Do you really wish you had breast cancer?
After the intense debate on Kellergate, I didn’t feel ready for another cancer controversy on the blog so soon again. However, after sitting with this campaign for 24 hours, I just had to say something. I mean seriously? Is this anyway to highlight the inequity you perceive in awareness and funding for pancreatic cancer?
The ‘envy’ campaign was devised by the charity Pancreatic Cancer Action to highlight the poor survival rates of the disease, by showing patients wishing they had more common types of the disease such as breast and testicular. The crux of the message is that the disease has a five-year survival rate of just three per cent – compared to 85 per cent of breast cancer patients and 97 per cent of men with testicular cancer but as the Metastatic Breast Cancer pointed out in response to this “Survival stats meaningless if you’re the one who dies. A death is a death.”
I am not for one moment saying that the charity does not have a valid point to make about funding and survival rates, but doing so by way of creating division and turning cancer into some kind of horrible reality show competition, is not the way to go about it.
The charity’s founder, Ali Stunt – diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2007 – defended the campaign by saying: “When I was diagnosed I was horrified to learn the survival rate and actually found myself wishing I had a different type of cancer. ” Yes, but how about wishing that she didn’t have any kind of cancer at all – surely a better wish?
Chris Askew, Chief Executive of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: ‘We strongly dispute any message which suggests that one type of cancer is preferable to another. We believe Pancreatic Cancer Action’s recent campaign does just this. I’ve yet to meet a man or woman with breast cancer who would consider themselves in any way fortunate to have received a diagnosis. ‘It’s utterly misleading to imply that breast cancer is a more desirable form of the disease.
If I put aside my ahem, “pink” hat for a moment, and put on my PR/marketing hat, and I stand back objectively, I think I can see what the charity were trying to do with this campaign. They wanted to shock viewers into understanding their message, and in this they have succeeded – but for the wrong reasons. It’s a PR disaster in my opinion. It has only succeeded in creating divisiveness in the cancer community and I am not sure how it will succeed in increased funding? While I find the ad crass and insensitive, I do have sympathy with the fundamental message behind the shock tactics, even if I disagree with them on the way they have gone about it.
One final thought. There is a phrase in the Bible about looking to the plank in your own eye, before taking the splinter out of your neighbor’s – and perhaps this is also a time to examine the resentments, divisions and hierarchy in our own breast cancer communities. I wrote about this last year and asked the question about whether the experience of cancer is scalable. A diagnosis of cancer is a traumatic event in anyone’s life and I don’t believe we can compare the level of trauma. Cancer is cancer, is cancer, and how you process that, regardless of the treatment you did/didn’t receive, can only be truly assessed according to your individual experience. I concluded that post with a reminder that seems appropriate to share again.
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Plato
Thank you, Marie, for articulating so clearly and rationally what I also felt about this advertising campaign. I get the point and agree about the lack of attention and funding towards many “marginalised” cancers. But to suggest that one cancer over another is desirable is way beyond acceptable. When we are diagnosed with breast cancer, our prognosis may be statistically higher, but none of us know (until a stage 4 diagnosis ironically) which side of the line we are on, and whether our cancer will be one which progresses or not.
Terribly sad and such a divisive tactic. I agree. A marketing disaster, and a travesty for all cancer advocacy.
“I wish I had breast cancer???” I’m shocked and saddened, even if, intellectually, I understand the point. I wrote a blog post a few years ago about “survivor’s one-upmanship.” When we start comparing and dismissing other patient/survivor’s experiences, we add to everyone’s pain. This campaign promotes survivor’s guilt and it’s not right.
Couldn’t agree more, Marie! And yes, pain is pain and suffering is suffering. Let’s not add to each others’ by dishonoring anyone’s experience. It had to be said and you said it perfectly – thank you!
“Be Very careful about what you hope for” I have heard that quite a few times growing up. FYI breast cancer comes in a lot of varieties and some just as difficult as pancreatic cancer.
Cancer researchers are the cutting edge of our hope, and yes some get more funding. Those who have the hardest battle have to fight the hardest, and from that fight sometimes comes the biggest miracles . Love and faith help us all.
I agree with you, Marie. This just doesn’t sit right with me. When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer someone (well-meaning, of course) told me I had the “good” kind of cancer, contrasting it, presumably with such cancers as pancreatic. If mine is so good, why did it go to stage IV? No cancer is good. I don’t like the idea of pitting one cancer against another. Very unsavvy marketing. I’m shocked..
I agree it’s a PR disaster in lots of ways. Causing distress is no way to get attention. They have a valid case for raise awareness but it shouldn’t be at any cost. I hope they have learned that but I fear they may just be pleased with the publicity.
Cancer is not a competition.
This is a message I got from a friend on FB this morning.. A coincidence given what is happening… But it does bring the reality home of what Pancreatic cancer Action were trying to get across… Their method may not sit well with some but awareness is badly needed for Pancreatic Cancer… Remember only 3% survival
Hi Helen today I lost my friend to pancreatic cancer following surgery yesterday just 28 days after diagnosis I am so shocked and sad and angry at the evil thief that it is she was 63 which of course is so young xxxx
I agree with all that no cancer is better or worse than another ..it is all cancer
This insightful post reminds me of how one of my blog readers (a heart patient) described her family doctor’s offhanded: “Cheer up – I’d rather tell a patient she has heart disease than cancer!” Pretty insensitive, given that heart disease is our #1 killer.
