Cancer 2018: The Promise of Hope; The Danger of Hype

By Dana Lynch, Executive Vice President, Global Strategy & Business Development

There is absolutely no arguing that academia and the life sciences industry now have an incredible understanding of why and how cancer happens.  New diagnostics and genetic markers, less invasive surgical and radiology procedures, and revolutionary personalized immunologic therapies for managing cancer have dramatically altered the way in which we approach the disease.

As a healthcare communications professional with more than 20 years of experience, I understand the value that PR, marketing and journalism can have in educating and encouraging audiences to learn more about innovation and driving adoption of novel, improved treatment.  I am proud to represent the incredible pharma and biotech companies, scientists and physicians that are committed to improving cancer detection and care, with the common goal of someday eradicating the disease entirely.

Unfortunately, the news and information surrounding these advancements too often gets abbreviated, even sensationalized.  They’re packaged into short headlines, 30-second sound bites or 60-second ads, featuring marketing speak as well as quotes from doctors, patients and celebrities who testify to the battles we are winning against cancer without putting the reality of the continued losses into perspective for the average viewer or listener.  In other words, some manufacturers and cancer hospitals, and very often the media, are generating a lot of hype with the hope they are dispensing.

Imparting hope is certainly critical when reaching out to those impacted by cancer, but I fear that simplifying the reality of a diagnosis with only hopeful and promissory messages, while treating “fair balance” and the realities of metastatic disease as white noise, can backfire.  In many cases, people read cancer-related headlines about the promise of today’s treatments and end up feeling defeated when they realize that this potential progress doesn’t actually apply to them.

My Family’s Experience with Cancer

Now before this comes off gloomy and cynical, let me declare that I have the unfortunate perspective of seeing cancer for what it still is – unpredictable, like life itself, which is evident when reflecting on the cancer journeys of both of my parents.  It is a disease that no oncologist can promise with 100 percent certainty to be able to manage, or cure.

Let’s start with my mother:

  • Diagnosed in 2006 with early Stage 1, hormone-positive breast cancer, HER-2 negative.
  • It wasn’t in her lymph nodes and was treatable without having chemotherapy – the oncologist, surgeon and others who had experience with breast cancer all emphasized this cancer was not just treatable, it was supposed to be beatable.
  • Just four years later, her cancer returned as metastatic disease in her spine and her liver. This time, the promise was that the cancer was treatable, just not curable.
  • In 2016, after six good and bad years of cycling through a variety of treatment regimens, including some of the newest, most promising options, my mom passed away.

Now, let’s consider my father:

  • Diagnosed with Stage 2b Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer in 2008; his tumor was large and not in an optimal location for surgery.
  • Although considered treatable, the survival statistics were not great and without surgery, treatment options were very limited (none of today’s immunotherapies, Keytruda and Opdivo, were available at that time).
  • After intensive radiation and a harsh chemotherapy regimen, his tumor almost miraculously disappeared.
  • Another small tumor appeared one year later, but a surgeon could remove it without requiring additional chemotherapy or radiation.
  • Now, 10 years later my dad (*knocking on my desk*) is cancer-free.

In a simple summary, it didn’t go as expected –my dad beat the odds, my mom did not, bringing me back to the “promises” being made through direct-to-consumer messaging.  It is important to remember that while we live at a time where improved therapies can help us live longer, more productive lives with cancer, we haven’t yet figured out how to fix cancer in every patient and in every scenario.

A Charge for the 2018 ASCO Annual Meeting

This month, a large portion of the international oncology industry will convene in Chicago for the American Society of Clinical Oncologists Annual Meeting.  I know my knowledge and experience with cancer is limited relative to the cancer clinicians and researchers, but I have enough experience from the past 12 years to give some impassioned advice to my clients and other companies in the oncology space, the PR and marketing people who work on their behalf and the media who will cover the meeting.  Please be careful with the promises you are making to patients.  My mother always said, “a promise made should be a promise kept.”  There will be a day when all patients can be treated to cure for a cancer diagnosis, but until we can make this promise, let’s be sure we take care with what we say and maintain the hope without too much hype.

The True Meaning of Memorial Day

By Katie Alberico, Senior Account Executive

As the unofficial start of summer, Memorial Day is a weekend many see as a celebration with friends and family. Rentals opening, shore towns coming back to life, burgers and dogs on the grill with the promise of warmer weather on the horizon. But Memorial Day is more than just a day or weekend for me; it’s woven into my everyday life.

I always joke that my first full-time job is in PR and my second is being a military spouse. When you marry someone in the military, you’re really marrying their job as well. So, this past October I can proudly say I married the love of my life AND the Navy!

Taking Up a Cause

After the recent F/A-18 crash off the coast of Key West, I was heartbroken for the families who lost loved ones, the friends who lost a squadron mate and humbled by the outpouring of love and support from our community. My husband flies a variation of the plane that went down, and I know we consider his squadron our family, so to see another family lose two of its members is truly heartbreaking.

I can’t change what happened, and I can’t prevent that from happening to me, but what I can control is how I choose to remember those we have lost.

This past Sunday, I decided to put my hobby of running towards a cause near and dear to my heart – The Wingman Foundation.

Their mission is simple, to honor the sacrifices of our fallen air warriors and support the families they’ve left behind. The Wingman Foundation provides critical post-mishap financial relief, funds memorials and remembrance ceremonies, sharing the stories of the fallen, and offers scholarships in their honor.

I’ve run races before – in fact, I’ve participated in Philadelphia’s Broad Street run three times – but lacing up my sneakers was different this time. With fellow VFA-34 spouses by my side, we set out to run the Valor Run 10-mile race in Virginia Beach to raise awareness and funds for the Wingman Foundation. As we crossed the finish line, I realized these friends I have begun to call family have become more then I could have ever imagined.

Tonic’s Personal Connection to Our Work

My involvement with the Wingman Foundation and running the Valor Run reminds me just how important these types of events can be to those who benefit from them. Through our work at Tonic, we hear over and over how patients can feel like a number and not a person, but events like awareness walks or advocacy partnerships bring people together that might not have connected or interacted before. Working directly with patients and caregivers provides us with a first-hand experience that is truly invaluable.

At Tonic, we have an opportunity to meet and empathize with the patients and caregivers we work with, tailoring activities to better fit their needs. As someone whose personal life has been touched by the work of an advocacy group like the Wingman Foundation, I can attest to just how truly meaningful it is to feel like they not only hear you, but understand you as an individual, and I am proud to work at a place that recognizes this.

I will certainly do my share of time with friends over the long weekend, but over the past year specifically, Memorial Day has taken on a new and more personal meaning. This Memorial Day, I hope you will enjoy your time off, revel in the warm weather and remember those who gave all so we can enjoy times like these.

To read more about our personal connection to the work we do at Tonic, like supporting World IBD Day and Rare Disease Day, browse our previous Tonic blog posts.