Casablanca is one of my all time favorite movies. I especially like the scene where Captain Renault has to shut down Rick’s Cafe because the Nazis tell him to, and when Rick asks him why, he says “I’m SHOCKED! SHOCKED! to find that gambling is going on in here!” And then Rick’s assistant comes out with Renault’s gambling winnings.

I thought of that scene with the recent spate of celebrity cancer deaths. So many people I know expressed shock about David Bowe and Alan Rickman dying of cancer–and I think it was partly that they kept their diagnoses a secret, but I also think there’s something else going on there. I think a lot of people have bought into an idea sold by virtually every cancer center and most cancer charities: unrealistic cancer hope. 

You’ve probably seen the ads from MD Anderson or American Cancer Society or whatever cancer treatment center is in your area. Do any of them say “We’ll do our best to treat you but cancer kills 500,000 Americans every year and you might die no matter what we do”? Of course not. I mean, who would choose a hospital that says that? Nobody, apparently. So instead, they suggest that they’ll cure you, that they’re fighters who are tougher than cancer, that if you choose them for treatment, they’ll save your life. And that’s bullshit. They’re going to do their best to save your life, but a lot of cancers are incurable. 

And it’s not just cancer centers and charities–it’s the press too. We see all these stories of hope, that show cancer warriors valiantly fighting their disease and being cured. Where are the stories of the reality of life with incurable cancers? The endless treatment, the knowledge that you will die of your disease? The watching those valiant cancer warriors have metastatic recurrences and die? These stories don’t sell papers, and so there are too few of them out there. People like a happy ending. People like fairy tales.

So, the general public–those not living with a terminal diagnosis and those who don’t love someone with a terminal diagnosis–are left with the impression that cancer is no big deal. You fight it bravely and you win. That’s the story they’ve been shown, over and over again. And when they’re faced with the reality of what cancer actually does, they’re SHOCKED! SHOCKED! to learn that cancer can and does kill people–even rich people, even famous people.

I hate to keep harping on this, but cancer is a shitshow. The treatments are still practically medieval–slash, burn, poison–and even if you take the most aggressive treatment possible, your cancer may never be cured, as mine will never be cured. This should not be shocking news given how many people die of cancer every year. That it DOES shock people is evidence that the dominant narrative is a lie.

5 thoughts on “Casablanca

  1. About the commercials, I don’t like to watch them. We often change the channel when they come up. These communications are def. contributing to the level of denial people have about this disease. They also contribute to the level of ignorance there is, the challenges with survivorship, lack of research, etc. They should be leading with truth. But like you mentioned, no one would want to go to a hospital where they don’t promote themselves as anything, but life-savers.
    Rebecca recently posted…They said I was ‘normal’My Profile

  2. This is a perennial dilemma. I’ve written about it, thought about it, and I’m not sure what the answer is, if there is one. Denial seems to be such a pervasive, and, apparently, accepted part of human nature, that people and institutions continue to be in denial about being in denial. *sigh*

    I’ve been particularly appalled by the tone of the recent ads for the ACS. What hallucinogens are they on?? Working on a post about that… At last count, I’ve written over 50 posts about the pernicious, pink-saturated cause marketing about breast canceer that continues this sickening trend. Melons with pasties??? Oy. Guess we all need to keep writing and agitating.

  3. Hi Beth,
    Every time I see those ads on TV, dear hubby and I look at each and roll our eyes. Then I say to myself, I must write a blog post about this. I haven’t done it yet, (so thank you) but I have posted on my FB page my thoughts about MD Anderson’s IMO inappropriate marketing comments posted on their page. I also wrote a blog post two years ago about a very inappropriate billboard put up by Mayo Health Systems. And guess what? They took it down after some social media buzz. I understand how major medical institutions want to promote themselves as doing wonderful things. This is marketing to our emotions. But when they also perpetuate falsehoods, this crosses a line and it become irresponsible. And I agree with you, it’s part of the reason people are still sometimes shocked when they realize even famous people do suffer and die from cancer too. Great post. Thank you.

  4. Beth, again, so well said. I have been “shocked” by how many people are ready to cheer and put my cancer behind me ASAP like a nasty little bout of the flu because I just finished chemo. They have the pink celebrations in mind that particularly give this impression for breast cancer. But in my mind, I just finished one part of the medieval slash and burn. My body is left mutilated and poisoned, and at Stage 3c/?4 I have no idea what’s ahead for me, other than radiation and more surgeries for sure, but am fairly terrified. I’m hoping to change the general understanding, at least of breast cancer, through my foundation. Thank you for all you do to raise awareness.
    Rebecca Timlin-scalera recently posted…Chemo…See you Bro.My Profile

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