Someone once described advertising as “the sandbox of business” because it is often fun, frothy and entertaining. True enough. But occasionally, we confront serious and powerful issues.
Earlier this year, we created a video featuring Dr. Michael Jensen, a scientist at Seattle Children’s Research Institute. Dr. Jensen is developing a therapy for cancer treatment that will spare young patients from the harsh side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.
We learned that kids who undergo chemo and radiation often lose their hearing and sense of taste. They frequently endure difficulties with reproduction later in life. They are subject to a range of physical and mental disabilities. During treatment, they are wracked with pain and nausea. Hair loss is the least of their problems.
As part of the video, we conducted an on-camera interview with a family from Montana. John, the son and patient, was a normal and happy three-year-old who was diagnosed with high-risk neuroblastoma. Within the last year, his treatment included six rounds of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant, followed by high doses of radiation.
For nearly a year, the family lived in a small apartment at Ronald McDonald House as John underwent treatment and surgery at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Their home in Montana was up for sale; their life was in limbo. As John’s dad explained, “You just move forward, one day at a time. What else can you do?” As we prepared for the interview, John moved around the apartment wearing a brightly colored backpack that doubled as an IV.
His parents are steadfast, intelligent people who spoke directly and technically about John’s medical issues without a trace of self-pity. But as John’s mother described her son’s suffering, her reserve crumbled. Her voice broke and tears flooded her eyes. Those of us gathered around the set—client, agency and crew—looked on silently as the family revealed their grief and pain. It was a deeply touching moment. We left the apartment with the hope that our work, in its small way, would help families like this.
Shortly after, we completed the video, which is now being used to explain Dr. Jensen’s research and help raise funds to support it. Fortunately, this story has a happy epilogue to this story. Here is a recent entry from John’s father’s blog:
“Sorry this will be short since it is very late and it has been a very busy four days with packing, cleaning and driving. First and foremost, John’s scans were all clean with a cancer free bone marrow. Dr. Park said he received an A+. We discussed future potential complications and follow up visits every 3 months. They want to see him in one month to make sure his weight is okay.
On our way home we passed a billboard for Seattle Children’s with their motto of Hope. Care. Cure. How true. WE went there with Hope, his level of care during treatment was second to none and he is cured. We owe so much to Seattle Children’s, the Hem/Onc team, SCAA and staff as well as everyone else who helped us on this journey.”
Our ad agency authored the theme, Hope. Care. Cure. We are gratified that John’s dad found meaning in it.
It goes without saying that the heroes of this story are John, his family, the caregivers at Seattle Children’s, and Dr. Jensen’s quest to find a more humane way to treat childhood cancer.
But occasionally in our business, we get a chance to give voice to this type of heroism and humanity. That’s when our work transcends “the sandbox of business.”