Pancreatic Cancer Action Campaign: I Wish I Had Breast Cancer

Congratulations, Pancreatic Cancer Action.

Your brilliant marketing plan is working. It was a stroke of genius to have Tube ads and YouTube videos of people saying “I wish I had testicular cancer” and “I wish I had breast cancer.”



The UK-based  Pancreatic Cancer Action’s Ali Stunt  was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer age 41 in 2007.  Upon learning the disease has a 3% chance of survival and an average life expectancy of just months, she found herself  wishing she had  a cancer with a  better chance of survival. “In fact the cancer I personally wished I had was breast,” Stunt writes. “[My friend with breast cancer] was telling me how grueling her treatment was and how difficult it was to cope with the diagnosis. While I was sympathetic…I couldn’t help but think every now and then, ‘it’s alright for you, you have an 85% chance that you will still be here in five years time – while my odds are only 3%.” Cancer envy: I’d never have thought I would be envious of anyone with breast cancer, but I was.

Oh boy. Because obviously the best way to call attention to one disease is at the expense of another.

There’s just one problem. Breast cancer is a like a fat man wearing a Hawaiian shirt: It covers a lot of ground. If you’re going to wish for breast cancer, make sure you put in a special request for the non-metastatic kind. Because in 2014, there is no cure for metastatic breast cancer. The median survival rate is surely not as good as the Pancreatic Action Network  seems to think it is. In general, breast cancer survival figures don’t necessarily represent significant gains, as they are distorted by the over diagnosis of Stage I breast cancers, which have increased five-fold since the advent of mammography in the 1980s.

Also, our research situation is much like yours: it sucks. Metastatic breast cancer is responsible for 90 percent of the morbidity and mortality, but gets less than 5 percent of the research budget.

Click here for the "I Wish" video

Click here for the “I Wish” video

The New York Times said people with metastatic breast cancer “live from scan to scan, in three-month gulps, grappling with pain, fatigue, depression, crippling medical costs and debilitating side effects of treatment, hoping the current therapy will keep the disease at bay until the next breakthrough drug comes along, or at least until the family trip to Disney World.” Still want to sign up?

Perhaps most troubling is the notion of what the American Cancer Society’s Otis Brawley calls “disease Olympics,” i.e., when advocates for one disease try to increase funding for their disease by decreasing funding for another disease. “I believe the wise advocate tries to get more money for all cancer research and does not try to undermine another disease in favor of the disease that he or she is interested in,” says Brawley. “The wisest advocacy for cancer science is support for more money for cancer research in general and support for funding the best science and encouraging scientific investigators to maintain an open mind.  Scientists must look for additional applications of findings beyond just their cancer of interest.”

We are all in this together.  The reason that  testicular cancer has such an enviable cure rate can be summed up in one word: cisplatin. As Brawley notes: “Cisplatin is now the most commonly used chemotherapy in the treatment of lung cancer and ovarian cancer. It is also used in some breast cancer treatments. The drug oxalaplatin used in colon cancer therapy was developed from cisplatin.  So testicular cancer research benefited a number of other cancers.”

I’m sure  Pancreatic Cancer  Action meant well.  “Our advert is not stating that the person wishes they contract breast/cervical/testicular cancer, rather they wish they could swap pancreatic cancer for a cancer that will give them a better chance of survival,” writes Stunt. “We have selected cancers for our campaign that have a significantly better survival rate than pancreatic cancer. Plus they are ones that have benefited from the tremendous campaigning done by cancer charities to raise awareness of these cancers and increase the levels of funding over the past 10-15 years and in some cases have seen survival rates increase by over 50%!”

Well, guess again. Breast cancer is a lousy disease any way you slice it. Take a look at our numbers.

Is pancreatic cancer research underfunded? Undoubtedly. Is there a need for pancreatic cancer awareness? Certainly. Was this campaign the best way to change the status quo?



