Asked about the thinking that gave rise to the “Uncovering TNBC” campaign, Merck associate VP of U.S. oncology Nancy Ibach frames it in the broader context of the company’s DE&I ambitions.

“Merck really takes to heart its diversity, equity and inclusion goals,” Ibach says. “That sounds broad and lofty, but it’s true. It guides everything that we do.”

In this instance, that means attempting to generate awareness of triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), which disproportionately impacts Black women. They are not only twice as likely to be diagnosed with TNBC, but also twice as likely to die from it.

The “triple negative” in the name of this particularly aggressive form of cancer refers to one of its particularities: It tests negative for estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors and excess HER2 protein. This means that the cancer does not respond to hormonal treatments or ones that target HER2 protein receptors.

Merck’s work with advocacy partners — the Tigerlily Foundation, Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation, Susan G. Komen and Living Beyond Breast Cancer — informed the testimonial-centric approach, Ibach said.

“We understand from our partners and from talking with patients that patients want to hear from other patients,” she explained. “They don’t feel alone when they see others like them who have a similar experience.”

That learning led Merck down the path of a docuseries focusing on the stories of TNBC survivors, with the three lengthy conversations around which the campaign is centered highlighting the issues facing Black women diagnosed with TNBC.

Ibach noted that Black women are often the primary caregivers for their families, and often forego screenings and other basic healthcare for themselves as they labor to take care of others. A historical mistrust of the healthcare system adds to the difficulty of the assignment.

“We needed to help people feel motivated and confident to have a discussion and ask the questions, to probe and be an advocate for themselves,” Ibach said.

Emmy-award-winning actor Yvonne Orji facilitated the three conversations, which span everything from frank discussion of racial bias in the healthcare system to friend-to-friend advice about navigating the personal and physical challenges of a cancer diagnosis. Ibach gives much of the credit for the power of the videos to Orji.

“By being unscripted, we got more out of it than we expected,” Ibach said. “We had developed some themes focused on self-care and advocacy, but it expanded and went beyond what we had hoped. Yvonne delivered this beyond our expectations.”

In addition to the videos, “Uncovering TNBC” includes a website with patient resources, among them a health-team discussion guide. “It helps patients who may not have the confidence at the first appointment to ask the important questions and be advocates for their health,” Ibach noted. “We are thrilled with the response we are getting and how we can shape health outcomes by getting people educated and motivated with the help of these amazing women who wanted to share their stories with us and the world.”