I wish I had another cancer

I wish I had breast cancer

I’m thankful to Pancreatic Cancer Action for featuring this article here.

pancan action logo

I’ve seen the term ‘Cancer Olympics’ many times on my social media travels, it’s been used in several contexts. For example, my friend Dr Robin McGee uses it to describe her ordeal with late stage bowel cancer and judging by the cover of her book, the analogy is the hurdles she had to jump to get the right treatment (many of you will relate to that).

Another example I see is the race to claim a cancer is somehow ‘worse’ than other cancers, i.e. ‘my cancer is far worse than yours’.  Ironically, although some cancers are almost certainly worse than others (for example in prognostic terms), it seems like a race to the bottom as patients fight for the ‘top’ spot.  It works both ways as some people perceive they have had or are having a better cancer experience than others, and that can often lead to a sense of guilt, i.e. ‘your cancer is much worse than mine, I shouldn’t really complain too much’.

It can be normal to experience these emotions, and with such wide and varying cancer experiences, different personal circumstances, even (say) the worst stages and grades cannot always be used to justify the ‘gold medal’ position in this ironic version of cancer Olympics. Take my Neuroendocrine Cancer for example, I have the highest stage but an intermediate grade, so my sub type is not particularly aggressive in comparison with other cancers or even other sub-types of my own cancer. However,in many ways it’s a deceiving and silent disease and very often people are not diagnosed until a late stage where the disease becomes incurable. Prognostics for many sub-types are good but living with the disease has many consequences.  This sounds like a bad deal and for some it can be. But don’t tell me I have a ‘good’ cancer.  Neuroendocrine Cancer does have aggressive types with significantly different prognostic outcomes than the more common and less aggressive variants.

So let’s turn my personal cancer Olympics analogy round the other way.  Let’s say you have a very aggressive cancer with terrible and frightening prognostic statistics.  I would certainly not criticise anyone or accuse them of deliberately playing a cancer Olympics ‘game’ for suggesting they wished they had another cancer in this scenario.

I want to focus an example on Pancreatic Cancer, an awful cancer with awful prognostic outcomes. Using UK statistics, less than 7% of patients survive 5 years, it has the worst survival rate of all 22 common cancers. The headline and key awareness and campaigning message is that these prognostics have not changed much in 40 years.  There are similar statistics in many countries. Pancreatic Cancer organisations worldwide are therefore campaigning robustly for more resources and funding to tackle and improve these statistics through more research and clinical trials.  They are also doing what they can with their own prevention and early diagnosis campaigns with limited funding.  With this particular disease, given the survival statistics, awareness is vital and it can save lives, one of the reasons I regularly publish Pancreatic Cancer symptoms.

One of the most compelling, bold and disruptive (in the context of shaking things up) campaigns I’ve seen, is the ‘I wish I had another cancer’ campaign from a UK-based Pancreatic Cancer organisation. It certainly caused a storm, making it to billboards in many towns, London underground adverts, several national newspapers and  appearances on national TV.  One broadcaster named it the ‘Envy’ campaign.

i wish i had testicular cancer
RIP Andy Luck

Many supporters of the ‘other’ named cancers reacted as you would expect, with criticism and it came from many parts of the world. In UK, there were many complaints made but the UK Advertising Standards Authority rejected these and refused to ban the adverts.  Read some of the fallout by clicking here.  The UK-based Pancreatic Cancer organisation later issued a statement saying ‘no cancer advert that saves a single life can be accused of going too far‘. Two of the three patients in the controversial adverts have since died, in fact these tragic and heartbreaking events both came not long after the advertising campaign was launched.

I wish I had cervical cancer
Penny Lown

Kerry Harvey was always the face of this campaign although the other two messages are equally powerful. Kerry would have been 29 on 14th August 2018. RIP Kerry.  Read her diagnosis and treatment story by clicking here and here. Neuroendocrine Cancer. 

I wish I had breast cancerRIP Kerry Harvey – she actually had Neuroendocrine Cancer (Pancreatic Primary)

Clearly I would rather not be diagnosed with any cancer. But if I was to be brutally honest, I’m glad I wasn’t diagnosed with a more aggressive disease, otherwise I might not be here now enjoying life with my family.  So I totally understand the motivations of this campaign and why I fully support the 2019 twitter message from one of its creators Ali Stunt (CEO of Pancreatic Cancer Action)

ali stunt tweet

You may also be interested in this article – Pancreatic Cancer vs Neuroendocrine Cancer with a pancreatic primary.  Click here to read.

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Remember ….. in the war on Neuroendocrine Cancer, let’s not forget to win the battle for better quality of life!

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Dear Doctors – There’s no such thing as a ‘good’ cancer!


At a follow-up meeting during my diagnostic phase in July 2010, the specialist who was investigating my pre-diagnosis secondary care appointment, was clearly suspicious that I had cancer. As the results of my liver biopsy were not yet in, he was not in a position to declare his findings.  However, following my revelation about flushing during this meeting, he immediately guessed the biopsy would confirm Neuroendocrine Tumour (NET).  I can’t remember much of the conversation but I vividly remember him indicating that of all the issues out there to get, this was one of the better ones.  He was using a meter analogy action with his hands swinging towards the ‘good’ reading!  I hadn’t gone there that day to receive a cancer diagnosis but he was clearly trying to put me at ease and I’m sure it was with the best of intentions.  A little bit of me thinks this scenario is OK but the definition of ‘Good’ before treatment is known what the treatment outcomes will be, might just set expectations too high!

This is a very topical subject on forums and some patients are not happy being told their cancer is a ‘good’ cancer or one of the ‘better’ cancers to get.  Whenever this subject comes up it tends to overlap and extend into associated areas including the deception where people look so well so how can they possibly have a ‘bad’ cancer. If I had an opinion, I would say that no cancer is good but it’s true to say that some are worse than others, e.g. certain cancers will kill lots of people quickly and that’s awful – I’m fairly certain that is what the doctor above had in mind.

Some cancers can be declared in remission after a period but some cancers can stay with you for the rest of your life. Some cancers can result in long-term debilitating side effects. Additionally, the consequences of treatment for certain cancers can be difficult to live with, meaning significant lifestyle changes in the long-term or for life. This is precisely why many cancer patients who live with these ‘consequences’ are angry at the suggestion their cancer is a ‘good one to get’.

Dear Doctors – There’s no such thing as a ‘good’ cancer!  They’re all bad?  By the way – Neuroendocrine Cancer is SNEAKY!  

Neuroendocrine Cancer is normally slow growing

Thanks for reading

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Not every illness is visible – click here

You must be doing OK, you’ve not had Chemotherapy – click here

Not the stereotypical picture of sick – click here

An Ode to Invisible Illness – click here

Poker Face or Cancer Card – click here


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