News Analysis

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Even a celebrity attention-seeker can be a health role model for us

Published 24/11/2012 | 05:00

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Where would we be without Twitter? While the Twitbox is mainly filled with inanities – 'amusing' quotes, marketing messages and occasional mudslinging – it has its uses. It can be a rallying cry to search for a missing person; an awareness and fundraising tool; a relevant indicator of the mood of the masses.

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So with such a mixed bag of messages, it's easy to ignore a tweet from a minor celebrity who's a bit poorly. So what if Peter Andre needs a Lemsip or Kirstie Allsopp has a blister? So what if Michelle Heaton has had to go to hospital for the weekend?

Who is she anyway? In the early noughties, 33-year-old Heaton enjoyed a smattering of hits with Liberty X, the original talent show losers – in that they were formed by people who didn't make it into Hear'Say.

Following their demise, Heaton, one of Katie Price's bessies, got married, divorced, socialised a lot, met a nice Irish lad, settled and had a lovely baby. All of this was played out almost weekly across publications like 'OK', 'Now', 'New' and 'Closer', for which she writes a column. She has also been a consistent presence on reality TV shows. So with 'Come Dine With Me' and 'Celebrity Big Brother' on the CV, it's hardly a surprise that when she tweeted her way through a hospital stay last August, the responses were, at best, rolls of the eyes and, at worst, accusations of attention-seeking.

The accusations were to get worse, however, when Heaton revealed in a variety of real-life magazines and daytime TV shows (and, of course, on Twitter) that she had been diagnosed with a mutated gene called BRCA2, which gives her an 80pc chance of developing breast cancer and a 30pc chance of ovarian cancer. Sobbing her way through interviews, Heaton revealed that her only safety net was a double mastectomy and removal of her ovaries.

If your sister or friend received this diagnosis, you'd be sympathetic, right? Broken-hearted, praying and hoping on their behalf. Not so for Heaton, however. Online comments included: "Does this woman keep anything private. She's that distressed she feels the need to tweet about it," and "If she's not at an opening of an envelope with Katie Price she's plastering herself all over the papers, giving personal information that I'm pretty sure not very many people care about". The underlying response seemed to be: "terrible news. . . but is she trying to milk it?"

You can't blame the cynics. Pick up a copy of 'OK' magazine – everyone's got 'fears', revealed ostensibly to make a reader go 'awwww' when the real 'fear' is that no one, other than their agent, will buy their tell-all book.

So was Heaton crying wolf? Using a serious and distressing health issue to keep herself in the headlines?

Fast forward to last week when Heaton tweeted a shot of "My last cuddle with #babyfaith before my op..dont know when she will be able to cuddle up to me again..big day 2moz X". Four tweets later and Heaton was "very sore and disorientated" having undergone the double mastectomy.

We might not like how she delivers the message but it's actually one worth a second glance. Rather than becoming a cautionary tale like Jade Goody – who ignored regular cervical smears and subsequently died from cervical cancer at the age of 27, leaving two young sons motherless – Heaton has taken a proactive stance on a serious and real probability.

She has made the decision that baby Faith will grow up with her mum and she's doing her damnedest to make sure that it happens.

And yes, I'm sure there will be a book, interviews and magazine spreads, but this is simply the language in which people like Heaton speak. If we want to leave her alone, all we have to do is turn a page, switch channel or 'unfollow'. Cancer isn't that discerning.

Maybe it's time we actually showed some admiration for a woman who has made a difficult choice to take control of her life and of her daughter's – who unfortunately also has chance of inheriting the gene.

It's easy to dismiss Heaton as an attention-seeker but maybe there's a bit of 'learn from me' that can be taken from the 'look at me'.

Some might find too overtly public, but if she encourages even one other young woman to have a breast check or a smear test, or to acknowledge and investigate a potential health problem, then what harm is there in that?

Irish Independent

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