Let's Talk About the C-Word: Leanne's Story.


A powerful piece of film content produced to resonate with people living with cancer. The film gives the account of one individual’s tough journey through life – told in her own words – and her subsequent breast cancer diagnosis. Leanne Pero speaks with raw passion, explaining the stigma and shame attached to a cancer diagnosis in her community, and how she found new meaning and friendship after creating a group that brought Black women together to challenge those deep prejudices.

Launched in summer 2022, within the first couple of weeks, the video had garnered huge support from the cancer community.


In a world where one in two people will receive a cancer diagnosis, and often live with it for decades, experts have argued that the perceptions of cancer need to become more honest – beyond the extremes of deaths and cures.

Yet, when we investigated how the pharmaceutical industry traditionally talk about cancer, we discovered many companies still spoke about it as a disease to be beaten or cured. And our audiences hated it.

We needed to produce meaningful video content that would change the conversation and empower people living with cancer to feel heard.


Research we conducted among people living with cancer clearly told us that it was time to tell a new story. A story that would stand out from the pack by exploring the under-recognized complexities of living with cancer.

“[Pharma] dumbs down the conversation too much when they talk about cures.”

Patient, Novartis interviews

You need to embrace the dirtiness that is cancer and educate about complexity.

Patient, Novartis interviews

When I hear talk about cures, I can’t bear it…it’s too simple and not honest really.

Cancer nurse, Novartis interviews

Pharma talking about cures prays on peoples hopes.

Healthcare professional, Novartis interviews

An authenticity is missing. Sometimes cancer is pretty and sometimes it’s not, and we need to give space for that authenticity.

Patient, Novartis interviews

Strategy & Approach.

After several months of research, including developing ‘written portraits’ of people living with cancer, the experiences of healthcare professionals (HCPs), and conducting conversation analyses across traditional and social media, we identified an opportunity – and need – to present a more nuanced story.

It was evident that we needed to help to normalize cancer and educate people that a cancer diagnosis isn't the end.

We developed three creative territories from themes identified during our research with patients and HCPs – in some cases based on verbatim comments.

  1. Words Matter. For some, there is stigma, blame or shame attached to a cancer diagnosis, or the words we use. How the world talks about cancer can be as difficult for those with a diagnosis as treating the disease. 
  2. Radical Honesty. Cancer treatment isn’t just about cures or longer life – it’s about how you want to live. Because, ultimately, there’s more to the science than breakthrough drugs and miracle cures.
  3. Embracing Complexity. Cancer is messy, complex and individual. There is no easy one-size-fits-all solution to the treatment. Because cancer is messy and complex.

By channeling these territories into our overall creative – “Let’s Talk About the C Word” – we aimed to subvert the usual expectations of a pharma-sector cancer film, by replacing bombastic talk of “cures” and “conquering” with a new, empathetic narrative that would truly resonate.


Let’s Talk About the C Word tells the story of award-winning entrepreneur Leanne Pero MBE, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 30.

For most, a cancer diagnosis is just part of the story. What comes before and after that diagnosis should all be part of the conversation. We hear about Leanne’s upbringing, her love of dance, her challenges with racist abuse at an early age and sexual abuse in her teens.

Set against this background, we have a far greater understanding of the impact of being diagnosed with cancer at such an early age.

Leanne speaks with raw passion, recounting what going through a diagnosis felt like, the stigma and shame that can be attached to it, as well as her experiences of treatment. But most importantly, Leanne speaks about what it’s like coming out the other side, including the creation of Black Women Rising - an organization she created with the aim of giving voice to women like her who she felt were not represented when it came to talking about cancer.

Leanne helps normalize talking about cancer and educate others that a cancer diagnosis isn’t the end. At one point she even tells us that cancer made her life “better”.

The film is told through a mixture of interviews with Leanne, personal photos, news, magazine stories and social media. It is supported by hand drawn animation to help tell aspects of the story that either couldn’t be supported by traditional documentary techniques or where extra sensitivity was required. These animations add another vital texture to the film giving it a unique character but also adding to the power of some of the most emotional moments of Leanne’s story.

There are no limits in life. We need to continue the conversations about cancer. It's about normalizing that cancer is part of our everyday lives. And it’s about creating healthy conversation.

Leanne Pero, MBE
14.5 million
Reached by video assets.
6.6 million

Results & Learnings.

The campaign was designed so that different pieces of the film could live independently of one another, allowing us to greatly extend the life and reach of the content.

  • The hero film was rolled out across Novartis channels.
  • A series of shorter “moving portraits” helped drive viewers to the hero film through enticing snippets.
  • Additional bitesize assets were created to go deeper into the themes of embracing complexity, radical honesty, and the importance of language.
  • Across all platforms (Meta, LinkedIn, Twitter, Youtube), our video assets reached over 14.5 million people receiving more than 6.6 million views and generating over 90k engagements.
  • Teaser launched on Meta (Facebook and Instagram) achieved over 800k video views, with a VR of 80.41% massively exceeding its Benchmark of 18.74%.
  • Launch on LinkedIn (targeting HCP audience) achieved almost 700k video views with a VR of 32.60%.
  • Launch on Meta (Instagram and Facebook) achieved almost 2.5 million video views with a VR of 62.95%.
  • Launch on Twitter achieved 1.5 million video views with a VR of 42.28%
  • Reception from viewers and cancer influencers was overwhelmingly positive.

What you have created is both powerful and moving…There is no escaping that people die, but some people go on to live many years and others whole lifetimes. It is important we see the breadth of stories around the disease both living and dying with cancer in all its complexities.”

Cara Hoofe, Campaigner diagnosed with bowel cancer


Let’s Talk About the C Word: talking honestly about cancer

A powerful piece of film content produced to resonate with people living with cancer.

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