Want Attention? Just Say Breast Cancer

2/7/14 edit & author’s note: When I write, I assume readers are residents of cancer land and are aware of the latest, um, “dramas”, that are going on in cancer land. But that is unfair, and I’ve been made aware that I should include links to what I am ranting on about. I’m reluctant to do that most of the time because I don’t always want to give something that annoys me more access for more clicks–especially in this situation, because what I’m writing about here is the dubious methods employed for getting attention! But my desire to be clear about what has driven me to write about any topic wins out, so here is a link to the Salon article that made me aware of the Pancreatic Cancer Action PSA, and the PSA itself can be watched there as well. Happy viewing!

color pink

What is the best way to push your agenda? Just say breast cancer.

You can push your questionable prevention advice with this fear-mongering because everyone will listen. (I ranted about that a lot last summer, if you enjoy rants: 1, 2, & 3, all about how one report used fear of breast cancer in a title to talk about something else, and yes, I acknowledged even then that I was contributing to the attention.)

You can insist that your disease is more important because it kills more people than breast cancer—I’m looking at you, most heart disease-and-women campaigns. February is almost as annoying as October, since everyone honks about breast cancer to highlight how heart disease kills more women than breast cancer. As if everyone was not already tired of the phrase breast cancer. Because the only way to advocate one cause is to smack another down, apparently.

You can imply all your cancers are worse because of lack of funding and awareness because the Big Pink Ribbon Bully stole all the attention. As I’ve said before, breast cancer is a bully that is now being bullied—payback is a bitch. Everyone is tired of all the attention breast cancer gets, yet no one will shut up about it, myself included.

I’d like to say the best way to handle the pancreatic cancer PSA is to ignore it, because the backlash and buzz is drawing attention—no doubt that is exactly what is desired. It just proves my point: want attention? Just say breast cancer.

But ignoring it is wrong. Of course pancreatic cancer needs attention. And frankly, I have heard or seen people with other cancers comment that they wish they had breast cancer, instead. I don’t presume to know why, but I can guess. So the statement in the ad was no big surprise.

But I’ve also read one blogger’s thankfulness to have a gynecological cancer rather than breast cancer (sorry cannot remember who or where, cannot locate), because of all the silliness and sexualization around breast cancer, knowing she’d loathe the pink ribbon even more if she had breast cancer. She’s glad that at least her cancer is taken seriously. So there’s that too.

This is why I hate all the colored ribbons—it just creates a divided cancer gang land. Gotta be true to your colors. No thanks. People are sick and jealous of the attention breast cancer and Pink hogs (see What Do You Mean There Are OTHER Kinds of Cancer Besides Breast Cancer?!). Understand why Pink is doing more harm than good yet? Understand why Pink-coated-everything has got to stop? Understand why that ribbon does not represent this breast cancer patient?

When I was treated for breast cancer, I was not ushered into a separate room with pink champagne, cupcakes, feather  boas, and a party atmosphere. I slogged it out with patients with all kinds of other cancers. Just because so many people think they know all about breast cancer (NO) because they’ve seen a few Pink ads, breast cancer patients still have to get the same (slightly better than past years) slash, poison, and burn treatments many other cancer patients get. What non-breast cancer patients are NOT aware of is the fact that there is a good chance it will come back and kill me—I’ve heard that twice in the past several weeks from two different doctors who are involved in my cancer care. That is Pink’s dirty little secret: breast cancer still makes a person sick, the treatment is still horrible, and it still kills.

Dead is dead, regardless if it is from pancreatic, breast, prostate, or ANY cancer. Can the conversation, the message, the fall-out, from the PSA be an understanding of this simple notion?

No, because I’m sure there will be a segment of people thinking breast cancer patients, with our alleged advantages, should just stop whining, stop stealing pancreatic cancer’s thunder, stop insisting we have it just as bad, because in their eyes, we don’t have it as bad, no matter what we say. Because I know folks with mets breast cancer, or other cancers, have thought me lucky. I’ve thought it myself. I wrestle with it all the time. So should I shut up about this PSA? Is this what breast cancer patients should keep in mind before talking about this PSA?

