Now Walgreens Wants us to Battle Beautifully

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.

Dear Walgreens,

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.

This entry was posted in Articles, BCA News.

44 Responses to Now Walgreens Wants us to Battle Beautifully

  1. Thank you Brandi Lee for expressing the real world of a woman going through treatment. I have not seen the commercial yet, but I can only picture how we are portrayed. It was the hardest battle of my life and thank God I am here 13 years later to discuss this. I did not happily shave my head— I held on to the last hope that maybe it won’t happen to me. But it did. The support groups, though helpful for some, only filled me with dispair meeting very young women with babies going thru this. Making friends with woman that share a bond, only to lose the friendships made when they passed.i was never once “hugged” at my pharmacy. That was fine with me as my immune system was compromised and the less germs for me the better. Based on your description of this commercial, yes,all of us warriors deserve an apology. I can’t even imagine what they would try to glorify this dark, frightening time.
    Maybe we can petition to have this commercial taken off the air.

  2. Jennifer B says:

    Sorry you got triggered but for me the video was rock on for women with typical breast cancer (25% are DCIS and the surgery isn’t as invasive as you experienced) and although the video wasn’t perfect it is a great change from traditional pink marketing.

    FYI John’s Hopkins has yoga classes and videos for women who are living with BC and I did them as part of my recovery after sentinel node (negative) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3UL4p3kv7Mk

    BTW My Mom has been living with stage IV (mets to her liver) for the last 10 years and swims every day and a cousin of mine (in her 30s) just got reconstructive surgery after chemo, and a mastectomy and she wore purple colored wigs and shirts that said F cancer .

    Again so sorry you are struggling – it sucks to not see your experience reflected but thankfully most women with breast cancer have 1 surgery not 24.

    • Patti D says:

      Jennifer… I was so angry when I saw the commercial the first time. First, DCIS has nothing to do with what surgery you have. I had DCIS and a bilateral mastectomy because it was triple negative! Most women have multiple surgeries, unless they opt for a lumpectomy and never have a reoccurrence. The sad truth is most have multiples.

      I find it offensive for Walgreens to profit off of breast cancer and the suffering of their customers. They weren’t a source of light and hope when I was fighting. No pretty wigs at my store, and I was in chemo during Halloween. No advice on what to do with my makeup or bald head… just check out and pay. And how dare you condescendingly speak to a survivor who speaks her mind about it. Everyone’s journey is different, but few party out at their local Walgreens.

      • Chris Halstead says:

        Jeeze
        The hate? My wife is the blue haired chick in that commercial. She has had two different breast cancers. 28+ surgeries, drains, infections, all of it, and she is still a women, vibrant, and alive. A petition to remove the commercial? Get lost!. All those ladies, I was there, had battled cancer. I wish you good health but where is your grace?

  3. Marie J says:

    Thank you Thank you Thank you. I threw a paper cup @ tv when I saw the ad. I wrote emails to fellow breast cancer patients “Did you see that ad?” I can’t even get an appointment to talk to my pharmacist about the new meds. Good grief. So angry, my poor husband has to listen to me every day about this ad.
    Yes, let’s bilk poor cancer patients out of more money, and make them love us for it. Shame on you Walgreens! 22 years of cancer purchases @ your store, not one hug or freebie or makeover. Thank you pharmacists for being over worked. Thank you former students,friends who work there and wish me well. Shame on the big wigs that made that ad. Pun intended.

    • Sue says:

      They sure put a pretty spin on it. Im so weary of these commercials making it look like a walk in the meadows. Thats putting it nicely.

  4. Mj Borrelli says:

    Oh heck I have been dying to do a YouTube of my f’ing new normal! Now it’s going to include me going off at a drugstore when they screw up an order while a clerk is painting eyebrows on me and root color to cover up my male pattern baldness!
    Is there going to
    be a nascent film maker at the LBBC conference? The script is ready🎭🎬

  5. Alane Davis says:

    Thank you. As someone who was originally diagnosed at 31 almost twenty years ago, had a recurrence 16 years ago, and has been living with Stage IV breast cancer for the last two years I have been railing against this ad campaign on Facebook, Instagram, and on Walgreens facebook and corporate pages as well. I am fighting for my life. And they want me to fight bravely and beautifully. I am so angry about this I can barely see straight. And they didn’t even try to dress this up like they care no “portion of the proceeds” being donated anywhere. They are merely taking advantage of my suffering, belittling it, slapping some lipstick on it, adding some catchy music, and using it to sell, sell, sell. As if being invisible isn’t bad enough as a Stage IV patient. Maybe I’d be noticed if I were prettier. Who knows? Maybe we’d have a cure if we were all a lot cuter and happier about fighting cancer.

