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Cancer Message Still In The Merck Ad Mess


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Call me a late bloomer. Maybe you are too? My discoveries and enthusiasm come after most things have moved on. But it still counts for something. At least that’s what I tell myself. I’m telling you, too, it still counts, you still count.


I’m late to see the parent shaming ad for hpv16 cancer from Merck, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. In two segments of the same commercial a young woman and a young man explain their history, than ask if mom and dad knew about the hpv vaccine.


Their cancer message is pretty clear as they devolve from adults to eleven or twelve year olds innocent to the ways of the world. Now their world is cancer. Good looking adults, good looking kids, looking at their future through a cancer lens. All to familiar for some of us, and alarming for others.


As a writer I love a good story, a good twist, a surprise ending.


I’m not so crazy about it when it’s me twisting and ending, but what’re ya gonna do? Fuggitaboutit? You can try. When ads like Merck show up on television it’s a reminder. Not a happy one, either.


Don’t mistake this post or this writer as a cancer crusader, although I am writing a cancer memoir about all the fun I had in the course of a cure. Cancer fun, you ask? Not the sort of sh*ts and giggles to share with everyone, but maybe, just maybe, better than parent shaming by kids.


Are you a parent?


If you are then you know all about shaming. We get shamed by kids all the time to the point of not knowing it when when we hear it. We’re old, ignorant, in the way. Baby boomers know this all too well. That’s how we felt about our parents, except for one big difference.


A WWII vet, or Korean War vet with a Purple Heart and Silver Star for valor don’t take to shaming with the same understanding we do. A Vietnam vet probably doesn’t either. A Vietnam-Era vet like yours truly listens to everything and lets it roll off. I’ve had good training with millennials and their ilk. (Don’t you love it when you can include ‘ilk’ in a sentence?)


Generation shame is nothing new when it runs down hill the way it’s supposed to. Respect for elders and all is a guarantee of respect. Old people enjoy calling out younger people as soft, unmotivated, self-centered. When it turns the other way, with young people shaming, it’s oh so awful, so, well, shameful.


How often does this happen:


An over-sixty man from high school expresses his disdain about current events with a ‘Take back America’ message. Somehow the stoner who chugged beers in the parking lot with his pals instead of getting their heads bashed in football games grew a pair and stands for something.


If there’s ever a case for parent shaming, it’s them, but why bring up the past. I didn’t give my kids the cancer message right away. Why? Because I’m a late bloomer and didn’t have it figured out. Like a first impression, I only had one chance.


Besides, what was I going to say? “I’ve got cancer” didn’t seem like enough. What kind of cancer? Carpet cancer seemed to flippant, HPV16 tongue cancer too clinical.


Maybe go second person with, “You know your old man talks a lot, he’s got quite a mouth on him. Well, guess what boys?” So I held off on the news until I could report without crying too much. It almost worked.


The cancer message from the Merck vaccine is one thing.


The man and woman look earnest and thoughtful from start to finish, not resentful and angry. Try flipping the script of a parent giving their kids a cancer message about oral sex at the wrong time and wrong place and see how that feels. It’s a little skeevy just writing that last sentence, which is a big part of the stigma associated with hpv cancers.


One of them asked, “Where you one of those guys?” What’s the right answer to a yes or no question that needs details?


Tell them, then let them find a good read, a good share, for the rest. The best cancer message reflects more than the issue at hand. Kids tell us who we are. It’s good to listen.


Then break the plan for of cancer, treatment, the whole deal, but…and it’s a big but, follow the code: Yesterday sucked, today sucks, tomorrow will be worse, and you’ve still got to do something with it.


If the cancer message for hpv isn’t bad enough with parent shaming, this one might be worse.
About David Gillaspie
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