Jade Goody, the controversial star of British reality TV, is dying of cervical cancer at age 27. This young woman, who has lived her life in front of the camera for the last 7 years, will die for the camera as well, having sold the rights to film her last days in an ongoing reality show.
Whatever you think of Jade, the publicity generated by her illness has led to a 20% upswing in the number of women getting Pap smears in Britain.
And this is a good thing. Because if Jade’s story causes even one young woman to get the smear that saves her life, it will mean Jade’s death will not have been in vain.
Jade had more than one pap smear, starting in her teens. At one point, she was even treated for precancerous changes of the cervix. And went on to have more follow up smears after that.
But when those follow up smears showed a recurrence of abnormal cells, Jade ignored letters that were sent to her advising her to come in for follow up and treatment.
Why? Because she was scared..
“They had sent a letter to me ages ago, telling that I needed to go in for an operation, but I had been too scared to do anything about it,” Goody confessed.
So Jade put the whole thing out of her mind and pretended it never happened. Until repeated episodes of pain and hemorrhage became symptoms she could no longer ignore. But by then, the tumor had spread beyond the cervix to her uterus. And while a radical hysterectomy and chemotherapy staved the cancer off for awhile, it returned this past month with a vengeance.
And now Jane Goody is going to die.
Let me stop beating around the bush
What has been on my mind all week since I first read about Jade’s story, and what I want to ask is simply this –
Did any health professional ever actually call Jade and try to get her in for treatment in all that time after her Paps came back abnormal? A nurse? A doctor? Anyone?
Please don’t tell me the only contact ever made with this frightened young woman was a series of letters, each one scarier than the next. Please tell me someone called her personally and tried to get her in.
Look, I know Jade was stupid.
No one, even Jade, I suspect, would say otherwise. Ignoring multiple abnormal Pap smear letters was not the first or the last stupid thing Jade Goody ever did. This is a kid who, in front of millions, stripped nude during a game of poker, made an ass of herself shouting racial slurs to an Indian housemate and then gave a blow job under the covers to another housemate. We’re not talking rocket scientist here.
But I’ve seen Jade in interviews that I’ve watched over the past few days, trying to wrap my head around this tragedy. This kid doesn’t hold anything back. She is completely genuine, self-effacing and ready to admit her shortcomings. She’s an idiot, but she knows it. And she is anything but unreachable emotionally. I just can’t believe that someone couldn’t have convinced her to come in sooner if they’d just talked to her.
Please tell me someone tried to reach her.
Jade seems to have had multiple interactions with the health care system during those years between the abnormal smears and her ultimate diagnosis. Times when she visited doctors for pain or gastrointestinal symptoms that were probably related to her growing cancer.
Did these doctors know about her abnormal smears? Did Jade think to tell them? (Probably not…) Were the letters being sent from the NHS cervical cancer screening program separate from Jade’s actual ongoing medical care?
Heck, did Jade even have a source of ongoing care, or, god forbid, a primary physician? I doubt it. This is, after all, a lower class girl from a very rough upbringing – someone, I suspect, whose only contact with the health care system was in public clinics and ERs. She probably bounced around ER’s and hospitals during those years, failing follow up appointments, checking out AMA so she could appear in one or another publicity venue, denying that there was really anything wrong. (Update – Dr Crippen corrects my misperceptions of the British system…)
She even tried to delay her surgery after her diagnosis so she could stay on TV, till they told her she’d be dead in 3 weeks unless she went into the hospital right away.
So maybe I’m completely off base.
Maybe, just maybe, there were docs and nurses who tried to help Jade. Folks who personally called, warned, cajoled and hollered at her countless times, until finally, as a last ditch effort, they sent her a certified letter. Health professional who really cared about Jade and wanted to help her, although ultimately she refused their help.
Maybe Jade was just really that stupid.
I hope so. Because otherwise, the tragedy is not just Jade’s, but all of ours.
For more information about cervical cancer, see these sites –
Jade Goody Photo from Wikimedia