Brand building through storytelling

Not just deathbed selfies: the passion of blogger Lisa Adams

A few years before she died of the breast cancer that would dog her, off and on, for a third of her life, my friend Chris told me what she’d do if hope ran out for her survival. She would take a Muskoka chair to the end of her dock, and there she’d reflect while watching the river flow. As it happened, she died in the winter, but the reflection part was just as she predicted. She chose a quiet exit, in the company of those closest to her, and I wasn’t one of them.

The operative word here is “chose.”

I sometimes wonder how I’d choose to go if I knew my time was running out. I doubt that I’d withdraw and reflect, as Chris did. More likely I’d write my way through cancer, or some other devastation, because for me there’s no chisel like the word to cut some clarity out of the unfathomable. How much I’d choose to share, and with whom, I can’t begin to imagine. But the choice should be mine.

Lisa Adams, who’s living with Stage IV breast cancer, has chosen to chronicle her illness in a frank and searching blog that’s been attacked by journalists Bill and Emma Keller. Bill, writing in The New York Times, accused Lisa Adams of glorifying desperate medical measures; Emma, in The Guardian, compared the blog to “deathbed selfies.” The Guardian took the piece down before I could read it, but the “selfies” slur was widely reported.

I just checked out the offending blog. While I didn’t linger, I could tell right away that Lisa Adams has earned her huge following.  I doubt she has any more talent than the average beginning memoirist, and I say this as a teacher of memoir. But she has what matters even more: a life-altering story to tell and the courage to relive its most afflicting details so that readers can walk through the fire with her. She finds fragments of beauty in unlikely places, and instead of saying she was grateful, she summons gratitude. She says of pushing her IV pole around the nursing station, “The movement makes [the pain] better. It reminds me of being carefree on a summer day, wind in my hair from the sunroof, feeling the sun on my face.”

New writers, reread those two sentences. Let them be your textbook on capturing a feeling.

There’s nowhere Lisa Adams won’t go with her readers. I particularly like her bracing, compassionate advice on how talk about having a Stage IV cancer. You name it, she covers it: when to go public with the news, what to tell the children (“It’s not curable but it is treatable,” how to nip rumors in the bud (“A carefully worded email is invaluable”).

If I’d been given the worst sort of cancer diagnosis, Lisa is the no-bullshit mentor I’d want. If Bill and Emma Keller would rather not read her blog. that’s their choice.

Click here to read my post on an unforgettable breast cancer memoir written in Jane Austen’s day.

Posted by Rona

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