  6. Linda Podhorski says:

    I felt that your Breast Cancer commercial was very insensitive to anyone who is going through Breast Cancer, those who have had it or affected family members. It looked like a fun time getting together with girlfriends. Perhaps you should have had it viewed by those affected prior to releasing it.

  7. Mary E Haugh says:

    I hate this commercial, 15 years after treatment, it gives me chills, i don’t need a reminder, what the hell are you thinking? Oh sure cancer is just a chic party with your chemo buddies, get real. Brandi states it well. Take it off the air or talk to real survivors not some ad rookies take on cancer.

  8. Jennifer says:

    I was so glad to read this article. I myself have not battled breast cancer, therefore I do not have the insight that you do, I just knew I did not like this commercial. I recently lost my sis-in-law/best friend to breast cancer and all I know is that it was not pretty and was not fun as this commercial suggests…put on a blue wig and dance around, have the time of your live????!!! Really???!!! I will be praying for yo u and your continued battle.

  9. Keith says:

    I totally agree with Brandi. This commercial pissed me off when I saw it, and it makes me sick. My wife is a stage 3 breast cancer survivor, and this commercial does not resemble anything of what that experience was like. Get a clue Walgreens!

  10. Donna says:

    I am a 2X Breast Cancer SURVIVOR, Chemo & Radiation the first time then Bilateral Masectomy & Chemo the 2nd time and I’m NOT offended by the commercial at all. It’s trying to depict the fact that you can “look good & feel good “ while battling Breast Cancer. The only thing I can’t make out is what they are spelling.

  11. Linda Manganello says:

    Hi, y’all are so hard on yourself. The fact that women and men, to include children have or will be diagnosed with breast cancer is, yes, horrifying. For a Company to try and lift your spirits up by way of a commercial, how dare they! They did a DAMM good job! YES! I’m going thru hell right after ya’ll, DCIS and no, not pretty, glamorous or funny. But, I have to get thru every minute, day, month and year and this commercial on TV makes me smile. I smile knowing that somewhere other than where I am somebody could be doing the same. It’s what YOU do for yourself is most important. Great job Walgreens. My name is Linda I have DCIS. I am a FT Mastectomy Fitter and Compression Fitter and I have 1000s of beautiful women & men patient’s inside & out!

  12. Michelle says:

    I am not one who gets offended easily but as a breast cancer survivor, I can no longer stomach watching this commercial. Everything about it is offensive, even the song lyrics. Frankly, the only word I can even make out is the spelling of the word F E M A L E! Really Walgreens? What are you thinking?!!! Please take it off the air!!!

  13. Lisa L. says:

    I concur with Brandi also! Breast cancer is never pretty and stage IV metastatic breast cancer is even uglier. I am stage IV, 2 years in and grateful for every day I have. However, every single month,I only have about 2 or 3 days of actual energy which are without having to push myself to do any small task. Last week I asked my local Walgreens clerk if this program existed in our store. I knew the answer would be no as its a very small town. She also told me that it’s not available in many of the stores. Not surprisingly, the commercial doesn’t state “Only available in select stores.” Ha! And I’m so very happy it isn’t available readily! What you are depicting is a fake fantasy and beyond insulting to any cancer patient. Please remove this commercial. It gets me very upset and I can’t change the channel quick enough with my anti cancer meds induced neuropathy.

  14. Wainwright says:

    First of all the music is disgusting, not a fan of the commercial at all

    • Kathy P says:

      Sickening commercial. My mom went through hell and terrible side effects from chemo and radiation. The music is horrid. Women all laughing and smiling and putting on pink wigs. C’mon.

  15. Beth says:

    Two years in, my experience is mine and not the party like in this ad. I do restorative yoga, when I can. I have my hair but my confidence and strength are a wash. ALL ads, especially the one about the woman with MBC teaching and living a full and vigorous life since she’s taking big pharma’s great medicine, trigger my anxiety. As for Walgreen’s, my experience was a clerk unable to direct me to what I needed and a pushy impatient customer (located behind me in line) saying all I had to do was walk around the store and read the signs to find what I wanted. My takeaway, shop elsewhere, especially when I’m not up to it. And, I’m using the motorized shopping carts on an as needed basis. Just do it.

