My very mod­ern death

Kate Granger is a doc­tor who, at 31, has ter­mi­nal can­cer. She also has a mis­sion: to break the si­lence around dy­ing by tweet­ing from her deathbed

Friday - - Inside -

Kate Granger, a young doc­tor with ter­mi­nal can­cer once thought to have only months to live, is look­ing at her mo­bile phone in amaze­ment. For the past seven or eight months, she has been gath­er­ing Twit­ter fol­low­ers in their thou­sands. Cur­rently, it’s 11,060 and ris­ing. She has no idea who they all are, but they love her.

One sent her air miles so she could fly first class to New York with her hus­band; an­other was pos­si­bly re­spon­si­ble for her out of-the-blue in­vite to a gar­den party with the Queen last month. “I don’t re­ally un­der­stand it,” she says, shak­ing her head. “Maybe the world likes a pos­i­tive story? Maybe it’s the whole idea of my dy­ing and the fact that I talk about it openly, with some hu­mour and sense? Maybe it’s that I tell it for what it is, and that helps peo­ple to think about what their fu­tures might hold for them? I don’t know.”

Kate, 31, re­cently tweeted that she is go­ing to live-tweet her death. She doesn’t know when she is go­ing to die – she’s al­ready out­lived what she calls her “ex­piry date” – but she says she is as pre­pared as she can be. Her Twit­ter fol­low­ers (she is @GrangerKate) greeted the news of deathbed tweets with en­thu­si­asm and sup­port, send­ing in sug­ges­tions for an ap­pro­pri­ate hash­tag, such as #go­ing­going­gone or #toin­fin­ityand­be­yond. (She fi­nally set­tled on #deathbedlive.) Many asked, “Are you se­ri­ous?” and she tweeted back, “Deadly.”

Given she has ter­mi­nal can­cer, Kate Granger’s hu­mour brings new mean­ing to “black”. Her ap­proach to death, too, brings new mean­ing to “mod­ern”. Work­ing in tan­dem with Twit­ter, she has at­tracted a fol­low­ing on her blog, drkate­granger.word­, mus­ing about life and death. In one post, she asks, “Is can­cer in­her­ently evil? I think not...”, ad­mit­ting that, as a sci­en­tist, “I quite ad­mire my can­cer.”

In an­other – ti­tled “Dy­ing – can it ever be a laugh­ing mat­ter?” – she re­calls how she had been en­joy­ing a lovely sup­per with her hus­band and asked him, “Would it be fat to have an­other bun for pud­ding?” and that he had replied, “Yes, but you’re dy­ing, dar­ling, so does it re­ally mat­ter?” She says, “We both then fell about laugh­ing hys­ter­i­cally. It was one of those gen­uinely funny mo­ments in life where you laugh so hard that you cry, and your ab­dom­i­nal mus­cles hurt.” See what I mean?

So here we are, in her sit­ting room in Wake­field, West York­shire, Eng­land, drink­ing tea and chat­ting about her ter­mi­nal ill­ness as if it were the lat­est is­sue of a gossip mag. In Au­gust 2011, aged just 29, she was di­ag­nosed with a rare type of can­cer usu­ally seen in teenagers – desmo­plas­tic small round cell tu­mour (DSRCT) – which had spread to her liver and bones.

She had be­come ill while on hol­i­day in Cal­i­for­nia with her hus­band, Chris, and his grand­mother, first with a nig­gling right-sided back pain, which she ig­nored. When the pain be­came un­bear­able and she started vom­it­ing, Chris took her to ER. Within days, she was told that “sev­eral soft tis­sue masses” had spread through her pelvis and ab­domen, block­ing her kid­neys, which had stopped work­ing and be­come filled with pus. Her life changed as quickly as that. She knew from the scans that it was can­cer, al­though not what sort.

She phoned her mum and broke the news – a ter­ri­ble con­ver­sa­tion, she re­mem­bers, be­cause noth­ing had been prop­erly con­firmed. Her mum told her dad. The ter­mi­nal di­ag­no­sis hap­pened not long af­ter Kate got back home. She was told the me­dian sur­vival rate for DSRCT was 14 months, which means, sta­tis­ti­cally, she should have died last Oc­to­ber.

Be­ing a doc­tor, she says that as soon as she heard the can­cer had trav­elled to her bones and liver, she knew she was go­ing to die. “I ac­cepted it im­me­di­ately,” she re­mem­bers. “There was no anger, no bit­ter­ness; just a lot of sad­ness. I was never in de­nial, not from day one.”

She had just be­gun to dis­cuss with Chris the prospect of start­ing a fam­ily. That idea of her be­ing a mother had now been crushed, along with ev­ery­thing else. At that point, she had too much else to con­tem­plate to mourn mother­hood.

She writes mov­ingly in the first of two self-pub­lished, fundrais­ing e-books, The Other Side, about how on hear­ing the news she asked the doc­tors and med­i­cal stu­dents to leave the

Not much of a so­cial me­dia

user be­fore her di­ag­no­sis, Kate now sees its po­ten­tial to change mind­sets

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