“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?