As a medical writer specializing in oncology, an ASCO member, and someone who tries to build sensitivity to patients into all my work, I was concerned about the cartoon I saw in the May 10, 2015, issue of The ASCO Post. On page 46, there is a cartoon of someone being thrown off a cliff because he has no other options under his health plan.
Your publication is mostly read by practitioners. Is this the attitude to promulgate? As a writer, I know that words count; words shape attitudes, even if not consciously. I use empathetic terminology such as referring to “patients with cancer,” not “cancer patients,” and “the treatment failed,” not “the patient failed treatment.”
The cartoon isn’t funny, and it reinforces the experiences many of us have of not being heard; of being told by our insurance companies that medications we need to keep us alive aren’t going to be covered, but we’re welcome to pay out of pocket; of feeling a doctor’s time is always more important than ours, but that we are free to go somewhere else. These experiences often feel like being shoved off a cliff.
I’ll assume no harm was intended by your choice of cartoon, but I will also suggest harm was done. There’s a lot of really funny stuff out there, and those of us with life-threatening diseases certainly have our dark sense of humor about them, but their place in a cancer publication could also be questioned. ■
—Lynne Lederman, PhD
Mamaroneck, New York