Friday 27 February 2009

Reality bites.

I've just been to the shop to buy OK! Magazine. I tap-danced around getting it for a while, but conceded when I nipped out for some Flash and had enough change left in my pocket to buy the last copy on my newsagent's shelf. Sod the tap dancing. Of course I was going to buy it. The Jade Goody topic is one I've done my darndest to avoid confronting until now, like a new album I stubbornly insist on listening to only after the hype's died down – but this particular hype is showing no sign of slowing. And since I'm going to have to front up to it all at some point, I've just spent several hours watching the 8% of my Sky+ that was dedicated to Jade's Living TV documentary show, and now have her wedding issue of OK! sitting next to me, the cover half disguised by my discarded headscarf.

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.


gemmak said...

I was never a 'fan' of Ms Goody but I agree with every word you have typed here! She may have done some daft things, not least of all apparently ( I say apparently because I don't know for sure, as is the case with much in the media) ignoring letters calling her back after her smear showed problems but no matter what she has done and no matter how she chooses to get herself though her situation, she does not deserve to have cancer. No one deserves to have cancer! Though I am tempted to say 'save for those that think in that manner'!...but I won't say that of course!

However she gets through this is her way and I have to say that watching one of the 'Jade' TV programmes gave me a new respect for her that I didn't expect to have. Living her life in he media is what she's used to and if she's comfortable with that and if as a result she helps secure her childrens future, then more power to her.

Who the hell gives those that judge that right anyways? said...

Very true. Besides, bloggers and reality tv stars arent all that different. We're easily more egotistical. Hell, I check my stats every hour or so...


Nicky said...

I am constantly amazed by peoples reaction to Jade, it is almost as if she has no right to publicly say she is dying. There was this woman on Question time last night I could have slapped.

BTW, stay on your soapbox, you look good up there!

Anonymous said...

Very, very very well said!

She's been in the public eye forever, it is what she knows, she shouldn't have to hide now that she's dying if she doesn't want to.

Anonymous said...

What really pisses me off about the whole thing is that the same newspapers that used to say absolutely horrible stuff about Jade Goody is now printing headlines like 'Brave Sweet Jade' etc etc.

Anonymous said...

I think the hatred isn't so much aimed at her, but at the media's portrayal of her. Constantly having someone in every paper and magazine and on tv makes the public sick of them, regardless of how unfortunate their situation. People used to dislike Goody for her success without working for anything, now they dislike her because papers are making it look like she's receiving special treatment- her boyfriend's curfew being lifted- even thugh the same would be done for non-'Celebrities'.

Unknown said...

I think it is important that the people who feel able do communicate their experiences of living with cancer.

Those doing so raise the profile of cancer, which in turn may increase charity donations and early detection rates.

I thank anyone who takes the brave stance to tell the world about diseases. I may not be able to do the same thing myself, but everyone is different, and I have a respect for the honesty of you Lisa, of Jade and of anyone else in a similar situation.

Anonymous said...

I’m with you on this. Jade can do what she bloody well wants. I wish her everything that is good.

(And for the record, if there was a list of things that make a person deserve cancer, getting so narnered that you have to pulled out of an office party on a wheelie chair is one of the things that’ll keep you off that list. Because it’s brilliant. Stylish, brilliant and down-right cool.)

Unknown said...

You're right. Some may not agree with Jade's decision to live out the last part of her life so publicly but we still have a choice to ignore the media coverage. She did not chose to have terminal cancer and we should respect her decision to go public to insure the best possible future for her boys, who will miss their mum so much when she is gone.

Those people, like Jade, John Diamond, Miles Kington and yourself, who feel able to share these experiences inspire and encourage others to find ways to overcome them too.

Anonymous said...

I'd have to say I'm still on the fence. Perhaps it's because, like you, I've been avoiding getting down to the nitty-gritty of her case because of my own Bullshit. And, also like you, I've never really done the Jade thing. And perhaps it's because since my diagnosis and subsequent treatment I've learned not to judge people so much. Not that I was over-judgemental in the first place, but I try and give people benefit of the doubt.

