There’s been a bit of a kerfuffle on Twitter recently about an ad campaign for the charity Pancreatic Cancer Action. The ad features real pancreatic cancer patients declaring “I wish I had breast cancer” or “I wish I had testicular cancer.” It’s explained that this is because while there is a better percentage of surviving from these forms of cancer there is only a 3% chance of surviving five years with pancreatic. The organisation’s CEO says that while she was undergoing chemo a friend was telling her about how gruelling her treatment for breast cancer was. She goes on to say, “I couldn’t help thinking every now and then, “it’s alright for you, you have an 85% chance that you will still be here in five years time -while my odds are only 3%. Cancer envy: I’d never have thought I would be envious of anyone with breast cancer but I was.”
That phrase keeps coming back to me, “It’s alright for you?” Really? Which bit? I could understand if the friend was complaining about ingrown toenails; when I was going through treatment I got a bit niggled when a caller one day didn’t pause for breath while telling me about a back ache when I was struggling to listen while off my head on morphine for the pain my radiation burns were giving me. I may have thought “I wish I had back ache” but if somebody was telling me about their pain and sheer fear and I was in the position to really empathise would I really at any point think it was alright for them? In fact someone close to me is going through breast cancer treatment right now. How will she feel if she comes across this ad? When she reads this blog? She’s being fabulous and flirting outrageously with the radiotherapists but when you’re in the middle of treatment I can assure you percentages don’t mean a damn thing. What goes through your mind in the wee small hours isn’t the big percentage – it’s the little one.
While I understand the point that the charity is trying to make I utterly disagree with how it has been made. One of the feedback comments for the campaign was the old chestnut tellingly written in capitals, “NO CANCER ADVERT THAT SAVES A SINGLE LIFE CAN BE ACCUSED OF GOING TOO FAR.” Again, really? I think it can. I think anything that distresses or makes somebody struggling feel guilty in the name of awareness is wrong and just ….mean.
The campaign has raised awareness and while I don’t begrudge the charity a penny that they might make through it I still support a charity that is working towards tackling ALL cancer and doesn’t discriminate.
Oh and the survival rates for Anal cancer is 60% – 75% according to Cancer Research so I think I’m qualified to comment.