The Prostate Cancer Symbol Debate

Ribbons and Walnuts animation: 44K

Green or blue ribbons - or walnuts for the walnut-sized gland? Prostate cancer survivors need to choose symbols. Choose them, make them widely recognized, and use them for raising awareness and money for research.

Wearing an emblem is both a personal decision and a link, a sign of connection. The choices will reverberate when activists contact local newspapers and TV stations and announce a campaign. Easy to say -- pin a ribbon on your  mayor. Hand them out at the ball game. Some people are doing this already. What to pin -- a walnut emblem or a ribbon? Green or blue or both?

During last fall's Senate hearing on prostate cancer, C-Span viewers got a good look at the walnut. Rick Ward, a prostate cancer survivor in Deer Lake, Montana gave his Congressional representative Senator Conrad Burns a gold walnut on a key chain.  Burns presented this gift to Robert Dole. Burns had helped Ward, a Veteran, to obtain due benefits and Dole is both a Veteran and a prostate cancer survivor. Senator Burns presented the golden walnut as though it were a medal for surviving this disease.

denim ribbonMedals need ribbons; ribbons touch the heart through the emotional power of color associations plus the appeal of simplicity. And of course the walnut as an emblem is a brilliant analogy for picturing what's inside the male body. Urologists use it all the time. For promoting prevention and early detection the walnut is perfect.

Consider men who've just been told they have prostate cancer -- currently 300,000 men every year. For many, the best treatment choices involve getting rid of the prostate through surgery, some form of radiation, and/or androgen blockade.  We commend the initiative of those who've promoted the walnut emblem. We ask them to support a Prostate Cancer Ribbon Campaign. We are talking about an emblem not just for early detection but for prostate cancer veterans. What color ribbon will make a fitting award and tribute to men who are dancing with the bear that rips out this walnut-sized gland?

NPCC logoSymbols  and colors are already on offer. Some are under-promoted and not widely recognized, some are corporate and cold. Take a look at the logo of the National Prostate Cancer Coalition (NPCC). Businesslike. US-TOO and the American Foundation for Urologic Disease (AFUD)sell necktie-shaped pins ($4:00).  The Mathews Foundation for Prostate Cancer Research mails out a green-enameled metal ribbon symbolizing hope and money for research ($5:00 donation). How many survivors, though, actually recognize, wear and care about these pins?

Starting fresh with a simple fabric ribbon may help with fundraising. Voices on behalf of a Blue Denim Ribbon stress its plain availability. If some people prefer green, pin them together. One way or another we need to hitch the walnut as a symbol of early detection onto a major ribbon campaign on behalf of money for a Cure.

For this to happen we in the prostate cancer survivor/supporter community need to believe these choices matter. They're urgent. We 're not talking trinkets or crass P-R. The time for wearing and promoting emblems is now. The National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship (NCCS) has issued a call for The March on Washington in September '98.  This sets a target for raising prostate cancer awareness. The NPCC tabled the ribbon issue last fall. Without carping, it seems fair to say NPCC still is not tuned in to opportunities for corporate fund raising. NPCC President Jay Hedlund says that on October 23, 1997 the NPCC board "reaffirmed that the primary and overriding objective of the NPCC is advocacy for increased federal funding for research for prostate cancer." What about commerical sponsorships?

Mr. Mackey McDonaldThe biggest US manufacturer of jeans and other apparel is VF Corporation headquartered in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania. VF owns Lee, Wrangler, Riders, and Rustler. Last October 10 was Lee National Denim Day. This annual event raises money for breast cancer. If you support the idea of a Prostate Cancer Awareness Campaign, and if you agree, a blue denim ribbon might make a great symbol, take a look at how Lee National Denim exceeded its goal of raising $2 million dollars for breast cancer research. Scroll down their page and see how the pink ribbon turns the color of dollar bills.

VF Corporation's CEO, Mackey J. McDonald has a prostate.  Good reason for him to identify with the race for a cure for Prostate Cancer.  Mr. McDonald does business on the Internet.  He wants more of us to shop for clothes by computer. Wouldn't it make sense to ask him (and manufacturers like him) to support a Prostate Cancer Ribbon Campaign?

Follow up with Howard Waage's ribbon survey and an interview with Antonio Vallone.