At any rate, the PSA worked, because it invoked breast cancer. Attention, guaranteed.

Thank you Pancreatic Cancer Action, for reminding this breast cancer patient to not shut up about the horribleness of all and any cancer, equally. Thank you for reminding everyone just how much work there is to do, for highlighting just how badly Pink has failed in conveying the gravity of getting a breast cancer diagnosis, and for showing how un-classy it is to smack another down to lift your own self up.

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Author: Cancer Curmudgeon

Oct 2010 diagnosed with Stage 3, HER2+ Breast Cancer. Completed treatment Jan 2012. Waaaaaay over pink. Applying punk rock sensibility to how I do cancer.

33 thoughts on “Want Attention? Just Say Breast Cancer”

  1. This is a message I got from a friend yesterday… It was a coincidence given all the blow up from the PCA advert… Very true to say though that they are now getting the awareness and publicity they wanted for Pancreatic Cancer… They just had to poke the Pink giant!!!!

    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

    We should never compare cancers… Cancer is cancer… It is awful in every shape and form.. I for one always make sure I donate to Cancer research in general… Or for me the Cancer Council in NSW for the work they do with all cancer patients.. 💜💜💜

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  2. dear CC,

    such an EXCELLENT post, so insightful and every word the TRUTH. thank you for speaking out, and for being able to connect the dots about the divisiveness that has managed to worm it’s way into the global landscape of all cancers. what a blow, and really a set-back – IF we let it be. wise advice to ignore the PCA flap, and refuse to participate in the nonsense of this sort of drama – no one who has any kind of cancer needs to be on the defensive.

    much love and light,

    Karen xoxox

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  3. I love the way you made your point in this one. I think you are absolutely right about the attention getting plan that was in mind all along with this particular controversial ad. As you said, want attention? Then mention breast cancer.That was the intent all along and in this, the ad makers were pretty successful. Will this mean more funds and/or more awareness of pancreatic cancer? Who knows… Time will tell. Excellent post.

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    1. Thank You!
      It is interesting that the rep for the PCA realized (on a UK TV show) that it could be taken as “belittling”, yet the ad ran anyway, so it was clear they were comfortable with that possibility. However, as I’ve written on this blog at the end of Oct, the anger toward breast cancer and Pink from those with other cancers is NO surprise to me–it just took YouTube and TV to gain more attention.
      This, like the Keller thing, is a complex issue, and I hope that real discussion can be the result, but after seeing the comments on PCA’s blog, on mainstream sites, and Twitter, I’m worried.

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  4. Thank you for this. I appreciate your particular contribution to this conversation. I didn’t like the ad, but I understood the thinking behind it. I think many breast cancer patients, even, wish they had the kind of breast cancer the media shows us, where you get cured easy-peasy and everyone is positive and happy and pink.

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    1. Exactly–I understood the thinking of the cancer patients’ comments, I’ve heard them before (see older posts linked in this post).
      And, YES, you nailed it, for me at least. I do sometimes wish I had the breast cancer that the TV personalities and people in ads and shows have. But that just is not how I view it. (See Punk Rock Breast Cancer).

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  5. I am pretty sure the purpose of this was attention getting, but people need to be very very careful about comparisons. There are some breast cancers they might not want to include.
    I know a lady who had pancreatic cancer a year before my breast cancer and is still cancer-free and doing great. I had inflammatory breast cancer that quickly metastasized, but last scan showed me in remission. Only God knows how either of us will be doing 5 years from now. If one or both will even be here 10 years from now.
    Incidentally, the Australian 5 year pancreatic cancer survival rate is 5% and the US and Canada are each 6%, double UK’s. I wonder how a campaign of pancreatic patients saying “I wish I lived in Canada,” would go over?
    Truth? Cancer is bad, it is deadly, it is unpredictable. We all need research, new treatments, and most of all, we all need cures!

