On being careful what you wish for….

Posted By Bruce Boyle on March 31, 2015

As a communications consultant you spend an inordinate amount of time wondering whether the coverage of the issue you’re paid to manage will be fair, accurate or widely consumed by the audiences that mean most to you.

You spend almost no time worrying about what will happen if a story succeeds beyond your wildest dreams. Like, for example, 60 Minutes devoting much of a broadcast suggesting that your research team may have the cure for cancer.

On Sunday, March 29, Scott Pelley of 60 Minutes covered a story about Duke University and some remarkable results, treating glioblastoma multiforme—a deadly and aggressive form of brain cancer—using a genetically modified Poliovirus.

To the credit of everyone involved, the words “miracle” and “breakthrough” and “cure” were used cautiously. The correct emphasis was placed on over-hyping Phase One trials. But, there was no way to dampen the enthusiasm of a young nurse and a retired doctor who were now cancer free after undergoing the treatment.

It was also mentioned that the same modified virus was showing promise in lab tests for treatment of breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, lung cancer and other cancers.

My wife watched the show with me, and while she manages patient care for people in clinical trials at a cancer center, we both had the same thought: “Man, are they going to get calls.”

I thought that over the next week or so Duke may need to tell hundreds of thousands of people with cancer, and their families, that they cannot get this treatment. The healthcare professionals who manage clinical trials tell small groups of desperate people ‘no’ every day for one reason or another but they are not 60 Minutes-sized groups.

Telling people with cancer that they may have to wait is a much different downside to positive news than following the introduction of a new iPhone with the bulletin that you might not get one for a few weeks.

In the midst of all the good feeling about this story there are four other words that are the flip side of “a cure for cancer” that need to be conveyed with great skill and compassion. They are: ‘Not you. Not yet.’