Sunday, August 1, 2010

Seduction

I remember an old friend once told me that seduction is a promise yet fulfilled. The excitement found at the moment of being seduced is that one does not know if the promise will be kept.  One can be seduced into a love affair, a new car, a friendship or a business relationship. The attraction of the hit AMC series Mad Men is a testament to how the advertising world spends every moment thinking of ways to seduce us, the public, into buying whatever it is they are selling.

This past week, I was asked to be a speaker on a panel at the big Pharma conference held in New York, hosted at Pfizer's headquarters located, ironically, very close to the United Nations. Much like the folks in that building, so, too, must the world's pharmaceutical  companies attempt to balance their interests with the interests of the world and try, as best as they can, to first, do no harm.

They deal with regulations, bureaucracies, lobbyists, supporters and conspiracy theorists on a daily basis. They have also been painted, with a rather wide brush, as the "enemy." I find it difficult to view pharmaceutical companies as the enemy because without their drugs, I would not be here today. I also do not believe that they secretly have the cure for cancer hidden in the file cabinet in R&D. Although I have been told, more times than I care to count, that they are not only trying to kill me, but they know the secret of life and are withholding it from me so they can  somehow profit from it.

How does that work exactly? They have mothers and husbands and kids who have cancer, yet they are keeping the cure a secret so they can increase their bottom line? To all conspiracy theorists: The CURE will not be one pill or one vaccination and you are safe. Cancer comes in as many forms as our cells can mutate. Should there someday, God willing, be a cure, it will be a drug that one must take forever and it would make more money for the drug company that creates it than anything they could be "hiding" from us.  So, please: Stop.

The audience from Pharma wanted my take on how they get their message out. As a patient, patient advocate, and outspoken, opinionated, long day of a girl, I was more than happy to oblige them. I pointed out to them that they are most certainly not helping their "money laundering" image on their web site's home pages because if you look at them, with the exception of Bristol/Myers/Squibb,  none have human beings on the page. The first thing you see is their quarterly report, an earnings graph and then maybe some high tech flash graphic of a swirling double helix to remind us they are in the drug business.  I emphasized that in order to reach out and touch the people who take their drugs, they need to humanize their images. There are real people at the other end of the prescription pads and they want to know that the company who is making the drug they are about to take, actually cares about them as living, breathing, dreaming beings. I think they heard me. That was most heartening.

If anyone practices the art of seduction, drug makers are right up there at the top. Take this pill and all will be well.... Unfortunately, the FDA requires them to also list all that may not be well if you take that pill. One commercial on television right now spends 10 seconds on how the drug can help and the remaining 50 seconds on all the horrid things that can happen if you do take it. My personal favorite side effect mentioned in a drug ad is "death." They actually say you could die from the drug. Gee, let me run right out and get me some of that.

I suggested to the group that I was not familiar with all the FDA regulations, but if they could add possible ways to ameliorate side effects to their promotional materials and advertisements, it would be a saving grace. One example is known to breast cancer survivors: Aromatase Inhibitors, or AIs. They keep your cancer from coming back because they cut off the estrogen in your body, so your estrogen dependent breast cancer has nothing to feed on and ultimately grow. But boy, do some women have a hard time with the joint pain, body aches and muscle cramps from them. Some are so severe that they stop taking these live saving meds. However, ASCO, The American Society of Clinical Oncology, has reported trial results on several occasions that if a woman gets her base blood value of Vitamin D high enough in her body, through supplementation, she can reduce or eliminate all those symptoms. Wouldn't you like to see that listed after the side effect list on your drug information sheet? I would. And that is what I told them. Guess what? They seemed to have heard me that time, too.

It is refreshing to know that mega-companies like these, actually want to hear what we have to say. Because in the end, they are taking meds too. They want to feel a connection and a sense of safety just as much as we do.

Now, if only I could get some sponsorships from these companies to help the Foundation in its work to support and save women's lives. That would be the greatest gift I could ask for. Because we don't seduce. We give hope. We give the facts. We ultimately make your life better, fuller and last longer through education and information and advocacy.

 We fulfill that promise every day.

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