Paper Money

Special 'notes’ focus on metastatic breast cancer

“While few understand the value a life with metastatic breast cancer holds…everyone understands the value of money.”

That is the rationale behind the Cancer Currency, a campaign focusing on metastatic breast cancer, by Europa Donna (the European Breast Cancer Coalition) and VML Health, part of the VML worldwide creative agency. Its aim is to ensure for the first time direct recognition and funding for metastatic breast cancer within Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan. The plan is described as a political commitment by the European Union directed to fight all cancers with innovative technologies, research and innovation and creating a new approach to cancer prevention, treatment and care.

Metastatic breast cancer is an incurable cancer. Of all breast cancer patients, 20% to 30% go on to develop MBC, in addition to the 10% who are diagnosed with MBC from the onset. Yet many breast cancer policies, support programs, budgets, and investments concentrate mostly on prevention, detection, and the initial stages of the disease.

Europa Donna is campaigning specifically for improvements in MBC awareness, data collection, treatment access and social and psychological support.

The Cancer Currency is an example of using money to send that message. It is not legal tender, but is still meant to circulate, as what its creators call, “the most valuable currency in the world.”  It is made to be shared, so that it may highlight the value those living with MBC still have to offer the world and to demand greater government investment.

It is also being called an “interactive currency” in that, after exploring the notes themselves, users can help raise awareness of this incurable disease and the value of those living with it by sharing the currency with others.

It features five women, one on each note — Carla (Portugal and Britain), Claudia (Austria), Joyce (Cyprus), Paola (Italy), and Simona (Slovenia). The number of years each has lived with MBC takes the place of the denomination. In lieu of serial numbers are numbers signifying important moments in each subject’s life. For example, Claudia’s serial number 2008 38 2013 47 denotes that she married 2008, was 38 years old when she was diagnosed in 2013, and is 47 years old today. Other design elements consist of symbols and words important to each subject.

The notes were created by Brian Thompson, who designed and developed the notes using the same techniques as for other currencies, to retain as much authenticity as possible.

Thompson is far from a stranger to note design. He has worked in the field for 36 years and has been a journeyman banknote designer for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing for 31 of them. (The BEP refers to all its note designers as “journeymen.” Merriam Webster defines it as a worker who has learned a trade and works for another person. The usage traces back to the Middle Ages and has nothing to do with travel.) He is the artist and designer of the current United States $50 and $100 Federal Reserve notes and has the distinction of being the first African American to design U.S. currency. He said, “It was very important to be a part of the Cancer Currency project to give back to my community in the form of art and design to help with the awareness of metastatic breast cancer. I personally have various family and friends who have suffered with the disease.”

Four of the women of the campaign presented their bank notes to Stella Kyriakides, the European Commissioner for health food and safety, at Europa Donna’s annual conference. The fifth, Simona Ahcin, passed away last year. She was represented by her sister and daughter, in delivering what was called “a poignant reminder of the importance of time and speed of action.”

In response, Kyriakides announced the first specific funding allocation for metastatic breast cancer.

Europa Donna is using its initial success with the Cancer Currency campaign to call on legislators and policymakers across Europe to do more to address the disease as a health policy priority.

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