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A life lived in vain?

Marilyn Eveleigh reflects on the media interest surrounding Jade Goody and the public way in which her life and death are being played out. Love or loathe her, a positive outcome of all this is that debates are now being had about cervical cancer screening and the dying process itself ...

Over the last few weeks, Jade Goody has become truly famous. She has secured a significant proportion of column inches in the press, her website has had millions of hits and the electronic media have fuelled public interest.

This smiling, vibrant young mother is to die within the next few months from cervical cancer and her death is to be lived under the media gaze – just as her life has since her appearance on Big Brother in 2002.

Camera crews will follow and record her terminal illness. The public debate will continue and become polarised as to whether this is brave, undignified, crass or stupid – some of the adjectives this controversy has already sparked.

As a society we may not like to dwell on the subject of death but we will not be able to hide from this one. Selling her story will benefit Jade's estate – exposure to the reality and inevitability of death might benefit a society that often shuns the subject and the sufferers. There will be some that will envy her ability to plan her death.

Jade's short life has not been ordinary. A child caring for her heroin addicted single mother on a deprived council estate, she became a dental nurse despite poor education and elocution – and was projected into fame and fortune through having a personality and attitude that seemed to attract trouble.

Her opinions and excesses became legendary, her appearance became public fodder and her unconventional love life, parenting and innocent children became tabloid news. The employment of Max Clifford as her publicist elevated her celebrity status and money making career. How we loved to hate her.

Now I sense a change in public opinion. The news of her imminent death and graphic pictures of her frailty and hair loss have touched even the most hardened hearts. Her clear business sense in providing for her children has softened public disapproval of the megabucks paid for her rushed wedding photos by a celebrity magazine.

The gifting of the Harrod's wedding dress matched the consideration and sympathy afforded by the government to allow her new husband to extend the constraints of his curfew. Now we see her as she is – frightened, vulnerable and unable to fight her fate. We can identify with her - as a daughter, a mother, a wife or a friend.     

Ironically, she has done more to raise the awareness for cervical screening than any public health campaign. Internet chat rooms, magazines and girly groups encourage the take up of the cytology screening test; mothers encourage daughters, friends support each other. The public now know you can die from this disease.

Practice nurses report an increase in enquiries and uptake of the cytology test; we wait to see if it prompts an improvement in the HPV uptake for those women who are outside the school based call-up programme.  

Jade's case may also inadvertently fuel a difficult national healthcare debate around equality and evidence in the NHS. In 2003, in England only, the age for screening for cervical cancer was raised to 25 years – in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland it remains at 20 years. So who is most at risk in the UK?

The Jade Goody story has further to run. Whether you like or loathe her, approve or disapprove of the attention she courts, there will inevitably be more private and public tears, media spreads and personal reflections. Death and dying will be discussed.  

For me, I'll remember a brave, cheerful face of a beautiful bald young woman who, up to now has borne her fate with frankness and fortitude – and sent a powerful message to all women regarding cervical screening. I wish her a good death that will give comfort to those left behind.

Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

My heart goes out to Jade especially, but also to her little boys and her family/friends in this a time of heartache, distress, anxiety and suffering. How brave she has been in this hour of darkness. Questions must be answered and addressed as to whether or not England should return to the cervical screening start age of 20 years because Jade's case proves that in light of treatments received by Jade, they were not enough to save her
but it may possibly save others who start their screening process earlier than 25 yrs. Even though, so far, Jades case does not seem to have impacted on an increased uptake of cervical screening within the general practice where I work as a practice nurse, I hope that things will change for the better very soon and include the already difficult to engage diverse, ethnic minority group females. My thoughts are persistently with you Jade." - Jackie Robinson, Dudley
and wishing you much comfort

"Something so positive is coming from something so awful, bless you and yours Jade." - Joan Moorby, Cumbria

"Maybe she will be immortalised with a 'Jade Goody Memorial Fund' for cervical cancer awareness in women. Who knows, whatever happens it is a very sad situation for us all. She should have been able to survive if the screening programme had worked. What lessons will we learn?" - Pam Fry, Berkshire

"Marilyn, agree with all you say. Hopefully this very sad story will help other young women to think of their own mortality and cervical screening. Additionally, Jade has made us all focus on her pending death so bravely." - Kathy French

"Jade Goody has just achieved what all practice nurses have been striving for and that is women attending for smears.
Unfortunately, Jade will not survive, but many will because of her, and her bravery in going public. My thoughts are with you Jade." - Sue Fern, Wolverhampton