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    1. Yes, as much as I “get” why some folks would perceive the breast cancer experience as easier–I’ve heard this sort of thing before, see links in this post to older posts talking about this–I still dislike the feeling in my gut that some think I and many others had a party, not “real” cancer. As I said in another reply, the PCA admitted in another YouTube piece that they knew it could come off as “belittling”. Yet, they ran it anyway, very telling.
      Oooooo, interesting stats! Did you comment these to the PCA blog? I only just skimmed it a few moments ago, don’t think I saw anything regarding what you just said. Might be an eye opener. Of course, the Canada/UK to US comparison has raged in the universal care debate as well. Maybe everyone will always think the grass is greener on the other side, and that is just human nature?

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      1. No, I haven’t gone anywhere else to comment on the stats. Somewhere, a while back I saw something that gave overall UK/US cancer survival rates in a political piece of all places. Apparently they are lower in most cancers. So when I saw this, and knowing the doctors actually gave my friend a pretty good prognosis (apparently a lot better than the usual US 6%), I just had to look it up. My guess would be that pancreatic is one of those cancers hard to detect early. They were actually looking for another problem when they found my friend’s cancer. But, another friend was widowed years ago, where her husband only lasted weeks after his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.
        There is no “good” cancer even though some are worse than others. And all are unpredictable. As my oncologist keeps telling me, “you are not a statistic.” That can actually be good or bad.

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    1. Thank you so much! Yes, as mentioned in this post, this is not the first time the using and abusing breast cancer to promote something unrelated has happened. I’ve often thought (and written at least once) that heart disease campaigns seem to use breast cancer and Pink, all the while making obscene gestures at it from jealously over what they perceive as Pink’s success–and what I deem a failure. This PCA PSA takes that love/hate/envy thing to a new level. This won’t be the last time it happens. The challenge is what is to be done about it. Wish I knew.

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  6. Wow you really nailed the issue by stating “want attention, just say breast cancer.” I know that the survival rate of pancreatic cancer is only 3% which is very sad. My dad died 10 days from diagnosis of pancreatic cancer yet in some ways I was glad that he didn’t suffer very long as he only felt a little more tired and wasn’t sure what was wrong the last six months of his life. What is so difficult is that there are so many more cases of breast cancer. When I look at the death rates in the UK, I discovered there are 22 deaths a day from pancreatic cancer and 32 deaths a day from breast cancer. I really wish the the PCA would come up with another ad that shows they listened to those in the breast cancer community who were upset and realize that there is no good cancer and we all need to be united on this one. The pink problem really upsets me. On a personal note they ruined my favorite color. I was a ballet dancer with Joffrey Ballet plus I taught many levels of ballet and I love the color pink. It makes me crazy that my color has been destroyed and has turned in to a marketing nightmare that is ruining the importance of breast cancer advocacy. I recognize the problem but there’s no easy solution.

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    1. Thank you so very much for your kind words! The stats you point out here, the 3% survival rate compared to the numbers of how many die each day from each cancer, just goes to show how difficult and misleading these attention grabber slogans and short ads are. These issues are far too complex to be reduced like this. There is always a complicated story behind headlines and stats–witness the current conversation over recent mammo study–or even the simple 1 in 8 war cry (I was 1 in 233, not 8). It frustrates me these details behind the hubbub continue to get lost.
      A ballet dancer?! How wonderful! So sad that cancer, and how it is sold, messed up what used to be a favorite color, that it tainted things you loved.
      Yes, I wish there a solution–easy or not! Patience is sooo not my best thing, and whatever possible solution there could be will take that!

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  7. Thanks for speaking so truthfully about the whole cancer picture, and the nonsense surrounding pink and breast cancer. Illness is not competition. All of it deserves *appropriate* attention. Damn the media….full speed ahead!

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  8. One of the many posts I love from you!! I remember the pancreatic cancer campaign. Yea, I was offended, again. But I totally agree with you when you say all cancers deserve attention. And yes, color ribbons create a separation among cancer patients. True cancer is a group of diseases, not just one. But cancer kills no matter where it starts in the body so everyone deserves answers. Everyone deserves a cure. I def. don’t like the competition.

    Thank you for this awesome post!

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    1. Thank YOU. This post is old, but still kind of applies. Been thinking about the competition and just general lack of understanding in all disease, and how the awareness campaigns really get so much wrong, especially when we resort to comparing. Ugh, it is all driving me nuts right now!

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