Not like on TV

Posted in Cancer, Culture of Lickspittle at 8:19 am by George Smith

Here’s another downer post. So maybe you ought to skip it if you’re only into Norman Vincent Peale’s world. (Which uncovers the question, “Why are you here, anyway?”)

Commercials for American corporate “innovation” in the field of heath become personally antagonizing when you get an immediately life-threatening diagnosis. (Not mine.)

A close friend of DD’s has been handed a bad slate. Even with a good health plan it’s been a tough haul getting through the discovery and diagnosis period.

It contrasts starkly with the idiot commercials, now running on primetime, about tech breakthroughs in healthcare, commercials made to make viewers feel happy about American corporations adding good things to life.

The most odious is General Electric’s “healthimagination” spot with the little girl musing about her unusual mother with wiggly toes and dancing fingers, a fun lady who will only eat her eggs with hot sauce. The final bit of it is that GE has produced some technology that will customize and help make a unique cellular-level diagnosis of whatever cancer she may face.

As anyone who has had to recently go into an up-to-date oncology center in Pasadena/southern California, this is pretty much revealed as total shit.

There’s no revolution going on, no magic devices. There is lots of imaging technology. While powerful, it tells you only certain things, never enough. There’s no techno-magic personalization, there is no particular swiftness of diagnosis, no impressive victories which have been won against cancer because of it. They are tools, part of a blindingly complicated process. And while there have been some victories in the fight against cancer in my last three decades, they have not been strategic wins.

Another commercial, by AT&T, would be laugh out loud hilarious were it not for painful personal framing.

This is the one were the friendly voice informs that your medical information and history will follow you on your smart phone, through the smart network, a place where even that which is imagined impossible becomes possible.

I have news for the gullible or for any people who made the commercial or AT&T’s smart network brains. When and if they get cancer they’ll perhaps notice there is no obviously “smart network,” that one fills out a lot of old-fashioned paper, repeated over and over, for a variety of health agencies and physicians and that coordination is often slow, inexact and fraught with frustration.

It will be part of the challenge, as the seriously ill person, to help guarantee everyone is on the same page. And it must be done the old-fashioned way, speaking face to face on numerous trips to the hospital or out-patient treatment and diagnosis center, or on the telephone.

Smart network! One might just as well have made a commercial showing little fairies, borne on fluttering pink wings, flying your medical information to the team of physicians and consults.

Americans have always been acutely vulnerable to this manner of sappy thinking.

Indeed, an entire news industry has grown up to cater to it, one in which journalists in health and technology sections scan press releases in order to write stories trumpeting what are thought to be the latest milestones and revolutions in health care.

Read them regularly and if, through unfortunate circumstance you actually become seriously ill, you immediately discover how they depart from reality.

Not to put to fine a point on it, my Dad died of cancer on Grand Bahama Island many years ago chasing delusion manufactured in a similar way.

Having been given a terminal diagnosis for bladder cancer, the family was desperate.

60 Minutes had aired a story on a miraculous cancer doctor in Freeport, Grand Bahama, a man supposedly suppressed in the United States for his revolutionary treatments.

His name was Lawrence Burton and he had developed something that sounded very impressive — Immuno-Augmentive Therapy.

60 Minutes furnished tremendous publicity, giving the cancer treatment a solid patina from authority.

And it all ended very badly, Burton and his therapy going down in history as a notorious case of quack medicine.

Medicine does not advance, cancer does not yield, because the sales imagery appears triumphant.


  1. Floormaster Squeeze said,

    September 21, 2011 at 10:40 am

    I could try to say something smart or sympathetic or wonky but instead I will just say:

    F@ck NVP! Great Post.

  2. bonze blayk said,

    September 21, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    I have to post this comment, like right away, even though I have not yet read your post…

    “I came for the pathos; I stayed for the Schadenfreude!”

  3. Chuck said,

    September 21, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    I too lost my father to cancer. I remember talking with him outside of the earshot of the rest of the family after he’d received his diagnosis.. He knew he was terminal, but felt that he had to go through with whatever treatment was offered out of consideration for his family.

    He died a year later, carved up, heavily drugged and no longer coherent–just a semiconscious pile of moaning flesh.

    It’s this “don’t you feel that you owe it to your family” that gets people into the system and leaves their estate with bills.

    The happy stories that CTCA and their ilk air on TV are simply revolting.

    And the poop that cancer is just a geriatric disease is just that. My next- door neighbors lost their teenaged son recently to leukemia and my niece (aged 22) has just received a terminal diagnosis. She’s all set up for hospice care.

    Apparently the obvious is eluding our great minds–that our cancers are quite likely the result of massive exposure to things introduced into our environment (plastics, petrochemicals, herbicides, who knows–or who really wants to find out?).

    Cancer is big business. Why else would the US subsidize the cultivation of tobacco? Economic stimulus.