Quest for blue paper raises prostate cancer awareness
“Thank you for increasing awareness of breast cancer with Saturday’s pink paper. Next September — we missed this past month’s prostate awareness month — perhaps you could increase awareness of prostate cancer by printing the paper in a light blue hue, the national symbol for prostate cancer.”
— Gerald H. Holman, Amarillo
Dr. Gerald Holman rested in bed at his Wolflin house last week. Three pillows propped up his head. If he needed Audrey, his wife of nearly 59 years, he lightly tapped the wall behind him.
Spread out on the king-sized bed were an iPhone, an iPad and medications in a small zipped bag. A glass of water was at his side, and he frequently took a long draw from it.
“Thanks for coming,” he said. “Sorry I can’t get up.”
His 83-year-old body, underneath light gold pajamas, was thin and frail. But his voice was strong, his mind alert and his focus was on others, not himself.
“I’ll be dead in a month,” he said almost matter-of-factly. “At the most, three months.”
Holman said he had some goals he likely won’t make. He wants to see who wins the November presidential election. He and Audrey wanted to return to their beloved Sanibel Island in Florida, but he’s too weak for that. He dearly wants to make it to Sept. 25, his 59th wedding anniversary.
Without Audrey, he said, he wouldn’t have made it this far.
But there was a more immediate goal.
“It’s only a few days away,” he said, “and I think I’ll make that.”
It was to see the Amarillo Globe-News printed on light blue paper. Don’t adjust your newspaper. It’s intentional.
Getting across a message
Holman’s letter to the editor was published in October. It was a few days after the Globe-News printed a pink newspaper to highlight breast cancer awareness month, and two months after he was diagnosed with bladder cancer, which ultimately will take his life.
Prostate cancer has been like a thief in the bodies of Holman and his family members, stealing life, stealing health, stealing peace of mind. Holman was diagnosed in 1991, and was given only a 20 percent chance of living five years.
An older brother died of the cancer. A younger brother was stricken. A son, Kevin, was diagnosed five years ago with prostate cancer on the day he was to leave Denver for Africa to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. While being treated in Atlanta, he sent his father a card of various cancers with corresponding colors that symbolized support. Prostate cancer’s color was light blue.
“I thought nothing more about it,” Holman said, “and then the pink newspaper came out. I said, ‘Damn those women, they’ve done it again.’ They are so well organized. Any women’s group that can get NFL players to wear pink shoelaces has some kind of panache.
“We’ll never emulate the women. That was never my goal. They’re too smart, too organized. We men aren’t nearly as smart as they are, but it’s a start.”
So he wrote the short letter, and it was published. Joe Ed Coffman, who began Friends of Fogelberg, a prostate cancer awareness group in 2008, read it and had a eureka moment.
“Like a brick in the head, it caught my attention,” Coffman said. “What’s funny, I had already been thinking about that, and here Dr. Holman voiced what a lot of us were thinking.”
They met in May, decided to join forces with Friends of Fogelberg and Holman’s connections. He elicited support from friends, and met with AGN Media Publisher Les Simpson to hammer out costs and other details.
Two grandsons, Matthew and Christopher Peel in New Haven, Conn., heard what their grandfather was attempting and sent a $10,000 donation through their father’s foundation that more than made up the difference.
“This was entirely Dr. Holman’s idea. He wanted to make this happen, and he helped get the community behind him on this. We are proud to help bring awareness to this issue,” Simpson said.
“A lot of newspapers have published pink newspapers recognizing efforts to fight breast cancer, but we may be the first to use blue newspapers to do the same with prostate cancer.”
Sunday’s color message is simple.
Men approaching 50 need to get screened annually. There is some controversy over the accuracy of one of the tests, the PSA (protein-specific antigen), but Holman said he thinks it’s worth trying.
“You can’t stick your head in the sand,” he said. “It can’t be swept under the rug. We want to get people’s attention that if diagnosed early and properly, it’s entirely curable. You don’t have to die from it. With proper medical attention and care, and wise counsel, it’s a curable disease.”
‘Lives life with passion’
Holman, a native of Winnipeg, Canada, has come full circle. He began his career nearly 60 years ago as a pediatrician, studying at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He came to Amarillo in December 1979, the first academic dean of the Texas Tech medical school.
Soon, though, he left teaching and found his calling. He was on the forefront of hospice care locally and nationally.
He helped start hospices and was either hospice director or medical director at St. Anthony’s Hospital, the Thomas E. Creek Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Crown of Texas Hospice and, after retiring a second time, came back to help start Hospice Care of the Southwest. He finally stayed retired in 2010. The in-patient unit at Childers Place is named for him.
“I wouldn’t be getting the care I’m getting if I didn’t have something to do with starting hospice in Amarillo,” he said.
Holman might not live to see the leaves change, but he’s comforted that in his last months and weeks, his mark might be that he helped change the attitude of men.
“The most courageous thing about him is he’s not wallowing in his sorrow or crying about his problem,” Coffman said. “He’s trying to do something about changing lives in the future. This is not about him.
“He could have gone off, been quiet, said to heck with the world, got mad and died. But he’s tried to do what he can to prevent men from going through a needless cancer.”
Withdrawing, even in life’s twilight, isn’t something Holman would do.
“He lives life with passion,” said his wife, Audrey. “He learned to tap dance in his 70s. Jerry has met each challenge in life doing it that way. This is his last challenge.”
A newspaper in blue, the hue of an often- ignored message to men.