Unless you’ve got a personal connection to cancer, hearing the word “cancer” likely conjures up an image of the well-known light pink ribbon associated with breast cancer. Breast cancer awareness and funding is likely so strong because breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide. Organizations focused on breast cancer awareness are making great strides in widespread recognition of the disease. The National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC), for example, has raised more than $3.6 billion in federal funding for breast cancer research and created a nationwide advocacy network. NBCC’s successes undoubtedly makes it a role model for other cancer organizations.
After learning prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men, a group of advocates—including prostate cancer fighters, supporters and physicians—joined together in 1996 to create the NBCC of prostate cancer. They founded the National Prostate Cancer Coalition, known today as ZERO – The End of Prostate Cancer, and modeled it after the National Breast Cancer Coalition.
According to ZERO, a man dies from prostate cancer every 17 minutes in the United States. This rate adds up to about 86 prostate cancer-related deaths every day. Each year the number of deaths from prostate cancer increases, making prostate cancer the second most common cause of cancer death in men in the United States. “Prostate cancer is often referred to as a ’silent killer’ as it often presents no symptoms. Between this and the prevalence of the disease (it affects one in nine men), prostate cancer is a disease that all men should be aware of,” says Ilana Ostrin, director of communications at ZERO.
These statistics may sound discouraging, but ZERO has chosen to use them as fuel rather than fear in their fight against prostate cancer. Ostrin says she was drawn to the organization because she “wanted to make a difference for men and their families.” According to Ostrin, ZERO “is the leading national nonprofit with the mission to end prostate cancer. ZERO advances research, improves the lives of men and families and inspires action.”
Since its fruition, the National Prostate Cancer Coalition has upgraded their name to reflect the boldness of their mission, which is valiant and clear—to end prostate cancer. ZERO’s vision is a future with zero prostate cancer deaths. Ostrin reveals that they refer to this objective as “Generation ZERO.”
“That’s what we envision for the first generation of men free of prostate cancer, and the pain and suffering that comes with it,” she says.
In order to accomplish Generation ZERO, their first action included increasing public awareness of prostate cancer. ZERO brought the faces of prostate cancer to life by presenting Congress with testimony from fighters and survivors. These stories were the driving force to create the Prostate Cancer Research Program which has supported groundbreaking prostate cancer research since it was founded in 1997.
Ostrin says that the organization raises awareness through multiple activations, including “a national event series, various awareness activities such as Grow & Give, through federal and state advocacy, and through a network of empowered champions.”
Not only has ZERO raised awareness of the disease, but it has also created programs that provide support in a preventative, financial and educational manner. ZERO’s support programs aid in research for new treatments,
screenings, patient copays, and education for patients and patient families. “ZERO’s support is critical to patients and families,” Ostrin says. “ZERO offers crucial resources to men during their prostate cancer journey, from emotional support to financial assistance, and more.”
In 2018, ZERO provided 1,324 men with free screenings and helped 210,653 men through local organizations by awarding grants. Through their main initiative, the ZERO Prostate Cancer Run/Walk, they raised $4.3 million and were able to give $1 million dollars in local grants. They have raised an impressive $28 million through their run/walk series over the past 12 years.
More impressively, ZERO is the only prostate cancer nonprofit to earn a four out of four stars from Charity Navigator. This recognition is based on the organization’s strong financial health and commitment to accountability and transparency. ZERO spends 86 cents of every dollar on programs.
When asked about her proudest accomplishments with ZERO, Ostrin says they include “any moment I can bring a smile to the face of someone struggling with this disease, whether they are a patient or a caregiver.” She adds, “The best gift is being able to help create a sense of community for these individuals, and show them that they’re cared for.”
Thanks to ZERO’s commitment to raising both awareness and funds, some day soon people will visualize the light blue ribbon associated with prostate cancer and attribute it to an eradicated cancer type. In the meantime, any patients seeking support, especially during the time of COVID-19, can visit zerocancer.org