  16. sara M. says:

    As a former pharmacist for Walgreens- to say that Walgreens is out of touch with reality – doesn’t even scratch the surafce. As a pharmacist – I knew all my patients and they always felt like they were my only patient. Ands that is how it should be. My patients were like my family. Walgreens doesn’t care about any of that sadly. Corporate agenda always trumped patient priorities

  17. Crystal says:

    Just like you said not everyone goes through what was in the commercial but in the same reply not everyone goes through it like you either. My mom had 4’ of long black hair (she’s Cherokee). She went in to have her hair cut short because the doctor wanted her to get it cut because with that much weight it would fall out fast so she did. She went in and the first lady tried to cut through it but couldn’t. The lady was in tears. My mother told her it’s just hair, cut it off and give an indian yell. She couldn’t so she had the other lady do it. When she got through the pony tail she gave out a yell and swung it around. My mom joined her. When she saw her doctor next she had a bob and had already started her treatments. She walked up to him and said her hair actually felt good. She told him to put his fingers through it. He did. She said get a good hold. So he did she pulled her head away leaving his hand full of hair. She laughed her head off. He laughed and cried. She said if you don’t laugh you cry and she was a laugher. She did step aerobics, yoga and sweating to the oldies all while wearing shunts etc. she attended a class while staying at the Hope Lodge in Gainesville Florida where they did laugh therapy. They told jokes, watched comedies, brought in fun wigs to trade around, dance around and just laugh. That group was made up of some of the most amazing women. My mom may not have worked for Walgreens but she gave makeup advice all the time. She was a self made makeup artist due to having to put on eyebrows and try not too look so thin and sick. She fought with a smile on her face all the way up to the day she passed. I was 16 but she taught me you can either fight to the end and maybe win or let everything defeat you from the beginning. So don’t tell people that’s not how people act when going through cemo. My mom DID act like them along with a lot of other women. The commercial was depicting those women who DO act like that. If they did a somber commercial with women sitting and relaxing that would depict a group of people who do that not everyone does. They could also do one where the woman went flying and skydiving. I know one who did through her treatments. There are women who are hiking, go karting and hunting. Not everyone reacts the same way but to criticize Walgreen’s commercial all because you didn’t react that way is wrong. Everyone handles things different. You should rejoice in the abilities and the goals that are achieved everyday because everyday is another day to achieve more. I lost my mom but she taught me so much in life and in passing. My daughter has many health issues she has been going through and treatments but she also has the same fire as her grandmother. My mom would not live to meet her granddaughters but they all have the same fire. That is what she passed down to them.

  18. Mags says:

    I would just like to echo everything Brandi pointed out, even though my recent cancer experience pales in comparison to what Brandi has endured. Still, prior to my cancer Dx, I only knew the guy @ the Rx counter in my local Walgreens from Saturday nights at the bar across the road. Now he knows every tablet, cream, suppository, capsule, lotion, drops, spray and whoknowswhatelse Rx I use; I see him more frequently than I did at the bar, sometimes even multiple times a day! And I can’t say anyone there has ever even acknowledged/recognized that I am a breast cancer patient (I did cold caps, so I just had to wrap my head during chemo, to cover all the bald spots at the back and sides of my head, but was not completely bald nor wearing a traditional chemo wrap, so perhaps they could have been forgiven for not realizing just what it was had me standing in line looking like a warmed-up zombie), let alone given me a hug or even a sympathetic nod to my plight. Instead they usually scream “NEXT” followed by a VERY AUDIBLE SIGH, as they realise the line keeps getting longer and presumably they’d like a break from their … job.
    Btw, I haven’t even seen the tv commercial as thankfully I don’t watch much tv, and when I do I ffw through the ads. I have, however, seen the rather large poster of the smiling post-menopausal-looking woman with those luscious eyelashes. It is hard to miss the poster every time I enter your store to pick up yet another Rx, since it’s probably taller than I am. Over a year out from chemo here, and while I have menopause in common with her [except mine is chemically-induced, which is even worse than it sounds], I still have no eyelashes (I am allergic to every damn thing marketed as promoting eyelash growth – thanks cancer), and draw on eyebrows every morning. So I won’t be needing your eye makeup aisle, not that I would ever buy anything in your store which is applied topically or consumed, or in any way likely to enter my bloodstream and fill it with petrochemical byproducts which cause cancer. Because once was enough for me, thanks very much.

  19. Terry Hebert says:

    I had DCIS 7 years ago and 28 radiation treatments. I have
    a clean report now, but still fear mammography every year.
    I was disgusted the first time I saw this commercial and am
    nauseated every time it is run — I mute the TV and leave the room until it is over. I agree with every one of these negative comments about the commercial from cancer patients.

  20. Linda says:

    I find this ad shockingly insensitive as a suffering, bald, stage IV victim of cancer.

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