Tag Archives: Pancreatic Cancer Action

I Wish Team Darwin Had Some Class To Go With Its Pancreatic Cancer Campaign

The controversial pancreatic cancer campaign has surely raised the profile of  the disease.  More people are probably aware  of its grim prognosis and why it’s imperative to avoid a misdiagnosis that consumes valuable time.

My sympathies go out to pancreatic cancer sufferers. Our understanding of their disease has remained about where it was 2,500 years ago. In his “biography of cancer”  Siddhartha Mukherjee contrasts the progress made in breast cancer vs. that of pancreatic cancer. The Persian queen Atossa had a primitive lumpectomy in 2500 BC. in 1890, she would undergo a radical mastectomy. In the early 20th century, she would try radiation; in the 1950s, a localized mastectomy plus radiation. In the 1970s and 1980s, she would try new therapies. And in the 1990s, genome sequencing would have targeted what mutation Atossa carried.

But, Mukherjee noted, if she suffered metastatic pancreatic cancer, her prognosis wouldn’t change more than a few months over the last 2,500 years. That is sad and shocking.

Do you know what is also sad and shocking?

One can already sense Team Darwin’s Greg Phitidis and Nick Radley clearing off some shelf space on their book cases as they anticipate reaping heaps of awards for their massively “successful” campaign.

Team 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 that these cancers have a better survival rates.

Phitidis explained his company’s work on this website for marketing professionals. “Despite their invariably smaller budgets, charities have a huge natural asset which their corporate counterparts spend millions trying to develop – emotion,” writes Phitidis. “There needs to be a bolder culture within the charities themselves. That means adopting a leadership and decision-making approach more in line with organisations in the private sector, with trustees behaving more like ambitious board directors. But unless you’re a big charity, marketing is not a professionalised function in the organisation. In many, there is a culture of consensus and mutualism; the desire to do good is coupled with the desire not to cross an imaginary line. The opportunity to cut through is there, it’s just the willingness to grasp it…

So our strategy from day one was to confront people with the facts. We did that by showing how it’s a situation so desperate that anything else seems more attractive. . .This would be a crass approach were it not completely true. The ‘I wish I had…(another type of cancer)’ lines chime like cathedral bells with every pancreatic cancer patient we’ve spoken to, and with everyone who has lost someone to the cancer. It is simply an unbearable insight expressed.

In a day, a week, or a month, all the people who were up in arms by our campaign will no longer be upset. But the country will have woken up to a silent killer. Wake up calls are always a jolt, but they leave you awake.

Oh my. This excerpt should get some kind of commendation for Outstanding Achievement in Tone Deaf Rationalization. If Phitidis weren’t so earnest, this essay would actually be hilarious.  Meet Marketing and Emotion,  the Castor and Pollux of the modern charity pantheon. “There needs to be a bolder culture,” declares Phitidis.  Is it just me or is anyone else having flashbacks of Gordon Gekko in “Walll Street”: (“Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms — greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge — has marked the upward surge of mankind.”)

This campaign isn’t crass! It’s completely true! “Completely true” must be some kind of British slang for “artfully presenting certain statistics in a very limited context that suggests breast cancer is just awesome sauce.”

 Phitidis talks about confronting people with facts  “by showing how it’s a situation so desperate that anything else seems more attractive. Notice that Phitidis doesn’t use ANY qualifier. He doesn’t say  “almost anything” or “virtually anything.” Were I a Team Darwin client I would marvel at Phitidis’  graceful way with sweeping generalizations. (Also if proper nouns were allowed in Scrabble, “Phitidis” would probably be a Triple Word Score.)

And the cancer patients don’t just say “Thanks, your campaign totally captures my reality of being handed an awful prognosis.” No, Phitidis must have happened upon a closeout sale at the Simile Factory. Because he tells us the campaign’s tagline “chime[s] like cathedral bells with every pancreatic patient we’ve spoken to and with everyone who has lost someone to cancer.”

Oddly enough, I  heard church bells too. Only mine were funeral bells tolling for the half a million people around the world who will die from metastatic breast cancer in 2014.

Like a bullfighter wielding his cape, Phitidis executes another marvelous veronica when he tells us that EVERYONE who has lost someone to [pancreatic] cancer approved of the campaign. Wow–is Phitidis like Commissioner Gordon in “Batman”? Does he have some Bat Signal that reaches the thousands of people who lost someone to pancreatic cancer AND simultaneously registers their opinions of Team Darwin’s creative output? Modern technology is certainly wonderful.

We now come to the pièce de résistance of this essay–“In a day, a week, or a month, all the people who were up in arms by our campaign will no longer be upset.”

Not just “some” or “most” of the people, but ALL of them.

Well, of course some of the most outspoken people–those with metastatic breast cancer–will no longer be upset. Because they’ll be, you know, dead.

I don’t have Phitidis amazing ability to instantaneously poll the thousands of people with metastatic breast cancer. But at least ONE of us will still be upset.




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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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