But even that ranking rankles. WHO CARES what’s #1 and what’s #27 when you’re the one hearing the diagnosis?
Like you, I wear (at least!) two hats: as a patient and as a 30+ year veteran of the public relations field. And from a public awareness perspective, pure shock value is precisely what the pancreatic cancer ads are after. And sadly, it’s come to this because all of those nice, quiet, polite, kittens-and-rainbows informational PSAs do squat to actually educate the public or raise funds for pancreatic research. Here in Canada a few years ago, we had a wildly controversial “Make Death Wait” series of TV awareness ads from the Heart and Stroke Foundation that featured a dark creepy voice (death) stalking women as they went about their ordinary days. Most people I knew were shocked and disgusted at the “ghoulish” concept – but suddenly, it seemed the whole country was talking about women’s heart disease. Amid a media/information avalanche out there, these ads got everybody’s attention. Pre- and post-campaign surveys showed a marked increase in women’s heart disease awareness. And that had just NEVER happened with all the polite pleasantness before. We may all hate these cringe-worthy ads – but we are reading and watching and listening. And that’s the only point.
There’s a darker side to this pancreatic cancer campaign, however. That’s an undercurrent of resentment backlash out there among cancer groups watching the successful pinkification that is breast cancer awareness. I’ve heard lung cancer patients, for example, mutter about the money that pours into Pinktober events compared to the public pittance spent on their deadly disease. We don’t like that comparison either, but it surely exists – even when other patients are too polite to say it out loud.
BTW, here’s the link to Debbie’s excellent post on survivor one-upmanship: http://www.wherewegonow.com/debbies-blog/cancer-survivors-guilt-its-ugly-cousin Thanks so much for this, Debbie.
This ad is wrong on so many levels…I can’t believe this was actually publicized ….
Beautifully said, Marie. Comparing cancers is ridiculous and divisive. This ad campaign harmed PCA’s cause and was really inappropriate. C’mon, there are other ways to get one’s point across than to berate other people’s suffering. I wrote on this topic too: http://bethgainer.com/my-cancer-is-worse-than-yours/
Thanks for speaking out Marie. I have sadly seen this kind of competitive thinking among the baby bereaved also… people who differentiate between the loss of a baby through a failed fertility treatment, miscarriage or being born still. The death of a baby is the death of a baby… a diagnosis of cancer is a diagnosis of cancer! I remember once being wounded to the core when a woman who lost her baby through a forced adoption told me ‘well at least YOU know where your baby is!’ We do not help each other when we say these things.
Hi Martine, thanks so much for taking the time to leave your thoughtful comment here. I really get what you are saying! You are so right, we don’t help each other one little bit. If only we could have some more compassionate and not judge or comment until we have walked a mile in someone else’s shoes
I just MENTIONED this discussion to my husband and he was shocked..he about choked because he knows what we went thru..and what we CONTINUE to go thru..there is NO GOOD cancer…and to even suggest it is in itself a cancer…a cancer of the goofy minded….
Hi Edith, you are very welcome to Journeying Beyond, and thanks so much for taking the time to leave your comment here. No, there is no “good cancer”. Cancer is a terrible disease, and not one anyone of us would wish on anyone.
Well said everyone. I find this very sad. Cancer isnt easy, not one bit of it. When I read this it reminded me of a woman who told me I was lucky because I got the good cancer. Since that day i have heard it said to other patients. What is a good cancer? Is this ad demonstrating the lack of understanding of breast cancer, its impact on us, our families and friends. Is it lessing the the diagnosis of breast cancer. Does the ad divide cancer into good or bad, easy or hard. If I was granted a wish there would be no diseases, no suffereng for anyone.
Ah yes the “good cancer” line! As you say Mona, if I had a wish it would be that no one would have to suffer cancer, good, bad or indifferent!
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Sure early detection is not a cure but it sure can save your life
I’m going to be the person on the other side of the fence for this one. I know the campaign is insensitive but I can’t help thinking that it is oh so fashionable to support breast cancer with the pink ribbons and the pink everything from phones to wheelie bins (yes wheelie bins!) and that they were trying to add a bit of perspective. Like, hello everyone, there are other types of cancer out there too you know….
I’m not belittling breast cancer by any means. I have personally seen people go through it and it is horrible, and I know that not everyone survives. But I think that we need to re-analyse cancer and ask why so many companies are falling over backwards to support breast cancer and not other types of cancer? Is it because you turn something pink and tell them it’s for a good cause and suddenly the products will fly off the shelves?
Maybe the kid that wasn’t getting any attention because he was the least attractive one had a major strop and threw his toys out of the pram. He got a slap on the butt for it, but something has sunk in. We now all know that pancreatic cancer is potentially very lethal and it needs a bit of our attention too.
So let’s be kind and ask ourselves why the tantrum happened in the first place, then adjust the balance a little bit.
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