That’s the attitude being addressed by a shock advertising campaign that’s recently rolled out in a handful of major cities across the United States. When we hear of someone having been diagnosed with lung cancer, after the requisite “I’m sorry to hear that,” often the next words out of our mouths are “Were they a smoker?” The understated sentiment is they got what they deserved, or at least they should have known better.
A New York Times online article by Stuart Elliot this week discusses the new shock advertising campaign aimed at questioning these feelings: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/09/business/media/cancer-campaign-tries-using-shock-to-change-attitudes-campaign-spotlight.html?pagewanted=1&src=recg. With captions like “Cat Lovers Deserve to Die” and “People with Tattoos Deserve to Die,” these teaser posters and ads have been causing quite a stir. When it comes to lung cancer, I’m a strong proponent of these shock and awe tactics.
Those who have read my book for patients and families dealing with cancer, When Cancer Hits Home, know that, in addition to treating patients diagnosed with lung cancer, my own family has been hit hard. My wife and I lost her mom, Sandy, and I also lost my cousin to lung cancer. Both were smokers. Sandy had quit smoking a few years before her diagnosis (when my wife told her she wouldn’t bring her wedding dress into the house until she quit), but a smoker’s lifetime risk will always be higher than a non-smoker’s risk. The point here, however, is that neither my relatives nor anyone else diagnosed with lung cancer “deserve” to die any more than Molli Serrano, the extremely fit (non-smoker) triathlete diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, deserved her potentially lethal diagnosis: http://video.tvguide.com/TODAY+show/Cancer-surviving+mom+trains+for+Ironman/10732222.
People who are offended by the recent shock campaign to change attitudes toward people with lung cancer need to “get over it.” Without a change in attitudes toward the disease, fundraising will continue to be challenging at best. More Americans continue to die of lung cancer each year than of breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers combined. A new mindset toward this lethal malignancy is one major step in the marathon race toward a cure.
- Patrick Maguire MD