Cervical Cancer

20 February 2009

Big Brother star dying on camera

A brash British reality show star whose ups and downs captivated the nation is approaching her death the same way she has lived – on television.


A brash British reality show star whose ups and downs captivated the nation is approaching her death the same way she has lived – on television.

Given just months to live from cervical cancer that spread to her liver and bowels, 27-year-old Jade Goody sees no reason to turn the cameras off now. Her first foray into the spotlight was in 2002, when she lost at strip poker on "Big Brother." She later went on to write her autobiography, star in fitness videos, release a perfume and appear on "Celebrity Big Brother," where she was accused of racism and bullying against Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty.

To make amends, she went to India last summer to star in its version of reality TV. It was there - in a shocking diagnosis captured on television - that she found out about her cancer. "She's a kind of product of our time," said her publicist Max Clifford. "I suppose, when I started out, it was all about talent, but Jade was the one who proved that you don't need to have talent to be someone in Britain today. She's famous for just being herself."

Bald and gaunt from chemotherapy, pictures of Goody have been daily fodder in the British press since her cancer treatment failed recently. She says the publicity and profits made from selling her story will help her 4- and 5-year old sons, and raise awareness of cervical cancer.

Diagnosed on camera
On Thursday, a television show aired her reaction to her terminal prognosis. On Sunday, they will capture her wedding to 21-year-old boyfriend, Jack Tweed, in a designer dress donated by Harrods owner Mohamed Al Fayed. The ceremony will be aired on cable television, and the photographs printed in OK! magazine. It's believed that she will have earned as much as one million pounds (over R14 million) for her appearances in the past few weeks.

Her actual death is not expected to be televised or photographed. "People will say I'm doing this for money," she told the Sun tabloid earlier this month. "And they're right. I am, but not to buy flash cars or big houses. It's for my sons' future."

Some have said Goody should spend time with her family rather than staying in the spotlight but most have praised her commitment to her sons and her effort to highlight the need for cervical smears, a simple test that can catch the treatable disease in its early stages.

"I may have questioned the wisdom of Jade treating the media as confidantes in her final days," wrote Allison Pearson in the conservative Daily Mail. "But I have nothing but respect for her decision to accumulate enough money for the boys to enjoy the very best education."

Tortured childhood
Goody's tortured childhood provided kindling for reality TV. She grew up in a tough part of London, the daughter of drug users. Her father, who served time in jail, died from a drug overdose. She both fascinated and repelled Britain with her in-your-face attitude and willingness to share the details of her life. Her shallow education sometimes made her an object of ridicule, such as when she asked where the English region of East Anglia is located - though she pronounced it "East Angular."

But there is admiration, too, for her sheer determination to make a better life for herself. "It's very sad and indeed tragic that someone so young has got this deadly disease of cancer, and it's very sad indeed that the treatment that has been given has not been successful," Prime Minister Gordon Brown said at his monthly press conference.

"I think everyone has their own ways of dealing with these problems and her determination to help her family is something that we've got to applaud," he said. "I wish her well and I wish her family well - and I think the whole country will be worried and anxious about her health."

Confronting her mortality
Even the Guardian newspaper - which appeals to the left-leaning intelligentsia - weighed in on Goody's decision to publicise her impending death, praising her in an editorial for confronting her own mortality.

"The ostentatious rituals of mourning and public graveyards of earlier eras are not part of modern life," the editorial said. "Today, morality is as finite as before, but has somehow been marginalised."

Goody's experience with cancer is not the first to have been documented on the pages of the British press or on television. John Diamond, a journalist for the Times married at the time to celebrity chef Nigella Lawson, shared his own fight by collecting his experiences in a book called "C: Because Cowards Get Cancer Too." He died in 2001.

In Bermondsey, the neighbourhood near London Bridge where Goody grew up, residents still consider her one of their own. Nearly all support her choice to stay in the spotlight. "She's like one of us. We all feel for her. It's not fair," said 40-year-old Janine Stacy, a special needs teacher. "It's totally her choice."

Clifford said that Jade could consider doing other deals after the wedding. "We are in discussions to do a final documentary... and she's very keen to do it, providing she's well enough to do it," Clifford said. – (AP/Sapa)

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Cervical Cancer Centre

February 2009


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