Beilue: Illnesses similiar, but awareness differs
Friends of Fogelberg encourages people to ‘Think Blue, Too’
Joe Ed Coffman was 49 in 2007, the year Dan Fogelberg, one of his musical inspirations, died of prostate cancer. Coffman was entering the prime age that prostate cancer strikes.
He knew a lot about Fogelberg’s music, but not so much about what ended his life at age 56.
“I didn’t even know what a prostate was,” Coffman said. “I never even heard of it. I didn’t know. I think a lot of men are just ignorant to it.”
Since then, Coffman has carried the torch locally for prostate cancer awareness and fundraising. He started Friends of Fogelberg, a grassroots movement that legally became a second-party fundraiser.
Its primary event is a benefit concert where, beginning in 2008, local musicians came together every other year for a message and music. The last two concerts, including one in July, helped raise nearly $30,000 apiece for the Don & Sybil Harrington Cancer Center for screenings for indigent and uninsured men. Free screenings for any men are scheduled for Sept. 22.
In a secret right up there with the Mason’s handshake, September is prostate cancer awareness month. Who knew? Probably not a lot of men, though a major step like Sunday’s blue Amarillo Globe-News, spearheaded by Dr. Gerald Holman, is progress.
“There are more good causes out there than you can shake a stick at,” Coffman said, “and most good causes have a lot of people blowing their horn. Not too many people I’m aware of are blowing the horn on behalf of prostate cancer. Hopefully, the blue newspaper will have that effect.”
At the end of September, the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure will take over downtown Amarillo. That’s instant recognition and name identification for a national brand.
Last year, more than 5,000 people entered the Amarillo event, turning the heart of downtown into a lively corporate and community cause in the fight against breast cancer.
This is what organized, motivated, committed women can do, compared to what mostly disinterested men won’t. Komen is the 30-year-old foundation with 124 network affiliates that has invested $2 billion to fight breast cancer.
Prostate cancer groups have been mostly a collection of underfunded, loosely organized groups that meet with modest success.
“Komen has done such an outstanding job, and had the ways and means to keep it going,” said Dr. Richard Kibbey, an Amarillo urologist who was diagnosed with prostate cancer 17 years ago. “For me, there hasn’t ever been a similar leading force. Women are just great activists when it comes to health issues.”
The two cancers are almost identical in their incidence and death rate.
The Komen Foundation estimates 226,870 new cases of breast cancer and 39,500 deaths in 2012. With rare exceptions, it exclusively strikes women.
The National Cancer Institute estimates prostate cancer striking more men this year — 241,000 — but with a lower death rate of around 32,000.
What is not similar is funding and awareness. Federal funding in 2010 for breast cancer research was $890 million, more than twice the $400 million for prostate cancer. Again, much of that can be traced to women’s focus on health and men’s inattention.
“Women are diagnosed and they’re out there getting information, going online, talking to friends, looking for others with similar diagnoses,” said Dan Zenka, senior vice president of communications for the Prostate Cancer Foundation. “Many men want to shut down and take care of the problem and say they’ve never had it.
“Women will get behind the cause afterward, and men just haven’t done that, especially when you’re talking diseases below the belt.”
There’s more of a bonding among women, which leads to strength in numbers, which leads to more money, more education, better organization.
“There’s not the same dynamic when you compare the sisterhood of women to the brotherhood of men,” said Jamie Bearse, spokesman for Zero — The Project to End Prostate Cancer.
“Women create a sisterhood around the same interests and concerns. Men, when it comes to prostate cancer, don’t consider forming a brotherhood until after they’ve got it. Even then, a lot of men heap themselves with shame.”
Reality says prostate cancer funding, matching the branding of Komen’s color of pink, will never equal that of breast cancer activists. But Coffman knows men can do much better, locally and nationally.
He knows with just more organization and commitment, and a little bit more help in the corporate world, more men beginning at 50 will know the importance of annual testing. And those who know the importance but can’t afford the cost will still have the means for screening.
Last year 300 men took advantage of free screening at Harrington, and of those, 10 were flagged for further tests. That’s motivation to keep pounding the drum.
“Our slogan is ‘Think Blue Too,’” Coffman said. “It’s a little play on words on their ‘Think Pink.’ Everyone has heard of that. Hopefully, it will get across the message not to forget us men.”
Jon Mark Beilue is a Globe-News columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com or 806-345-3318. His blog appears on amarillo.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jonmarkbeilue.
“Our slogan is ‘Think Blue Too, it’s a little play on words on their ‘Think Pink.’ Everyone has heard of that. Hopefully, it will get across the message not to forget us men.” – Joe Ed Coffman
Photo credit – Nancy Smith-Blackwell
B to F L to R in photo:
Bob Flesher, Woody Key, Drexel Ammons, Jackie Anderson, Don Sanders, Steve Hathaway, Joe Ed Coffman, Scott Nall, Kim Loe,
Robert Workman, Dr. Richard Kibbey, Mike Fuller, James P. Davis, Dean Yates, Mary Lyn Halley, Chuck Alexander, Vic Richardson, Charlie Clinton
Russell Steadman, Irma-Esther Arambula, Bond Jessup, Ray Higgs, Madison Jackson, Cathleen Tyson, Maggie Scales-Peacock, Bill Ockander
Written by John Beilue