The photo – a somber young woman with downcast eyes and visible tumors beneath the skin of her bald head – is haunting. But the message beside it is the bombshell: “I wish I had breast cancer.”
The image was part of a recent ad campaign by Pancreatic Cancer Action in the United Kingdom. Designed to raise awareness about pancreatic cancer, the campaign also included a short video.
So. What do you think?
Powerful? Provocative? Compelling? Reckless?
My own first reactions – nearly simultaneous – ranged from awe to, well, angry words I try to say only in my head, because I’ve taught my children not to use them.
I thought immediately of a young friend who was in fourth grade (and had three younger siblings) when her mom died of breast cancer. How would she feel if she stumbled upon that ad in a newspaper?
How would my friend, Kelley, whose mother was diagnosed with breast cancer just months after Kelley was born, feel if she watched the video?
As a breast cancer survivor, how do I feel? I’m not quite sure.
My heart breaks for Kerry Harvey, the young woman in the photo, who died less than three weeks after the ad first appeared February 4 and only 10 months after her initial diagnosis. She was 24 and engaged to be married.
On one hand, I completely understand her wish to have a type of cancer with a survival rate that is not only higher but also more often measured in years rather than months. Yes, I’m glad I was diagnosed with breast cancer – not pancreatic cancer – 18 years ago.
On the other hand, breast cancer is still the second leading cause of cancer death in women after lung cancer.* I’ve certainly never heard anyone who’s lost a loved one to breast cancer say, “Oh, thank goodness it wasn’t pancreatic cancer.”
Ali Stunt, founder and chief executive of Pancreatic Cancer Action, apologized in her blog for any hurt the ad might have caused at first glance. “When we devised the idea … we knew that it would create some noise, but we also knew it was what we needed to do to ultimately create awareness of a cancer that currently has a shockingly low survival rate of only three percent,” she wrote.
Visits to the Symptoms page on the Pancreatic Cancer Action’s website spiked after the release of the ad, Stunt said. “Yes, the (ad) is hard hitting and may even offend some, but it does compel you to read on – which is what we need people to do if we are to change the fortunes for pancreatic cancer.”
So, was the ad effective? Perhaps.
Was it fair? I just don’t know.
* What are the key statistics about breast cancer?