Kerry Harvey, the 24-year-old pancreatic cancer patient who shook up the breast cancer community with her statement "I wish I had breast cancer" a couple weeks ago, has died. She was a brave young woman who spoke her mind to create pancreatic cancer awareness, even during the precious last days of her life.
Kerry, as part of a pancreatic cancer awareness campaign (the "purple" cancer) in the UK, expressed the sentiment of many of us touched by a cancer that is not the "pink" one. It is not cancer envy ... no one wants cancer and no particular cancer is better than others ... and it in no way diminishes anyone's cancer journey. It is simply that breast cancer gets more attention, more awareness, more funding, more research than other cancers. I get it. I understand where the campaign is going, and it is unfortunate that it has to go there to get the attention pancreatic cancer deserves. But sometimes you just have to get LOUD to get your message heard, and I think this ad campaign was successful in doing that.
Don't get me wrong ... I think all cancers, no matter what color is associated with them, are horrible, but some offer more hope than others for survival. I've had close family and friends die from breast cancer, as well as melanoma, and I am a bladder cancer patient myself. No cancer is a "good" or "fun" cancer, and I have no clue how the breast cancer community twisted that message from this ad. Quite honestly, if I were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, because of its dismal prognosis I would wish I had ANY type of cancer other than pancreatic!
The breast cancer community's reaction on social media to this ad was fast and furious. The words "vile," "offensive," "despicable," and "reprehensible" were flying around Twitter and Facebook among the ruffled feathers of the breast cancer advocates. I was disappointed to see people from that community whom I have known and respected for years, men and women, physicians and survivors, with such an ugly knee-jerk reaction, as if Kerry were personally attacking them or those with breast cancer. But most concerning to me, where were the compassion, caring, and support for a young woman struggling with a terminal disease? Instead Kerry received hate mail and death threats from the "pink" side.
One leader of the breast cancer community suggested that the ad campaign was a missed opportunity to educate. But I don't agree. I didn't know much about pancreatic cancer before the ad launched, but now I know it only has a 3% survival rate and that the prognosis is only about 4-6 months from diagnosis. And I know that pancreatic cancer is a bottom-feeder at the funding pool for research. It is a nasty disease without much hope! I also learned something about many in the breast cancer community ... and that saddens me.
Kerry just wanted to live but there was no cure for pancreatic cancer or even effective treatments. My daughter Jaime who died of melanoma (the "black" cancer) at age 29 just wanted to live but there was no cure for melanoma or even effective treatments. Too many young adults ... too many people ... are losing their dreams and their futures to cancer, lots of different cancers with lots of different colors. All cancers need more of the recognition that breast cancer has, so forgive us for being jealous. We are not jealous of the disease or the pain and suffering and death that comes with it but jealous of the awareness, funding, and research.
It all comes down to hope. Kerry just wished, if she had to have cancer, that she had a cancer that would give her a glimmer of hope. All cancer patients deserve to have hope. It is up to all of us to work harder so that more cancer fighters have the tools they need ... no matter what color awareness ribbon they wear.
Rest in peace, Kerry Harvey.
Melanoma Mama (Jaime's mom, Donna)
http://www.facebook.com/jaime.regen.rea (Remember Jaime)