Do you believe it?

Princess Margaret Hospital is in the throes of a $1 billion fundraising campaign called Believe It, an increasingly ironic moniker in light of recent events.

On June 18th in Toronto, it held a self-described “media event” to announce a “major breakthrough” in the development of “sharpshooter” cancer drugs.  (Your Working Girl notices the language of armed conflict now permeates cancer fundraising.  So naturally the “war on cancer” would beget a “sharpshooter” drug.)

The headline on the hospital press release read “Long-Term Donor Support Helps Fund Cancer Breakthrough.” (Emphasis courtesy of Your Working Girl.)

And there, in front of a Believe It backdrop, was the singular Dr. Tak Mak, a scientist known the world over for his work on the human T cell antigen receptor.   Accompanied by the equally brilliant Herceptin founder, Dr. Dennis Slamon, Dr. Mak, apparently fundraiser-in-chief for the day, sang for his supper as he thanked “the donors who believe in our vision and have generously helped to finance our critical work.” (Much like a NASCAR driver if you think about it.)

“I have had the pleasure of attending several events for The Shoppers Drug Mart Weekend To End Women’s Cancers,” added Dr. Slamon in a statement, brilliantly performing the call-and-response researchers must perfect if they want to get on with their work.

“While addressing the crowds, I have witnessed the passion of the walker community.”

The Toronto Star, bless its heart, ran a breathless editorial on June 20th that could understandably be mistaken for direct mail letter copy:

“If anyone ever doubted their cash donation to fight cancer — or their run, walk, or cycle for a cure — actually made a difference they should check with Tak Mak and Dennis Slamon,” crooned Canada’s largest daily (weekday circulation 346,340).

“The two superstar cancer researchers revealed an experimental new “sharpshooter” drug, targeting several variants of this disease, in Toronto on Tuesday. And they credited a variety of fundraising drives, donors and grant-issuing organizations for the breakthrough. These sources together, without direct government support, raised $40 million to pioneer this first in a new class of cancer drugs.”

“I can assure walkers, donors and funders that they will continue to see direct impact on the revolution that is occurring in Personalized Cancer Medicine,” assured the genial Dr Bob Bell, the CEO of the University Health Network.

So keep those cards and letters coming folks he might have added.  Your walking, running, cycling and lottery buying really does work!!  Believe it.

So, why is Princess Margaret pulling hard-working reporters away from their sadly busy beats at city hall, the courts, police stations and international news feeds? Are the Foundation’s thank-you notes now being sent through editorials and stories by the country’s largest news agencies?

Perhaps the fundraising campaign needs a little boost before the summer hols? Maybe the Ride to Conquer Cancer pledges need a nudge?  A couple of major donors need some encouragement?  Lottery sales are down?

The problem is, as health reporter Andre Picard points out in his Globe and Mail column today,Take news of cancer ‘breakthrough’ with a big grain of salt, this idea of a “breakthrough” is misleading.  On the contrary, he says:

The drug has “not been tested on a single person.”

And despite articles being submitted, it has  “yet to be published in a peer-reviewed medical journal let alone replicated by others.”

As Mr. Picard, who was honoured as Canada’s top newspaper columnist by the National Newspaper Awards in 2010, points out “if the compound works as hoped in humans, doesn’t cause any grave side effects, can be produced in a form and at a cost that is marketable, and is not overtaken by newer, more promising approaches – a new cancer drug is at least a decade away.”

Whatever it is, the “medical breakthrough” announced this week, does not appear to be a “breakthrough” in the normal sense of the word.

And calling a medical breakthrough a medical breakthrough when it’s not really a medical breakthrough has two casualties in addition to the truth.

It raises hope in people with cancer where the hope is not real, a truly dastardly deed, in and of itself.

Plus….. pseudo medical news takes up a lot of oxygen for other organizations trying to raise money for less resourced, but urgent causes nonetheless — organizations trying to help abused children cope, assaulted women fleeing to safety or one million souls displaced by civil war.

Believe it.

Post Script

While we’re at it, Your Working Girl would like to remind her Gentle Readers that “at least one-third of all cancer cases are preventable,” according to the World Health Organization, “and prevention offers the most cost-effective long-term strategy for the control of cancer.”

 The prescription says WHO?   Don’t smoke.  Don’t drink alcohol.  Exercise.  Eat well.  

They also point out the matter of cancers arising from infections like Hep B and C, environmental pollution, occupational carcinogens and radiation.

 But Your Working Girl realizes there’s not much money to be made in dealing with that.


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  1. […] The Toronto Star wrote a breathless editorial, “Donor support lets cancer researchers take a big step.” Upon examination, the big step wasn’t that big and the whole thing looked more like a donor cultivation event. Click here for a refresher. […]

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