“All too often, when people think about breast cancer, they think about it as a problem, it’s solved, and you lead a long and normal life; it’s a blip on the curve. While that’s true for many people, each year approximately 40,000 people die of breast cancer — and they all die of metastatic disease. You can see why patients with metastatic disease may feel invisible within the advocacy community.” —Dr. Eric P. Winer, director of the breast oncology center at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston

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29 thoughts on “Pancreatic Cancer Action Campaign: I Wish I Had Breast Cancer

  1. Chrissie says:

    So I wish u had breast cancer . What a horrible vile comment to make . I have breast cancer and I wouldn’t wish it on my worse enemy but I have an inflammatory breast cancer and also triple negative so my survival rate isn’t that good . How dare you put adverts on wishing you gas breast cancer you really haven’t got a clue what it is really like

  2. A death is a death.

    In the US in 2012, 37,390 people died of pancreatic cancer and 39,920 people died of metastatic breast cancer. I’m sure the loved ones of the woman or man who died from breast cancer don’t really care what the ‘chances’ were they would live. Survival statistics are pretty meaningless if they don’t include you.

  3. Becky Thomeczek says:

    You can have my breast cancer. I just got home from chemo treatment 15 oh by the way it is hard to type this because my fingers are numb and painful all the time for the Taxol I have to take.. Will have bilateral mastectomy In 1.5 months with removal of all my lymph nodes in the left extremity which will cause future problems of lymph edema.. Any slight infection to that extremity is a real threat with no lymph node drainage..and that will be for ever..oh and after I am recovered from surgery I will start radiation daily for 6 or 10 weeks. Of course I have to take medications that block all. Estrogen so my bone density will decrease and cause osteoporosis .. Oh and more chemo after surgery and path report back..I’m stage 3… So here you go take my cancer…

  4. Reblogged this on thebreastlife and commented:
    New pancreatic cancer awareness campaign believes some cancers are better than others?

  5. […] to lift recognition of a earnest of pancreatic cancer, one of a many deadly forms of a disease. In print messages featuring genuine patients that will be appearing in newspapers and Underground stations, as good […]

  6. The Accidental Amazon says:

    Thank you, Katherine.

  7. […] awareness of the seriousness of pancreatic cancer, one of the most fatal forms of the disease. In print messages featuring real patients that will be appearing in newspapers and Underground stations, as well as a […]

  8. I hope this does not get uglier.
    Thanks for tweeting my post about this.

  9. Gail Speers says:

    Wow! Crazy! Infighting does nothing for cancer research!

  10. Jan Hasak says:

    Well said. Metastatic breast cancer just seems to get lost in the picture somehow. It’s insulting and absolutely kills breast cancer advocacy, as if breast cancer is 100% curable.

  11. This is sick!!!! Who ever created this should walk one day in the bra of a woman who has BC. This is disgusting!!!!

  12. alison68 says:

    Really sad day, all cancer is terrible and doesn’t stop when treatment is finished. I’m 18 months post treatment for stage 3 grade 3 breast cancer. Even people say to me your ok you had chemo, rads and Lumpectomy ( full clearance of lymph nodes) because I didn’t have my breast removed they think I had it easy. Was it my fault all my cancer was in my lymph nodes, chest wall and above my collar bone. What I have been through and my family I could write a book like many other cancer patients. Ten years on Tamoxifen, lucky me!
    Let’s all be kind to each other otherwise was it worth fighting for our lives.

  13. OyiaBrown says:

    Reblogged this on Oyia Brown.

  14. debiwarford says:

    Reblogged this on Adventures In Hooterville and commented:
    Thanks to Swoosieque at Cancer Is Not Pink for sharing this.

  15. I have had breast cancer in both breasts. My mother died of metastacized breast cancer. My brother and both maternal grandparents died of pancreatic cancer.

    If I had a choice, it would be to NOT have cancer. Any cancer. But developing an accurate diagnostic tool for pancreatic would be a good start.

    REMEMBER: There’s nothing that says if you’ve had breast cancer, you won’t get another kind of cancer down the road. Be care what you wish for.

