Open letter to Macmillan charity: Cancer doesn’t discriminate, why should you?

Dear sir or madam,

I must confess this is not really a blatant, angry complaint, but rather an observation that frustrated me quite a great deal. A few weeks ago, I was sitting in D’nisi’s cafe in the Shawlands. If I’m not mistaken, it was a Friday, and the cafe had balloons and posters with your charity logo on them, as they were donating a fraction of the money made that day to your charity.

While I understand charities are often in competition with each other, and hence often have to ‘strike a chord’ through certain techniques in advertising and such, I am afraid the particular narrative you chose for the poster in the cafe that day was quite discriminatory. The emotional side of the blurb spoke of a father diagnosed with cancer who would have to leave his job for chemotherapy session, and hence had no way of “protecting them” or ensuring their wellbeing. As a human being, I understand that cancer – for anyone – is a terrifying experience, and having the support to ensure you can make it through that part of life is vital. However, in this case, I think that particular poster promotes discrimination.

Firstly, it isn’t just the employed who face cancer. Also, even if they do, they might have more security than your blurb affords them, since those with reasonably stable employment and a steady wage can often opt into insurance schemes through their company. Of course, not all people with stable employment have this, but it can be said that certainly, such an option isn’t really available for those with a lesser income – or no income.  The ones with no financial security will no doubt have slimmer chances with cancer, usually because they slip through the cracks more easily.

What’s more, the ad in question speaks of the father providing for his family, and losing that “protection” when he is taken ill. Cancer is no laughing matter, but neither is sexism. In the 21st century, in 2013, with women having the right to work (in the UK at least), it isn’t impossible that the father is the only one “bringing home the bacon”, so to speak. It’s very likely, in this modern age, that the man’s wife has a career as well, although, due to the ‘glass ceiling’ for women’s salaries and the pay gap that we often forget to discuss, she might not be earning as much as him. Nonetheless, she would very likely be earning enough to contribute significantly to the family budget. The picture your blurb paints drags us back to the 1950s.

Additionally, does the tragedy of a family patriarch with his family to support him outweigh that of a single parent – male, female, or otherwise defined – or an unemployed person? It isn’t up to you or me to define whose tragedy is more important, but I think we can safely say that the latter groups might be more stigmatised and more likely to need a larger degree of support. That’s not to say a person with cancer and a family, and steady employment doesn’t need that support, but they might have more of a cushion than the unemployed or the single parent who has been working two jobs – or more – to provide for their child or children – or someone with a disability who is also diagnosed with cancer.

Admittedly, perhaps the main problem is that personal stories of this kind have become food for marketing departments, to sensationalise and lure people with money into donating. Turning them into sales material can lead to many people seeing them as money-hoarders who don’t really need the money, but who are seen to be taking advantage of the system. Cancer is a terrible thing, and the brave souls battling it need support. But the last thing they need is to be “sold” like that. Even if a blurb is fictional, the constraints, the issues it raises and the images it might inspire probably last much longer and might be more effective than the donation itself. People on benefits have been demonised in a similar way, but it is important for you yourselves not to discriminate among those who need your help.

I hope you consider these issues carefully. Thank you for reading.





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