CITIZEN JOURNALISM: True blue well-being

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CITIZEN JOURNALISM:

Women wear their pink ribbons and red dresses; now men can sport blue pins, hats, caps, mugs and rubber bracelets.

Pink, as most know by now, symbolizes the walks, screenings and public-awareness campaigns about breast cancer. Red dresses were adopted as the symbol for the Go Red for Women campaign by the American Heart Association to prevent coronary heart disease and stroke.

Borrowing from these successful color-coded playbooks, leaders of Men’s Health Network and its offshoot, Women Against Prostate Cancer, started a similar Wear Blue campaign to raise awareness about men’s health issues, especially preventing prostate cancer.

“It’s about time we had something for men,” said Scott Williams, vice president of the Men’s Health Network (MHN) and co-founder of Women Against Prostate Cancer (WAPC). “Blue makes sense for men and is a great rallying cry for men and their families. We’re excited by the potential for it.”

Still in its first year, the nascent Wear Blue initiative is just part of the larger D.C.-based Men’s Health Network awareness campaigns to get more men to take preventive health care measures before it’s too late. Approximately 185,000 men are diagnosed and approximately 28,000 men in the U.S. die each year of prostate cancer. Black men die at twice the rate of the general population, according to the Men’s Health Policy Center, based on 2005 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Take-charge Betty Gallo turned her grief over losing her husband, Rep. Dean A. Gallo, New Jersey Republican, into a movement not only to discover better preventive and testing measures to stamp out prostate cancer, but also to give women a place to talk about how to cope with the emotionally and physically debilitating disease in their partners.

Mrs. Gallo, founder of the Dean and Betty Gallo Prostate Cancer Center at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey and also co-founder of WAPC, maintains that her husband, who died at age 58, would be alive today had some of these preventive resources been in place earlier. He had stage 4 cancer by the time he was diagnosed.

She stresses that prostate cancer “does not affect men alone.”

As the debate rages about health care reform, MHN has been lobbying quietly for passage of a bill that would establish a Men’s Health Office in the Department of Health and Human Services similar to the Women’s Health Office established in the early 1990s.

Rep. Baron P. Hill, Indiana Democrat, and Rep. Tim Murphy, Pennsylvania Republican, introduced the Men and Families Health Care Act of 2009 in April to establish the office.

“Men are socialized to ignore their health; they have to be at death’s door to go to the doctor,” Mr. Williams said. “They think it’s not OK to discuss health issues, [that] it’s [not] a manly thing to do, but we show it’s OK.”

Men’s Health Network (www.menshealthnetwork.org) “is a national non-profit organization whose mission is to reach men and their families where they live, work, play, and pray with health prevention messages and tools, screening programs, educational materials, advocacy opportunities, and patient navigation,” according to its Web site.

Among its more popular resources is the “Blueprint for Men’s Health,” a small book in which “each chapter focuses on a single condition or group of related conditions effecting men.” The Web site says the book “discusses the factors that increase health risks, shows how to recognize symptoms, and gives practical, easy-to-implement prevention strategies.”

Mr. Williams, 27, of Bangor, Pa., became an advocate for men’s health issues after he contracted Lyme disease as a teenager and was required to take antibiotics for 18 months. He had appendicitis as well during the time. “I was suffering from serious health issues,” he said.

“As much as it kicked my butt, it taught me about patient information,” said Mr. Williams, who developed “a burning desire to do patient education and patient information.”

Now Mr. Williams wakes up every day looking forward to his work with MHN, which provides health care screenings where it is comfortable and convenient for people. He says he wants to “help change the mind-set to prevention and early detection.”

“That’s what health care reform is really all about,” Mr. Williams said. “Get in early, seek preventive health care and detect problems before they get worse.”

Mr. Williams said he hopes the Wear Blue campaign will prove “catchy and resonate with men and their families.”

MHN and WAPC, with their 1,400 partners in 20 states around the country, are encouraging people to host Wear Blue events in their offices, job sites and places of worship and in community groups. Harley-Davidson USA sponsored a Wear Blue event in June, and Chrysler LLC held a similar event in Auburn Hills, Mich., late last year, he said. MHN also sponsors Men’s Health Month during June to coincide with Father’s Day.

The Wear Blue campaign, according to its Web site, has four objectives: “to remind men the importance of staying healthy; to become part of a national movement; to let men know we care”; and “to keep men healthy and alive.”

There is an ongoing, increasing and predominantly silent crisis in the health and well-being of men, advocates say. Because of a lack of awareness, poor health education and culturally induced behavioral patterns in men’s work and personal lives, men’s health and well-being are deteriorating steadily, they say.

Wear Blue paraphernalia “is a physical piece [for women] to get their man in to the doctor,” Mr. Williams said.

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