When a Cancer Billboard Is Offensive – An Update

An important part of blogging and advocacy work is not only writing about things when they are troubling, but also reporting back when good things happen. Today I’m pleased to report that the offensive cancer billboard has been taken down, or more accurately; the offensive message has been swapped out.

It turns out there were three billboards in my immediate area with the offensive (to me) message. I’ve been told the lease expired on one billboard, so obviously the offensive message on it expired as well. The other two billboards have been changed out, or rather the message has been, and I’ve been told another in a different region has been modified as well. Dear hubby and I did some billboard sleuthing over the weekend because I needed to see the actual new billboard message.

When I first saw the offensive billboard, I knew I had to write about it. I just knew it. (You can read the post I wrote about it here. It’s one of my most read posts ever). Some topics are hot button topics for me; a positive attitude beating cancer is one of them.

This does not mean I am not a positive person. This does not mean a positive attitude doesn’t matter. I just don’t believe it’s what determines if you will survive cancer or not and a gigantic billboard along a busy roadway implying such a thing was highly offensive to me and dear hubby too.

Most comments left on that post were very supportive. There were just a few who disagreed with me. Of course, I realize that most people who disagreed probably wouldn’t bother to comment.

I had a few in-person conversations with friends and relatives about that particular blog post too. A couple people mentioned they did not interpret the billboard’s message in the same way I did, which is fine. They perceived the message on the billboard to be an uplifting one. This is, of course, what Mayo Clinic Health System intended the message to be – one of encouragement, determination and survival.

This blog is where I share my views on many things, and I welcome comments on any side of an issue. I wrote about how the message made me feel. I don’t expect everyone to always agree with me, and I didn’t expect it here either. This is partly why it was such a pleasant surprise to see that so many of you did agree, or at least empathized. When our feelings are validated by others, it’s always appreciated.

When you see your loved one’s health spiral downward despite her efforts to do everything in her power to live, despite her positive attitude, your perspectives are altered on this positive attitude thing and perhaps on many other things as well.

When you’ve witnessed a loved one die from metastatic cancer, it changes you.

To put it bluntly, that original billboard message felt like a kick to my mother in her grave, and to others I care about who’ve died from metastatic cancer as well. Cancer language matters, especially when a major player in healthcare is “speaking it”.

This is why I feel so relieved to see the offensive message gone. I knew if I was offended, others probably were as well. 

I am grateful to all of you who shared that post, tweeted about it, sent emails to Mayo, left comments, started conversations or just cared. This was an example of how social media does indeed have an impact. Mayo Clinic Health System contacted me and ultimately made the change because of you, my dear readers. Thank you.

However, I must also admit, I’m still troubled by the fact such a major player in healthcare could not foresee a reaction such as mine to the message in question.

How can this be?

I believe there are reasons for this oversight, but this post is not the time or the place.

This post is for expressing relief and gratitude.

Mayo Clinic Health System, you did the right thing.

Thank you.

Note:  I invited Mayo Clinic Health System to share about the number of complaints they received, or to say something if they wished to. I did not hear back.

Have you ever seen a cancer ad that offended you and if so, why did it offend you?

How do you feel about the “new” ad below (bottom one)?

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When a cancer billboard is offensive
This was the billboard message that I found offensive.


The new, swapped-out message. Still not great, but a whole lot better.
This is the new swapped-out message billboard.


22 thoughts to “When a Cancer Billboard Is Offensive – An Update”

  1. So glad they did the right thing and replaced the message with the current one. I was wondering what they would replace it with, so I was interested to read your update. Thanks for getting a photo of the new sign.

    I’m sure your posts will continue to encourage many others to speak up when necessary. Thanks for inspiring so many people.

    1. Lindsay, I’m glad they changed the message too. We had to do a bit of sleuthing as the original sign I saw was the one that had expired. I really wanted to see the new message, so dad and I tracked down one of the others. I had not realized there were several signs in the area, so I’m even more glad they swapped out the message, on all of them no less. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. Thanks for speaking up –I’m sure your post/words sped up the process.
    New Billboard? At least it seems like the billboard is now selling the idea of the clinic and it’s proximity–makes so much more sense.

    1. Amy, I agree that the new message is more appropriate as it’s selling proximity not a positive attitude. Thanks for checking back in here and for commenting too.

  3. A far more appealing message. Being close to home matters so much during treatment.

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll said it again, that easy-to-use expression “lost their battle” is truly insulting to me (and I know to many others too). It’s such an easy headline or platitude, but in my opinion, it’s so very, very wrong.

