The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) launched a Tips from Former Smokers ad campaign in 2012 that shows graphic depictions of the effects smoking can have on the human body. In the ads, actual former smokers remove appliances that replace facial bones, show throat stomas and more.
It’s too soon to tell whether these ads are effective.
Where the campaign goes off the rails is with a recent addition to the campaign, called “Julia’s Story.”
Julia is a former smoker who was diagnosed with colon cancer (her cancer diagnosis is associated loosley with her smoking habit) who had a colostomy bag for a year after cancer surgery.
She had a rough year, it seems, having to empty her bag six times a day and sitting on her couch afraid to leave the house out of fear her bag would come loose, whereupon it would smell and she would be humiliated in public.
In another spot about gas, a spot she shares with a guy named Mark, she tells us we’re going to need a sense of humor to deal with our colostomy bags … words she says with all the lightness of a funeral home.
I hate these ads.
While well-intentioned, these ads conjure up needless and baseless fears. On some level, they also point to a problem with the health care system as a whole. What I mean is this: If Julia truly was fearful her appliance was going to come loose, she probably was using the wrong appliance. If she had talked to her doctor (or her ostomy nurse if her hospital had one), that problem could have been solved.
The reality is there are ostomates all around us, and most people don’t know it. Not everyone is open about it, but I’ve never shied away from sharing that fact.
Julia says she rarely left the house that year. Really? I’ve shit myself in all manner of public places — in a hospital 15 minutes before I was to present about my cancer experience, in Target, in Bed Bath and Beyond, at church, at the 2014 Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon — and almost on Knoxville’s mayor and a gorgeous Mercedes-Benz convertible. I’ve written about these experiences — because I really do have a sense of humor about it.
AND, I ran a damned marathon with a colostomy. I’ve done an obstacle course race twice. I’ve done decline pushups on a Bosu ball with it. I swim with it. I ride my bike with it. It goes everywhere I go because it doesn’t have a choice.
I, though, have a choice in how I respond to life with a colostomy. Sitting on my couch in fear that I’m going to shit myself is not an option.
The CDC needs to take this ad down, and they need to take it down now. Sign the change.org petition.