Duke Health Ad: Cancer Victims Didn’t Want Cure Enough?
I’ve seen this advertisement three times here in North Carolina, each time feeling an itch as I walked by:
I get that it may be useful to explore all options and to take control of learning about one’s cancer so that one can be a successful advocate for one’s self in a health care bureaucracy. I understand that a doctor who tells cancer patients when treatments are possible can help those patients battle despair.
This message from Duke Health is subtly but importantly different, however. “My Duke oncologist told me, ‘You can do this!’ So I did,” says “Betty” in the ad “about being a cancer survivor.” Wouldn’t it be nice if deciding you can be a cancer survivor would be how a person becomes a cancer survivor? You know, like deciding to become a libertarian? It would be very nice, but that’s not how cancer works. Cancers don’t listen to how much a person cares or how many self-affirmations are uttered.
The message that wanting a cancer cure is the big step in getting a cancer cure is surely useful to Duke Health in getting more customers. But it’s such a damaging message to people struggling with cancer because of its inaccurate corollary: that people who die from cancer didn’t bother enough to get miraculously peppy about their prospects, that if they’d only wished to be a survivor a little harder, survivorship would have come their way.
To be blunt, that’s bullshit. It’s more than bullshit; it’s a redirection of energy away from this biological disease, away from patient needs, toward the need of a health care corporation to sell possibility of survival to desperate people when sometimes there is no reasonable prospect of survival.
People who tell their cancer-struck friends “you can beat this!” or “you’re so strong and determined; if anyone can survive this, you can” are similarly wrong factually speaking. They’re following their need to soothe their own anxiety about the death of a loved one by finding an imaginary comfortable silver lining where a real one may not exist. While comforting themselves, these friends set up a trap for cancer sufferers: you’d better be sunny and cheery about your death sentence! Smile for me!
That’s not what friends are for, but sometimes friends don’t know better or just haven’t thought their messages through. Massive health care corporations with entire marketing departments don’t have that excuse.