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.

What I Have Learned from Working with Patients

By Chrissie Hannah, Senior Account Executive

It’s one of the key buzzwords in pharma – patient-centricity. All companies say patients are at the heart of what they do; if they don’t, they certainly strive for it. The online space is rich with articles on how this can really be achieved and how it’s measured, but ultimately there is nothing more valuable than that face-to-face time with the patient, getting to know them, and genuinely caring about helping them.

Over the last year, I have had the privilege of working on a particularly inspiring project, partnering with patients, for patients. On behalf of one of our clients, we aimed to develop an awareness campaign that showcases the lives of six women from around the world, to highlight what survival means to those living with terminal breast cancer.

What first struck me was that patients really want to get involved. I had imagined there would be difficulties finding someone willing to share details about their difficult journey and terminal diagnosis. However, the ladies involved not only agreed to take part, but were very passionate about the campaign. They wanted to help us spread the message of positivity to others suffering with this terminal illness.

We interviewed them over the phone, then spent time in their homes for a photoshoot. As we listened to each of their stories, and got to know them the more time we spent with them, I realised I had started to become emotionally invested in the work. The campaign objectives had already been established, and were still being met, but after speaking with these patients I started to have an additional purpose. I could see that the project was really helping them. As they talked openly about their diagnosis, life, family and the future, they seemed to find it healing, almost therapeutic.

The finished product was a beautiful bound book of each patient’s photos and stories. The feedback received from the women involved was overwhelming – they loved seeing other stories alongside theirs, and felt more motivated than before to share their own story. Although the full project is not yet complete, it shows this first part of the campaign achieved results on many levels.

Of course, this is just one disease area with a specific audience. However, I have learned so much from this wonderful, inspirational group of women. By connecting with patients at this level, you can really get to the heart of their thoughts, hopes and fears – and could end up helping them in more ways than one. Working this closely with patients on such an emotive and powerful project reminds us of the greater good in our work, and why we do it.

 

Five Insights into How Millennials Want News

By Alyssa Morrello, Senior Media Relations Specialist

Newsflash! My fellow millennials and I are completely changing the way newsworthy content is being created, shared, consumed, and cultivated.

While previous generations depended on regularly scheduled television newscasts, the same cannot be said for the “on-demand” nature that digital news provides today.

In fact, digital outlets currently serve as the main source of news globally for the majority of those under 35, including 64% of those between the ages of 18 and 24.

This month I had the opportunity to learn more about “America’s First Digital Generation” with VICE News. Here are five key takeaways for getting the attention of the millennial audience.

  • Show, don’t tell. With an overabundance of news sources (digital, traditional, and even social!) millennials can read a headline anywhere and get a general gist of the news. Expanding beyond the “telling” of the news and actually “showing” the effect is what will capture our attention.
  • Provide a different perspective. When given the opportunity to provide a new perspective or spin on things, do it! VICE had outstanding results when they chose to cover Hurricane Harvey by doing a story on how Houston was designed to be flooded. We knew the hurricane was a disaster that was ravaging the community but were unaware of the infrastructure angle VICE provided, which is why it drove remarkable results.
  • Have your characters in place. A story, whether it be within the news or even an editorial feature, is not complete without characters. Whether it be a quirky researcher or a young mom, we are looking for humans to add color to the story and make it memorable and easily relatable.
  • Take time to understand your audience’s habits. Tracking audience habits, whether it be via social feeds or page views, is vital. Through tracking and taking time to understand their audience, VICE News realized their viewers and readers were especially interested in the social justice pieces and they now hone in on those aspects whenever possible.
  • Stories can travel across channels if adapted! It is important to provide the news in more than one place, especially because you never know what platform your individual audience members are utilizing to get their information! Putting a story on YouTube, Instagram, and even on a digital platform like an app is great; just make sure to lead with the best stuff and adjust the content length to match the platform.

The main takeaway is that originality is key. When brainstorming innovative ways to bring a story to life, ask yourself, “What will you bring to the story that no one else can?”

To keep up with future events and more from the Tonic team follow us on Instagram (@Toniclc) and add us on Twitter (@Toniclc)!