    I try to stay relaxed about people’s lingo’s choices, but that one in particular is like nails on the chalk board.

    1. Catherine, I’m with you on that “lost their battle” phrase. It seems to be the go-to expression and every time I hear it I think, gosh, is that the best we can do? I prefer reality – so and so died from whatever kind of cancer or illness it was. No need to soften things up or turn it into a military comparison. Thanks for reading and sharing.

  4. Well done for getting them to remove the offending Billboard… Our voices are heard which feels really good

    1. Helen, It does feel good to be heard. Social media got this done. I really wonder how many “complaints” they got, but guess MCHS chose not to share that. Thanks for your support.

  5. I totally agree with you about this billboard and I’m so glad they changed the message. As a stage IV patient I’m perfectly aware of my odds but if and when the cancer gets me it won’t be because I gave up. Last night I saw an ad asking for people to donate towards a cure for pet cancer. I got really mad because it said, “If we all work together we can find a cure for pet cancer”. I wanted to yell, “What about my uncurable cancer?! Isn’t that a higher priority? Why aren’t we all working together on that?”

    1. Cancerinyourthirties, Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the message. And yeah, the giving up implication really gets me too. It’s understandable you were annoyed by that ad about pet cancer. Of course, they were targeting pet owners, but still, I hear you.

  6. Thanks to all who helped mayo clinic see a different perspective. Having friends who died of metastatic cancer with the greatest will to live, positive thinking and great support network mean there’s so much more to it. I fully agree. I too have metastatic cancer and before it came back I was swimming in positive thoughts about it never coming back. So that’s just not enough. We fight like hell because we have to or want to- there are no other reasons. And we all do it differently! Vive la difference!!!!

  7. Hi Nancy,

    You were spot-on: social media has the power to change things. Thank you for initiating a very positive step forward: replacing the offensive billboard with something better.

    1. Beth, It is pretty amazing when organizations such as MCHS are paying attention to what’s being said via social media. A rep contacted me; I didn’t have to contact them. I’m so grateful for your support and for the support of all who helped make this simple change happen. I know it’s not a huge deal in the scheme of things, but it mattered to me and to others too it turns out. Thanks again, Beth.

  8. the first one infuriates me but the second one also doesn’t sit right with me. Better, more accurately put…


    1. Green Monkey, I agree with you about the second one not being great either. It’s still weak. But it doesn’t offend me like the first one did. A friend commented to me that a far better line would have been: “She never gave up. We (MCHS) didn’t either.” Nothing about survival or saying that the cancer gave up because of her effort. Would have made MCHS look good I think. Your idea is more accurate of course, but I don’t think it’s a message a healthcare organization would ever say – on a billboard anyway. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

  9. Nancy, this is obviously quite some time after the fact, but your original post managed to find its way onto my FB page from a friend whose two children currently have NED, having had ALL & hepatoblastoma. She is a Mama Bear about her kids, & knows too many kids who have died. I then shared the link to my page, and was thanked by some, told by one that I should forgive them — Mayo/ad agency, and also told by another that the billboard had been changed, so I came back to your blog.
    Just thought you could be interested to know that you sparked this response in me (& though I said I didn’t have to read the blog post, I had done so):

    “I didn’t really have to read the blog post to be offended, too. As another friend said, Xander Pond & Taylor Stewart & Dylan Price didn’t “give up” …. neither did Mariah Andrews nor Matt Poland nor Diego Santiago … and those are just a few of the children I’ve known, whom cancer took away from us. But this billboard (a Mayo Clinic sponsored one!) doesn’t really single out children, so let me just give you the beginning of my list of people I’ve known who didn’t give up: my granddaddy, Owen Ginn (& 8 or 9 of his siblings); my uncles, Cleveland Ginn & Harvey Jordan; my aunts, Thelma Robertson & Evelyn Ginn; my cousins, Jackie R. Weathers & Mary Margaret Child & Pete WIlliams & Rose Bazemore; my friends, Monna Etheridge Hogue & Carol Jordan Mitchell & Lewis Sharpe & Rhonda Davis & Cindy Coley & Larry Collins & Lee Brogden …..
    At this point, my tears are overwhelming my ability to pull up more names, but I suspect I’ve made my point. NONE of these people “gave up” or “failed to fight” or “didn’t pray hard enough” or any of the countless insensitive, perhaps unaware, hurtful things that we humans say when we don’t recognize WHAT we are implying.”

    Thank you again for speaking out —- and for following up with the changes.

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