If you’ve seen the new Walgreens video targeting people living with cancer, chances are you also had a rush of anger, starting with the cringe-worthy title of the video: “Feel More Like You: Battle Beautifully.”
Read Brandi McFarland’s scene-by-scene breakdown of everything that’s wrong with the video, which she originally posted on Walgreens Facebook page. Brandi has been living with breast cancer for four years (stage 3), has had 24 surgeries, and 12 infections. She is a member of Breast Cancer Action and Bay Area Young Survivors.
Scene One in your “Battle Beautifully” commercial was familiar to me. I put music on, popped open some bubbly, and braided pigtails, then chopped them off to save them as a joke – or pin on my beanies. With right-handed Walgreens scissors, I sawed and sawed – I’m left handed, which caused a blister on my left thumb. I reached into my vanity cabinet and applied a Band-Aid and some Neosporin from your store in Alameda. Then I gave myself a mohawk and promptly buzzed that off (with Walgreens men’s clippers) because I felt it didn’t fit my mood or the situation I was in.)
Most women don’t do that… they wait for some of their hair to fall out and are traumatized from it. Not smiling like your model. Losing your hair is not summarized by a wry smile in a mirror. A few days later in the shower, I applied some black cherry Carol’s Daughter conditioner cream bought at your store and screamed to my fiancé, “I DON’T CARE WHAT THE DOCTORS SAY… GET THE RAZOR!!!” (At stage 3 during chemo you are not supposed to floss, or get your teeth cleaned, get massages or use razors). My hands were covered in ¼” peach fuzz… what was left of my two-foot-long hair. So we used a four blade men’s Gillet with some 3-in-1 “Comfort Advantage” shaving cream (also yours). My fiancé was so nervous about cutting me it took 30 minutes. Then I applied some lotion – also from your store, but I forget what kind because I have chemo brain.
Scene Two of your promo: Yoga. Really? I’d say a small portion of breast cancer patients can do yoga for a short time during active treatment, but even stage 0 or 1 women have stitches, and catheters and bandages and restrictions on how much they can use their arms and lift things. YOGA??? Why not feature napping with a face mask, or relaxing on one of your heating pads, or reading a magazine… all from your store. That’s far more realistic if the intent of this video is to sell more things or seem sympathetic. Most of us experience bone pain from treatment. Not blissful relaxation and peace.
Scene Three: Support groups. A group of women hugging and jumping up and down? In colored wigs? Wigs are uncomfortable, hot and itchy. Not only that, but the only ones you sell are Elvira witch ones [wigs] during Halloween… which aren’t super appropriate for the produce aisle in the morning, or at church. Some recent topics from my last support group aren’t even NC-17 rated, and might classify as horror. We do not hold hands and sing Kumbaya. We dish on pus, menopause, infections, losing husbands, best friends, jobs, insurance. We talk about lack of lubrication (which your KY can’t even fix), dryness (which your Refresh can’t touch), and creams like your Estrogen ones we aren’t even allowed to take. Do you have Band-Aids we could put in our vaginal walls when they tear after sex? I didn’t think so. Induced menopause means we no longer buy your Midol or tampons or pads. If you want to make up that money in a respectful way, see my list at the bottom of this email, and poll other patients.
Scene Four: Makeup, eyebrows and lashes. I lasted 3 months of still trying to live according to society’s notion of what I should look like, but I cry when I throw up, which smears my makeup, then I get blotchy and broken blood vessels in my face, and I generally don’t give a crap about what other people think about me at that time. By 6 months in, I was in sweats and eyeing those electric scooters in the grocery store because of pulmonary embolisms and low blood pressure causing fainting. (YOGA?). I have always had to draw in my eyebrows and put a dark tint in my lashes – always mascara and powder bought from your store. I look like a ghost without makeup – and I was so sick I didn’t care anymore. I was more vain that most women, but this experience has robbed me of it – so imagine what it does to less superficial women. Imagine how off the mark your commercial is. You want to encourage us to try and look like we don’t feel and expend energy, time, and money we DON’T HAVE. Red lipstick is not a cure all. If Barbies are now transgender and having prostheses… why the heck can’t one of your models be portrayed as a normal cancer patient??? Catch up with the times.
Scene Five: The cancer patient hugging the Walgreens employee. I’ve hugged several. But they have all been in your pharmacy. They know me on sight and what medications are new to me, but they are always so rushed they can’t chat. I will, however say your other employees couldn’t care less, and standing in line is embarrassing. I was discharged from a week in the hospital 4 days ago with bruises from IV’s all over my arms, a rash on my neck, 5 bracelets on my wrist, and in a UCSF sweatshirt I bought because all my clothes were dirty. I went from the hospital to your store and 4 very large white bags were placed on the counter stapled shut, each containing a few Rx’s. I think it was 10 new drugs in total. People took steps back from me. I filled 7 Rx’s the week before and 2 new ones today. The Rx counter is where cancer patients spend their money at your store. I have no idea who consulted you to make this commercial but here is what it should have included if you wanted more money from us:
Aquaphor, Aloe, Imodium, Calcium, Vitamin D, Gauze, Tape, Tegaderm, Travel Size bottles of everything you’d need for a week in a hospital, Laxatives, Anti-nausea meds, Benadryl, Cortisone, Biotene, Chapstick, Lotions, Candy, and Crosswords and magazines to keep our minds as healthy as possible while we have chemo brain. Maybe have prepackaged multivitamins or meds endorsed by oncologists or nutritionists especially for cancer patients – and different cancer types. There are DOZENS of other ways to go about this besides glossing over the messy aspects of cancer. We literally come to your stores for the MESSY aspects… so be honest with yourselves, and us.
I have been an avid Walgreens customer my entire life, but this commercial is offensive, triggering and insulting. It’s minimizing and demeaning one of the hardest things anyone can go through in their life, implying I should somehow have the energy to do yoga and wear makeup when I’m on the edge of death. I would appreciate an apology.
Editor’s Note: Walgreens partners with the Look Good, Feel Better campaign, which was the target of Breast Cancer Action’s 2015 Think Before You Pink® campaign Poison Isn’t Pretty. Read more about our take on pink ribbon culture and the harms of many mainstream breast cancer campaigns.