  16. Oh — I should add my first husband survived kidney cancer, but died a few years later of heart disease.

    Be VERY careful what you wish for.

  17. Well said. This is just wrong on many levels. Certainly this raised awareness, but I don’t think it was the kind they wanted.

  18. katherinembc says:

    Max Pemberton is a doctor, journalist and writer. He is based in London and works in mental health.

    He is a columnist for The Daily Telegraph, writing weekly on news events concerning culture, social and ethical issues, the politics of health care and the NHS. He is also a columnist for Reader’s Digest and a regular contributor to the Mail On Sunday. he commented on the “cancer envy” campaign:

    To raise awareness of their cause, charities jostle for space in an increasingly crowded market place and some have resorted to shocking and attention-grabbing tactics to get heard.
    But the latest campaign from the UK charity, Pancreatic Cancer Action, has gone too far. In print messages and an online film, real patients reveal the stark facts about pancreatic cancer – that, despite it being the fifth most common cancer, survival statistics remain shockingly low at just 3 per cent. Then the patients who feature go one step farther, revealing that ”I’d rather have breast cancer’’.
    Of course, I understand the sentiment behind this. It is a chilling fact that pancreatic cancer survival rates remain so low and have barely improved despite decades of research, in sharp contrast to other common cancers.
    Regardless of wealth or status, pancreatic cancer is a near-death sentence. Sir James Goldsmith, Luciano Pavarotti, Patrick Swayze and the journalist Simon Hoggart are among those who have succumbed to the disease.
    But is ”cancer envy’’ really the way to get this message across? I recently went to a talk arranged by the charity Breast Cancer Care to highlight the plight of those with terminal breast cancer. Around 48,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK each year and nearly a third of those will go on to develop the advanced form of the disease, which is terminal. Whilst early breast cancer receives substantial media interest, advanced breast cancer gets little attention, leaving sufferers feeling isolated and forgotten.
    Imagine how those women, facing death, feel when they see or hear this campaign. The fact is that all cancer is awful. It disrupts lives, causes pain, suffering and death. Surely we don’t need to descend into a ”my cancer is worse than your cancer’’ competition in order to get a message across. –Max Pemberton, writing in the Daily Telegraph

  19. Melanie says:

    There may be no cure for my (brain) cancer, but I still wouldn’t trade it for another type. Even with “easy” cancer (which I think there is no such thing) you still worry about survival, it returning on day (you’re considered a survivor and cured after 5 years, even if it’s going to return at 5 years and 1 day). If you haven’t yet had kids, no matter the cancer, you may not be able to have a (or at the very least, carry your own) baby. This is just maddness, using one cancer over another…we’re all in this battle together! Let just keep up the fight! Together we are stronger!!

  20. Marie says:

    My sister has Stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer. Any kind of cancer is unimaginable. It is covered in her body from her waist up. Lungs, brain, adrenal glands, bones ……and it goes on and on! I have watched over the years friends die of breast, lung, bone……’s all awful. For all of you with any kind of cancer, God Bless you. It takes courage and strength to fight this disease and yes, a good support system is quite helpful.

  21. […] Darwin is the brain trust behind the Pancreatic Action Network’s “I Wish” campaign, in which pancreatic cancer patients wish for breast, testicular or cervical cancer on the grounds […]

  22. Josie says:

    Having read several of your blog pieces, i can’t express enough how impressed I am. You hit the nail on the head every single time (wish I could put that in italics). We in the metastatic breast cancer community are so lucky to have an advocate like you who not only gets it, but can put it into words that show just how desperate our plight is, so much more than the breast cancer marketing camapigns would have you believe. Have you ever written a piece combatting the “rumor” I hear all the time that big pharma secretly has a cure for cancer they just aren’t releasing it? I would love to hear your thoughts on that and be able to link to you whenever someone wants to argue with me (ME! i have MBC…why are they trying to kill my hope when they have no facts to back up such a conspiracy!) about it.

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