Letter to myself: In Merck campaign, cancer patients look back on their diagnoses with heartfelt advice

Patients and caregivers recount their stories and offer advice to themselves, looking back to the time when they were diagnosed, in Merck’s new “With Love, Me” campaign. The heartfelt videos recount fears and worries and struggles and triumphs through the lens of each patient.

In online videos, one patient says, “You’ll barely be able to recount what the doctors said,” while another notes with emphasis, “Definitely avoid Dr. Google.” Some of their advice? Set boundaries, ask for help, get angry, keep doing the things you love and continue living.

The letters are a way for the patients not only to tell their personal stories, but also to share what they’ve learned with others facing cancer and tell them the things they wish they had known at diagnosis, said Nancy Ibach, executive director and consumer and digital strategy lead for U.S. Oncology at Merck. Through its advocacy partners and its own research, Merck found that patients want to speak with and learn from other patients who are in similar situations.

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The letter campaign extends Merck’s “Your Cancer Game Plan” effort and includes a few familiar faces. Jim Kelly, former Buffalo Bills star quarterback and head and neck cancer survivor, reads his letter in one video, as does former college soccer recruit and lung cancer survivor Taylor Bell Duck. Both were featured in the awareness campaign previously. There are currently seven patients telling their stories at WithLoveMe.com across a range of cancers including bladder, melanoma, lung and head and neck, with more to be added as the campaign progresses.

Merck is collaborating on the campaign with journalist and author Katie Couric, who is also a well-known cancer advocate and co-founder of nonprofit Stand Up to Cancer, to spread the word and help tell patient stories.

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“Having lost both my husband Jay and sister Emily to this disease, as well as my mother-in-law and too many friends, I know firsthand how traumatic and isolating it can be,” Couric said in a press release. “Finding a community of people going through similar situations can be incredibly useful and comforting to patients and caregivers alike.”

The next phase of the campaign will include working with more than 12 advocacy organizations already involved in searching for ways to take the stories and create new ones at a more local level through community events. 

Merck's PD-1 immuno-oncology drug Keytruda is on a tear, taking in sales of $2.27 billion in the first quarter of the year. Keytruda now makes up more than one-fifth of Merck's business, but that growing share has worried analysts in light of a pipeline they find less interesting.