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When a Cancer Billboard Is Offensive

Update:  This billboard was taken down shortly after this post was widely shared as criticism mounted. Our collective voices matter! Still, the question remains. Why was it so poorly thought out and put up in the first place? Messaging matters.

Recently on a pleasant Saturday outing, Dear Hubby and I were driving along and talking rather mindlessly, probably about our tax return, since we were on our way to do tax stuff, when out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of a certain billboard along the highway we were on. I did a double take and immediately started stewing.

At first I wasn’t even sure I had read the words on the billboard quite right. They seemed too outlandish, even for Cancerland.

This is what they said:

She never gave up. So her cancer did.

I could not believe there could be such an insensitive message on a huge billboard along a major roadway. And I couldn’t help but notice that the image chosen to pair with the message was one of a smiling young woman with lovely long hair no less.

Do you think it was a coincidence they didn’t put a man up there, or a bald woman who’s doing chemo?

I don’t.

At least they didn’t single out breast cancer. No, this was a generic cancer ad.

I was surprised Dear Hubby even noticed the billboard; after all, he was driving. But he did, and his immediate reaction was to look over at me and wait. Yeah, I guess he knows me pretty well. He may not read my blog, but he has been listening! He knew I’d be riled up.

He was right.

I turned to him and the first words out of my mouth were, “That is total bullshit. That kind of crap really pisses me off.”

“Well, I guess you can just will cancer away,” he said sarcastically.

“Yeah, I guess so.” I answered.

We proceeded along and finished our business with the tax guy. On our way home, Dear Hubby asked, “Well, do you want to pull over a take a picture of that sign?”

I guess he knows me even better than I thought.

“Sure!” I said.

He, of course, remembered exactly where the sign was. I did not. I can’t remember stuff like that…

We turned around and pulled over to the side of the road. It was a busy highway, so I didn’t get out of the car (hence my blurry photo), but just rolled down my window. And when I did, I became even more irate because then I could see who the sponsor of this billboard advertisement was. It was – Mayo Clinic Health Systems – my health care system!

More stewing by me, about which I’ll spare you the details.

Why was this whole deal so upsetting to me?

Because such a simplistic message is hurtful, yes, offensive to families like mine who have witnessed a loved one die from metastatic cancer. My mother did not die because she gave up or didn’t try hard enough. And her effort did not determine if her cancer would “give up” or not. Friends of mine who have died from cancer have not died because they gave up either.

People who die from cancer do not die because they give up or don’t try hard enough.

The kind of messaging on that billboard is very offensive to families like mine and I can’t even imagine how offensive it must be to those driving by in their cars who at that very moment are dealing with metastatic disease.

How would you like to hear a message like this under such circumstances?

In addition to being offensive, billboard messages such as this are potentially harmful because they are spewing false information, even though I know the intentions are good.

But the fact remains; such a message insinuates that somehow the cancer patient will survive if only she tries hard enough.

Or as Dear Hubby said, “If only the patient works hard enough at willing it away.”

Perhaps most importantly, billboards like this are irresponsible because of whose name is on there. Mayo Clinic is a world renowned facility. Mayo Clinic Health Systems is no small potatoes.

This is about integrity (it usually is), cancer truth telling and so much more.

Mayo Clinic Health Systems, you can do better than this. 

Do you think I overreacted?

Do you think such a billboard is encouraging or harmful?

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When a #Cancer Ad Is Offensive #breastcancer #advertising #ads #advocacy #wordsmatter

Linda Zimmerman

Friday 15th of April 2022

Wow, 5 years after I last commented on this post and I still get the same reaction reading about the billboard. Since my diagnosis, I have been through multiple surgeries and radiation along with failed reconstruction. However, I am free of the disease as far as I know. However, my little sister has undergone cancer treatment 2 times since then. We are BRCA2 positive so no matter what, what will be, will be. Little sis is a true warrior and she lives every day because we don't know how precious each day is until they are gone. Sending Love and Hope to all that struggle. Know that we may see things differently but our desire to be seen as more than our disease is real.


Monday 18th of April 2022

Linda, Thank you for commenting on this one again. I'm sorry to hear your sister is dealing with cancer treatment too. I wish you both the best.


Friday 15th of April 2022

Horrifically cruel. My grandma, my aunt, my cousin, my husband, my brothers. Only one lived to be a senior. Each beloved.


Monday 18th of April 2022

Lin, Horrifically cruel indeed. I'm so sorry you've had to deal with so much loss. Thank you for sharing that.

Sick people are not (always) “warriors”

Wednesday 20th of January 2021

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Friday 19th of June 2020

Hmm it appears like your website ate my first comment (it was extremely long) so I guess I'll just sum it up what I had written and say, I'm thoroughly enjoying your blog. I as well am an aspiring blog blogger but I'm still new to the whole thing. Do you have any tips for rookie blog writers? I'd certainly appreciate it.|


Thursday 16th of April 2020

She never gave ip. She still died. Everyone of my family members, Mother, Aunts, Sister-in-law.


Friday 17th of April 2020

Monica, I am sorry to hear about all those deaths in your family. It wasn't about them giving up, which is exactly why that billboard was so offensive. Thank you for taking time to share.

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