When we used to see people parking in a disabled space (with a blue badge) and then get out of their car and appear to be totally able-bodied I would comment on how "normal" they looked. Because I look pretty OK myself now, other people probably think that about me. What they don't know is that I've got The Bullshit and can't actually walk very far at all. So I tend to take things on individual merit nowadays. Perhaps I should read a bit more about Jade, when I can bring myself to do that - as you say it does focus your thoughts on your own situation.

Whatever my opinion of Jade, my opinion of your writing remains constant; and excellent read, as always.

Anonymous said...

Because of who she is, Jades cancer and eventual death would have have attracted the same media circus wether she'd decided to be upfront about it all or not. She couldn't have slipped away quietly as the shrieking harpies demand, the media would not have allowed it, so I think she's been canny and resourceful in deciding to take charge and sell the story. Whatever she's done in her life (and my god, I made some monumental mistakes at her age) she does not deserve hounding for the way she chooses to die. She's providing for her kids and taking charge; that's about as dignified as it can get as far as I'm concerned.

Inwardly Confused said...

I am so glad you wrote this, it's what I wanted to say but I don't have the ability to write with such clarity.
I have never experienced cancer; distant relatives I never knew have died from it and the mother of a little girl in my son's class disappeared one day from the playground. I have never known the fear or the loss. That said I think Jade should be allowed to deal with it in whatever way she sees fit, I don't have an in depth knowledge of her work but she is a young Mum trying to make a nice life for her children, all power to her.

Anonymous said...

excellent piece.. agree completely. Id also add though that shes doing it in the public eye and putting on that very brave face so she can maximise the money she leaves for her childrens future. They may be without their mum but those boys will get the education and chances in life that she did not. I hope I'd be brave enough to do that in her situation..

Anonymous said...

Well said. It's tragic, but I think people don't want to see the tragedy and are finding other things to nit-pick at.

Anonymous said...

I feel unending sympathy for Jade and anyone in that situation, to be so young and told you are terminally ill is something no one should have to face up to. Saying that, (it was probably obvious a big fat BUT was coming) hiring Max Clifford and repeatedly courting the paps makes it all a little tawdry and undignified. Perhaps I am being too quick to judge, after all she must be making a tidy packet and setting her children up for life, which is a laudable goal. All I know is Max Clifford is an exploitative, manipulative twat and Jade would still be getting the public sympathy afforded to any celeb in her situation without him or selling exclusive photographs of her wedding to Hello.


Mummy bird said...

Ive read some crap in the last few weeks about Jade Goody so I am pleased to say that your blog is not crap thankyou for telling it like it is and reminding everyone that though a "celeb" the one thing she is more than anything is a 27 year old REAL woman living and unfortunately dying from cancer , no doubt at all that when the camera's are not looking she is as shattered and desperate as everyone else.
My thoughts as always are with Jade,her family with you with everyone who has been touched by the cruellest of diseases and are having to live and die from this bullshit.

Anonymous said...

Wow,don't you ever stop saying your piece!

Anonymous said...

What a good post. I have always quite liked Jade and her outlook on life. She really doesnt mind looking silly and i think that has a childlike effect which is endearing.
Good for her just getting on with her cancer and good for you to cope with it how you want, your right its your perogative.

swisslet said...

wise words. I was quick to criticise Jade, but when I saw that Cervical screening has apparently gone up by 20% in this country since her diagnosis, I rapidly changed my mind, and now I'm of the opinion that she has the right to do what the hell she wants. Who can blame her for wanting to leave her kids as much as possible?

That said, is Max Clifford the ONLY publicist in the whole world?


(I've also just been diagnosed with a non-terminal but chronic and incurable condition - MS - and I think that perhaps my perspective on lots of things might be changing. Sorry for the bombardment of comments, but something you said on twitter prompted me to come and have a good catch up)