“I am waiting for test and scan results, laying low after a busy and stressful week,” Lisa Bonchek Adams wrote on her blog in 2013, one of hundreds of posts to go along with thousands ofTwitter messages documenting her life after she learned she hadbreast cancer in 2007, when she was 37.
“Wednesday was a marathon of bloodwork, EKG, CT scans and bone scan, followed today by more bloodwork. Friday is another oncology appointment. And I still made it to the dentist on Thursday for a cleaning!”
Ms. Adams, who died on Friday at 45, wrote voluminously — onher 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.
In early 2014, she became the focus of a controversy when two newspaper columns, one by Emma Gilbey Keller in the British newspaper The Guardian, and one by her husband, Bill Keller, then of The New York Times, questioned the propriety of turning one’s mortal struggle into a public event.
Ms. Adams considered the sharing of her experience to be both therapeutic and altruistic, to satisfy her own need for expression and to shed light on coping with cancer. Showing her determination to battle the disease and its concomitant pain with all the medical tools available to her and infused with a gutsy optimism, her postings described a patient determined to survive. The posts included medical and mood updates, aching accounts of difficult conversations about her condition with her three children, and reflections on the nature of living with the discomfort and the trying reality of a debilitating illness.
About her treatment, she was often harshly specific and vivid: “Finishing up a 9-hour emergency trip in to urgent care center,” she wrote on Facebook in February. “Got platelets, magnesium, potassium, calcium, and THEN drained almost 3 liters of fluid from my abdomen.”
Sometimes she gave voice to her innermost fears in poetry, as she did in a blog post last November, when she wrote, in part:
Some days I don’t
Wish to believe the best days are over.
Know if the adventures have ended,
Want to believe that it can be true that they are.
But even on the days I don’t...
Somewhere inside I know I must
The openness of her work attracted the attention of Ms. Keller, whose column questioning the seemliness of publicly tracing one’s own decline via Twitter — “Are her tweets a grim equivalent of deathbed selfies, one step further than funeral selfies?” she wrote — was widely criticized as unseemly itself. The Guardian removed the column from its website five days later, on the same day that a column by Mr. Keller appeared in The Times.
Mr. Keller, a former executive editor of The Times, used Ms. Adams’s work to discuss end-of-life care and whether fighting doggedly to stay alive as opposed to accepting the inevitability of death gracefully, as his father-in-law had, was the more dignified and admirable course.
“Her digital presence is no doubt a comfort to many of her followers,” Mr. Keller wrote. “On the other hand, as cancer experts I consulted pointed out, Adams is the standard-bearer for an approach to cancer that honors the warrior, that may raise false hopes, and that, implicitly, seems to peg patients like my father-in-law as failures.”
Fairly or not, the column was perceived by many as both a defense of his wife’s article and a rebuke of Ms. Adams.
Meghan O’Rourke wrote in The New Yorker: “Both columns betray discomfort with the public nature of Adams’s response to her illness. And both writers veil what appears to be a personal distaste for Adams’s public display with high-minded questions about the ethics of prolonged care and public self-revelation without examining the complexities of their own response.”
Lisa Deborah Bonchek was born in Nashville on July 29, 1969. Her family moved — to Portland, Ore., to Milwaukee, and finally to Lancaster, Pa., where she went to high school — as her father, a heart surgeon, took positions at different hospitals. She studied at Cornell and later graduated from Franklin & Marshall College and earned a master’s degree in sociology from Rutgers.
Ms. Adams died at her home in Darien, Conn. The cause was metastatic breast cancer, her father, Dr. Lawrence Bonchek, said. Ms. Adams revealed that in 2012 her cancer had spread to her lymph nodes.
She is also survived by her mother, Dr. Rita Bonchek, a psychologist; her husband, Clarke D. Adams, a managing director at Morgan Stanley; a brother, Mark S. Bonchek; a daughter, Paige; and two sons, Colin and Tristan.
Ms. Adams continued to write about her condition nearly until her death. Her final blog post was dated March 1. On Thursday, the day before she died, she wrote on Facebook: “Things are quite quite serious. Please do not text or email daily. I can’t answer.”