Saturday, 8 February 2014

Competition is part of life, but it isn’t always good

I am writing this while the Winter Olympics is on – taking part is good and if you have absolutely no chance of winning or even getting close, (the Jamaican bobsleigh team is an example) it is everything.  Otherwise winning is all-important.

My theme for today is actually around charities: charities are very competitive organisations and they fund competitive people.  In medical research, as much as all the research is being done for the greater good, there is competition but there is also huge collaboration.

Charities compete for funding – no one can support every charity and donors/supporters make decisions on which causes to support every day. There is nothing new about that but I have been very troubled by a series of advertisements that have been running this week. The strapline – next to a photograph says, “I wish I had breast cancer”.  The message in the smaller print is that pancreatic cancer has very poor rates of early diagnosis and the survival rates are poor as well.  Breast cancer has a high rate of detection with better survival rates.

There is a saying that there is no such thing as bad publicity and there is no doubt that the negative reaction to this advertisement from a number of breast cancer and other charities has given the charity much higher media coverage than they would have attracted otherwise. I am not sure how positive I would feel about this had I just been diagnosed with breast cancer.  I remember someone who had been treated for breast cancer saying to me – “they tell me I am lucky that it isn’t a very aggressive cancer, lucky would be not to have cancer!”

Once I got over my initial shock at what is quite a crass approach I was disappointed that it has come to this.  When I became involved with Breast Cancer Campaign in the early 1990s HIV/AIDS was top of the news agenda.  Breast cancer was still spoken about softly and not at all by many women. There were people who were keen that we were more vociferous about the amount of money spent on HIV/AIDS research and care compared to breast cancer, especially as they felt that HIV/AIDS was avoidable in the majority of cases and breast cancer wasn’t.

Whether that was true or not wasn’t the point – how could we be so arrogant to say that one disease is more worthy than another, that dying from breast cancer was some how more noble than succumbing to AIDS. You could even argue that screening for HIV was more important to the general community because others can be infected than screening for breast cancer. So we didn’t.

Breast cancer led the way for other cancers and other diseases with wonderful advocates who spoke out about their disease and campaigned for better diagnosis and treatment, greater awareness and a screening programme. All of which we have but it is still the second biggest cause of death from cancer in women.

I have lost friends and family members to pancreatic cancer – there are massive challenges, especially around diagnosis where, like ovarian cancer, the symptoms can be varied and time is wasted while they are attributed to something else. I am aware of the size of the challenge.

I would be interested to know the results of this advertising campaign – for a charity with last reported income of £172,000 was this a good use of resources, did it raise more money, were they flooded with requests for information and was it worth it?

Note:  while you are very welcome to comment on this blog and I will read your comment, I don’t publish them as I don’t wish to have to monitor it on a daily basis. You can always contact me through LinkedIn.

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