"I wish I had breast cancer."

“I wish I had breast cancer”.

It’s probably not a sentence you ever thought you’d hear. It’s a deeply unpleasant. But it’s the slogan of a new campaign for pancreatic cancer awareness.

The Pancreatic Cancer Action campaign has been slammed around the world for being “insensitive”, “offensive”, “repugnant” and “deeply hurtful”. It’s been panned on Twitter, by online news outlets and in the mainstream media. Survivors of breast cancer and many families of its victims are angry that anyone should say such a thing.

But I think it’s brilliant. It’s brave, powerful and it’s necessary. It’s exactly the kind of video I’d make if I ever found myself marketing cancer research.

Take a minute to watch it, and we’ll talk.

The ad features two genuine pancreatic cancer patients dealing with the grim realities of their diagnoses. A clipped British voice speaks: “You’ve just found out you have cancer. Pancreatic cancer. You’re not even sure where your pancreas is. So it can’t be one of the big ones… can it?”

Haunting music chimes in, as we’re reminded that pancreatic cancer is one of the most vicious killers. It has a 3% survival rate.

Cut to a man, who stares down the barrel of the camera and says, “I wish I had testicular cancer.”A woman looks at you desperately and utters, “I wish I had breast cancer.”

There’s that sentence again. “I wish I had breast cancer.”

It’s prompted reactions like these:

I think it’s worth breaking down why some people find that sentiment so repulsive, and others – myself included – find it so important.

The most common problem people have with this campaign is that it implies cancer is a competition, where sufferers of different types of cancer are pitted against each other. Which is an awful way to think about surviving the deadliest illness of our time. But what if it’s accurate? What if all cancers are not treated as equal? And most importantly, what if a terminally ill person with a lesser known cancer has the genuine, painful thought: I wish I had a more socially acceptable cancer?


Because that’s what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about a deep, dark, heart-wrenching thought that comes to haunt someone who already knows they’re losing their life. We’re not talking about an advertising agency exploiting victims for financial gain, we’re not talking about a TV drama manipulating your emotions, and we’re not talking about some insensitive person treating the whole experience of cancer disrespectfully.

We’re talking about actual human beings existing in the twilight of grief and primal fear that comes with cancer. And if a lung, bowel, or pancreatic cancer patient feels, in that horrific state of mind, that it’d be easier to have a more socially acceptable cancer like breast cancer… We can’t judge that. What are we doing, policing the private fears of terminally ill people now?

We might not like the hear a sentiment like “I wish I had breast cancer”. But just think what a terrifying experience it must be, to think it; to genuinely have that thought cross your mind.

To be clear, nobody’s saying that breast cancer is good or desirable, but when you’re in the depths of a rare and unsurvivable cancer, you can find yourself strangely envious.

Breast cancer not only has more funding, better survival rates and more accessible treatment, it also has no stigma. And with all the expensive, high-profile campaigns to “raise awareness” for breast cancer, we’re all well and truly aware of what it is. We’ve all bought a drink bottle with a pink lid or worn pink to the cricket or eaten a pink cupcake at a fundraiser.

But the lesser known, often more dangerous cancers like lung, bowel, or pancreatic cancer can be utterly isolating for sufferers. Can you, even for a second, imagine dealing with your own mortality, the symptoms of cancer, the trauma of its treatment, and the grief of your family as well as feeling ignored by society? Or even worse, judged?

Well, the idea of wishing for breast cancer doesn’t seem such a strange idea.

What do you think of the ads? Do you think they are powerful? Or would you say they’re offensive?

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