Beware Media Opportunities About Cancer


Getting media coverage can be tricky, and some media sources may be trying to trick you.

Having cancer and being an advocate often puts media on your trail, but be careful, because what looks like a great chance for some publicity for your cause or group may backfire.

Not long after my book came out, I got a call from one of those national afternoon talk shows. Not yet the slime they are today, I knew nothing about the person whose name was affixed to the show. It was something like “The Ted Snodgrass Show.” I called a friend who was a TV critic for some advice. Her response was that this was a so-so show, but depending on the “hook” for the show, it might be OK.

Magic word: hook.

My agent was thrilled. Great publicity. “Well, we’ll see,” I said.

I called the show’s producer back and asked her about the focus. She explained that they had seen my book and wanted to explore “breast cancer issues” on the show. So far, so good. My 25 years of journalism training kicked in.

“Be more specific,” I said. “What’s the hook?”

It was clear from the pause that she didn’t like that I knew enough of the lingo to ask that. Of course, this is how most of the TV shows get guests. They tell them vaguely what they will be discussing, and then whammy when they get on the show it is bait and switch.

“What exactly is your focus?” I repeated.

“Well we know from your book that there are women whose husbands left them when they got breast cancer, and we were hoping you could talk to a couple of them about coming on the show with you. Of course, we would need their phone numbers.”

I don’t think so. I only had to extrapolate a little to see the rest. They would have the woman tell her story about the asshole husband who left her and then — wait for it – he is in the wings and jumps out to tell his side of it, like how losing a breast had been more than any man should take. Could questions about their sex life be far behind?

This was my response, cleaned up for family reading:

“First, I don’t do tawdry. There are so many real issues around breast cancer, that to focus on this is ludicrous. Second, you are wrong. Most men I have encountered would have gone through the experience for their wives. I met men torn to pieces at the inability to protect their family from this disease. I met men whose pain was so numbing that it was hard to talk to them. Yes, there are men who left their wives, but that is not the norm. They were jerks before breast cancer and in most cases, the cancer just gave them an opportunity to get out in what they saw as a reason society would, in its demented way, approve of. I also think there is a special place in hell for these guys.

Why don’t you do a show on women who left their husbands when they were diagnosed. Women who found the strength to get out of a bad marriage when faced with mortality. As one woman said, ‘If I am going to die, I am not going to spend my last five years with that jerk.’

And invite the men who have been reminded why they fell in love to begin with now that they are faced with losing her. Men for whom breasts were insignificant when it came to the woman and her spirit and character. Invite men who married the women they loved because they didn’t want her to go through it alone. These men I would gladly tell her about.”

Of course, these approaches don’t make good television. We ended the conversation.

And, just because you are being interviewed by what seems like the good media, be careful that what you say does not get twisted to meet their needs,

During the national uproar over silicone implants, I was called by one of the national networks to do an interview about what I thought should happen. I had a silicone implant, but had signed up for the class action lawsuit, knowing it would never cone to anything, but wanting the information that was uncovered during the process. The reporter asked me the question and I replied. “I feel that my implants are safe, but I think the research needs to continue to look at long range possibilities.”

Well they cut it off at safe, of course, taking the whole rest of the thought and the balance that I thought needed to be supplied and tossing it to the side.

When I called the head of news and reminded him that journalism is supposed to tell both sides, he said that the quote supported the story.

That is not journalism.

Unfortunately, journalism as I knew it when I was an active reporter has changed dramatically and it has been so depressing to watch balance, confirmation and just plain good writing disappear from my profession.

I am grateful for publications like CURE and Heal, where the focus is on educating and empowering cancer patients in their cancer journey.

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