For a cancer survivor there is no better way to start the day than with news of a revolutionary new method to diagnose, treat, or maybe even cure cancer. And as it turns out, there is no shortage of such news.
I used to think game-changing breakthroughs would be rare, but recently I had begun to wonder. So I checked. I did a little googling, mostly but not exclusively for prostate cancer (my favorite), and restricting results to just the past year. How many revolutionary ground-breaking game-changing miracles are there?
As I suspected, it’s a long list. Take a look at these actual headlines from a mere thirty typical articles—a random sample—and you’ll see what I mean. It’s breathtaking.
Hype Hype, Hooray!
Did you detect a bit of sensationalism in these headlines? Maybe a little over-the-top hype?
The last headline on the above list is perfectly crafted. Notice how it announces a potential “miracle” cure, shouts one word in all-caps, and ends with an emphatic exclamation point. Well, OMG, how awesome is THAT!!! But okay, come on. We’re cancer survivors seeking information, not tabloid readers looking for a thrill. Dial it down a few notches and get real. This stuff is serious to us.
BREAKING NEWS …. BREAKING NEWS …
Clearly all of the above headlines announce important news, and of course the objective of any headline is to grab our attention and make us want to read the article. For a while, it did that for me. My energy spiked and my enthusiasm escalated. But it’s not humanly possible to indefinitely maintain that level of excitement. It’s hard to react over and over and over again with the same exuberance expressed in the headlines. After a while, there just aren’t enough exclamation points to get our adrenaline flowing.
Even with the most outrageously sensational headlines, I just don’t pay as much attention any more.
It’s hard to react over and over and over again with the same exuberance …
This is an unfortunate result. Because I have become largely desensitized to this media tactic, I fear I might overlook something that is truly revolutionary and possibly relevant to me or someone I know. Aesop, in his famous fable The Boy Who Cried Wolf, illustrated this phenomenon nicely. After too many false alarms, the real deal might understandably be ignored.
Deal or no deal?
Still, I continue to read the articles. I very much want to believe that each of these advances is indeed a game-changer because I am in the game. I also know other players who are desperately hoping for and need something revolutionary to happen soon. For some, time is of the essence.
I very much want to believe that each of these advances is indeed a game-changer because I am in the game.
The danger is that desperation can influence decisions. When we are most desperate we are most easily influenced, and sensational headlines can have the unintended consequence of pushing people in the wrong direction. When practically every new approach to cancer treatment is presented as the one we’ve been waiting for, it’s easy to feel justified to pursue that option.
Believe it or not
When compared to the number of articles like those above, there are relatively few that caution us to question such miracles. Fortunately, there are some responsible news sources that do occasionally remind us to be skeptical. Here is handful that might be helpful:
Tell it like it is
The cancer miracle du jour approach makes it difficult for laymen like me to sort out when to get excited, and when to just say, “Hmmm …
I have not read or fact-checked all of the articles listed above. Some of the “miracle” articles may contain truth. Some may contain more hype than help. My intention is not to encourage or discourage your interest in any possible advances described in these or similar articles. I just want to urge you to get a teaspoon of salt and grab a grain before you read each headline.
The cancer miracle du jour approach makes it difficult for laymen like me to sort out when to actually get excited, and when to just say, “Hmmm, sounds great. Good luck with that, and keep me posted.” My request to the media is to please make it a little easier for me to recognize the real miracle we all yearn for when it finally happens.
For now, each time I read about a promising development in cancer research my excitement will still jump just a little (but not as much as it used to), my expectations will still escalate a bit (but not like before), and the eternal light of hope will shine at least momentarily slightly brighter.
I’d love to hear what you think about how the media presents cancer-related news. Email me here. Thanks!