cancer? I've done some stupid things. I once ripped off a newspaper headline in a magazine I worked for and passed it off as my own. I made a spewing tit of myself at an office party and had to be unceremoniously dragged out of the building on a wheelie chair. I was briefly the other woman in a relationship. Does that mean I deserved cancer too?
If it were another celebrity in Jade's position – Colleen Rooney, say, or Peaches Geldof – would people have the same issues? If Kylie had chosen not to turn away from the public gaze and head to France for treatment, instead living the toughest moments of her breast cancer in front of film crews and photographers, would she have been picked on in the same way? Do the people who've bitched about Jade's choices feel the same about Terry Pratchett making documentaries about his Alzheimer's? What if Jade had chosen to turn her back on Max Clifford and OK! Magazine and Living TV and go covert with her cancer? Would the interest in her life have suddenly evaporated? Or might there have still been a public debate about this reality TV star's decision to shun the public eye when the 'reality' got all too real?
And therein lies the problem. 'Reality' TV isn't, of course, real. We all accept that. We accept that Big Brother is edited to within an inch of its life. We accept that The Hills is scripted and staged. We accept that I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here has very little bearing on the reality of bush life. But have we really accepted that this 27-year-old mother is dying of cervical cancer? Because that is the reality. People have asked me whether I think it's a publicity stunt. Whether I'm suspicious that Jade's eyebrows and lashes appear to remain intact. Whether she's 'putting it on a bit', or whether, from my cancer-experienced perspective, it looks like 'the real deal'. And I can understand why they've questioned the reality of this situation. Because, seeing it there in the pages of OK! Magazine, alongside stories of Kerry Katona's liposuction or Katie Price's latest boob job or Michelle Heaton's weight loss – well, it's just not real is it? Like a rented location passed off as a glamour model's London townhouse, or the words passed off as a former pop star's column. But this story IS real. This isn't just another seen-it-all-before, 'My Hell', tell-all deal. Jade Goody is dying of cancer. For once, 'reality' is fulfilling its definition.
You might think that I'm bound to say these things, by virtue of the fact that Jade's story is so close to home for me. But I'd argue otherwise. Because, while you might find the media's ramming-it-down-your-throat approach to Jade annoying, I'm finding it really bloody painful. For me, it's yet another stinging reminder of cancer's potential life-ending seriousness for women as young as Jade and myself. So yes, this is dangerously close to home for me – hell, Jade and I are even being treated at the same hospital (albeit one of us privately and one on the NHS). But, through watching her documentary show on TV, I've come to realise that the building in which we're both being treated is not where our similarities end. Her nervous sickness in the car on the way to chemo. Being cradled by her Mum as she sat on the loo seat with hair in her hands, crying so hard that she couldn't speak. Swearing at her unfamiliar reflection in the mirror as she struggled to tie a headscarf for the first time. Her repetitive insistence that she'd beat cancer – because she had to; because she couldn't not. I was in as many tears watching Jade in those scenes as I was myself during those times.
Just as writing this blog has, in many ways, been a distraction from my darker thoughts, the frantic media activity has undoubtedly been a similar distraction for Jade – particularly in light of the revelation that her spreading cancer is at an advanced stage. Yes, she's kept herself busy with pantos and photo shoots and TV crews and interviews, painting on a brave face and a cheeky smile. But that doesn't mean that her world-endingly terrifying time – the stuff you haven't necessarily seen in the pages of a magazine or on your TV screen – has been any less horrific for Jade than it has for any other non-celebrity in her situation.
The major difference between Jade and I, however, is this: Jade's doctors have used the word 'terminal'. Mine haven't. I haven't been given a prognosis. I am to go along assuming that I'll be all right. Jade hasn't been so fortunate. My next steps are to prepare for reconstructive surgery and a life living with cancer (as Kylie said at this stage of her treatment, it's not like you can suddenly say 'that's it, it's over' – you have to learn to live with it). Jade's next steps are to prepare for a life that will soon come to an end; and to die as she has lived, under the media microscope. If my diagnosis had been terminal, I wouldn't have called time on this blog. I'd have kept writing. And, while it might not have been between glossy, handbag-sized covers or celebrity-endorsed shampoo ad-breaks, it would still have been a public death. It's not a new phenomenon. John Diamond did it in his book. Dina Rabinovitch did it in The Guardian. Jade Goody will do it on Living TV. But whether Jade lives with – and dies from – cancer in the privacy of her home, in the pages of OK! Magazine, shouting from a tannoy at the top of the Empire State Building, or broadcast live to every TV set on the planet doesn't matter. What matters is that we quietly respect her choice and allow her to do it in the way she chooses.
So that's what I think about The Jade Goody Story. There, I've said my piece. And I'll continue to say it. Not about Jade's life with cancer, but about my own. It's my way of dealing with things, its my coping mechanism, and it's my perogative. And if people are happy for me to deal with cancer in the way I please, they ought to be happy for Jade to do the same.