Time For Real Honesty With The Media’s Message Of Cancer
Cancer is not a topic that is hidden from the public any more. There are endless media campaigns, stories of high-profile celebrities with personal experiences and much more cancer education in general. But is the message that is being told about cancer the right one?

Advertising seems to have extremes when discussing cancer - the fluffy, ‘let’s kick this together’ approach at one end and the harrowing messages we see on the other.

The empathetic, yet truthful, message is expressed, but can more be done? Is the media doing a good enough job to spread the word whilst being honest and real?


Mixed Media Messages
Some may argue that any press is good press, but in the reporting of cancer this may not necessarily be the case.

Accuracy and realness is essential in helping people and families feel as though the media is doing them justice. Sam Bradley, our PR & Communications Executive recognises that the world of advertising can be inaccurate at times. 

Sam explains, “The vocal opinions of people on social media leans to cancer advertising ostracising people who don’t have that picturesque support network. With breast cancer adverts showing celebrities, it can hide cancer behind a false background. Are brands doing these adverts for the right reasons?”

Sam understands the awareness of advertising is positive and a step forward, but a balance between reality, unity and watchable awareness is where the answer is.

Cancer is not a one size fits all illness. Emily Warden, who was diagnosed with womb cancer, shares this sentiment too:

“I believe the media portrayal of cancer encourages the thought process that cancer is only ‘serious’ if you need chemotherapy. They seem to portray the stereotypical cancer patient; the one who has lost their hair due to chemotherapy or is having treatment. Not everyone looks ill. But all cancer is horrific.”

“The posters and adverts showing happy friendships and support networks aren’t always the reality either. There’s the fear that cancer adverts will become less important the more they are shown, that people are desensitised to the illness due to its sheer exposure.”

Emily found herself going from a big group of what she thought were friends, to feeling isolated within days of her diagnosis. “I don’t know why they did it, but it hurt.”


What The Media Does Not Want To Show You
Having cancer spoken about publicly for everyone to see is a positive, but only if the message is an accurate one.

In many instances there is a lack of accuracy in some advertising, hiding the harsh realities of the illness.

Emily highlights, “Media portrayal of cancer is unrealistic. You don’t see the blood, sweat and tears. The sleepless nights, the weight gain, the hair loss/gain, the physical symptoms and side effects of treatment and medication, the loneliness, the fear, the anger that goes with the diagnosis. That is cancer.”

“Cancer isn’t necessarily the lady tucked in bed being hugged by her husband, the smiling lady having a cuppa with her empathetic friend. For many it is the girl sitting on the bathroom floor in floods of tears, struggling to breathe through crying because she’s frightened of dying, of leaving her family behind, of having major surgery, of passing the ‘cancer gene’ to her kids.”

So how can we work to change the media’s message to something more real?


Changing Coverage From The Bottom Up
Sometimes you need a voice from people to be honest and frank.

Someone who understands the situation first hand, who can support others and interact all on the same level. And that is exactly what happened with the This Is Me initiative.

'This Is Me' was born as a way of helping women through their cancer diagnosis and treatment that worked from for them personally. An individualistic one, rather than a mass-market approach.

Helping women feel less alone in their diagnosis, Emily co-created the idea of a completely honest platform where people receiving support from Wessex Cancer Trust can write and share their journeys with others going through the same situation.

Launching in November 2018, it is a no filter platform for people in all stages of cancer to offer advice, thoughts and simply someone to talk to who understands. Sam believes the platform is helping those in a way that advertising isn’t.

Sam highlights, “Cancer is a personal thing. People want to use their experience to help others, something that the general media cannot.”


Encouraging An Honest But Supportive Platform
With cancer, you cannot pull the wool over someone’s eyes.

It is okay to feel angry or sad but there are things you can do to help you feel grounded about your situation.

Emily says, “I wanted people to feel important and empowered. To feel that it’s ok and completely not selfish to take time for yourself in the horrible journey that is cancer, to know there are people who understand. There are people who have been there, to see the real side of cancer, and also see a real person who has gone through it, to read their stories and gain hope from them.”

‘This Is Me’ is not part of a staged advert from a hospital bed, that represents a campaign. It is real life warts and all.

Not everyone will make it through cancer, like Louise who’d received a terminal diagnosis but was still living her life to the full and sharing her story. She was a prime example of how cancer does not have to be all doom and gloom, even though she knew it would take her life. Emily concludes, 'It is rubbish, but there are ways to deal with it, to be kind to yourself but also enjoy the happy moments when they arise.”


Let’s Round-Up
Relatability is important for any message that is portrayed today. Within the media this needs to be addressed and also from the big brands.

Highlighting and building our own platforms is the way to catch the attention of those who need it, and sharing the message of cancer. Knowing a real person is there behind the poster or TV campaign. Knowing your cancer doesn’t have to be like an idealised portrayal of a person on the screen. The acknowledgement, assurance and support that you are cared for, listened to and valued is key. Cancer is not trivial nor beatable for everyone, but there is realness to bring people, families and communities together.

It is time organisations showed that to people, and spread the real, natural, unacted cancer stories for all to see.

That is how clear messages can be created with empathy and honesty.

That is what we are fighting for.



Photos - Top, Sam Bradley. Middle, Emily Warden and family. Bottom, 'This is Me' contributors.