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A collage of family images of Courtney Bugler, including her father and her son

On a Mission: A Quarterly Blog from ZERO's President & CEO, Courtney Bugler

ZERO President & CEO with family standing in front of a lake

As Father’s Day is upon us, I’d like to tell you about my dad. Many of you know that I faced cancer myself almost 20 years ago. And if you were to look at every walk, ride, event— anything  I ever participated in—almost always, you’d see my dad. He was next to me as I stood in my pink survivor shirt or jersey. As I moved into nonprofit work, my father was the first to start a fundraising page, offer his pro bono services, or fly across the country. Even when I went to work at other health organizations, he fundraised and was there with me, too. My dad would share stories of how inspired he was when he would participate in an event, and he would be on mile 70, complaining, and he would see a pink jersey go past him. 

“If they can do it after what they’ve been through, this is the least I can do.”

For 18 years, my father has raised his hand to support me. He was my “plus 1” at multiple events. When I was considering joining the team at ZERO, I called him. He’s currently living with prostate cancer, and it was important to me that he would be okay with me sharing my connection to the disease with people all over the country. First, he said, Why would anyone care about my story? Then he asked me, What do you need me to do? Do I need to sign up for anything?

No, no, Dad. You don’t have to do anything. This time, I’m doing this for you.”  

Being a part of ZERO is very personal for me. As it is for so many of you. You’re here because you or someone in your life has been impacted by this disease. And you all know how important it is to have a person in your life. Your ride or die. Your “plus 1.” Whether it’s navigating a diagnosis, trying to understand doctors and options, helping after surgery, or just being there to listen, everyone needs a person.  

Everyone needs someone. Everyone needs an advocate. Everyone needs someone in their corner who signs up first. For many of you, that might be your partner. For some, it’s a parent, a child, or a friend. This is why you’ll see ZERO ramping up our programs for those caregivers and care partners in our community, starting with our new ZERO PLUS ONE event in Chicago this October. Just as empowered patients can make better doctors, empowered partners can make for better patient outcomes. And we know that we will not be able to do it alone.  

But just as Father’s Day can be an opportunity to honor our dads, it’s also a very difficult day for some. Because every day, someone loses their dad to prostate cancer. Or their dad is absent for another reason. They may not have that person next to them the way I’ve been privileged enough to experience. And if you fall into that category, I see you too. I also know that the opposite is true. Every day, there are people facing prostate cancer alone. And that isolation leads to worse outcomes. Because people need people.  

Even those facing the disease can often feel alone, even in a room full of family and friends.  There’s much data on the mental health impact of prostate cancer on patients. The stigma around the disease means the disease is often more hidden. Not talked about. Not shared.  Even in my own family, my sharing of my new job on social media led to my father’s own sister replying in the comments, “What do you mean he has prostate cancer?” Because they hadn’t talked about it.

Folks, we have to speak up. We have to get louder. We have to do it to honor our fathers, brothers, friends, and family. We have to do it for the people that don’t have anyone to do it for them. We have to think bigger, beyond ourselves. That’s what care partners do every day.  That’s what my dad did for me. But even more so, we have to do it for the people who come after us. For the person diagnosed with prostate cancer tomorrow, or next month, or in 10 years. For me, I do it for my dad. But I’m also here at ZERO for my teenage son. The one who squirmed in the car, trapped, as I talked to him about his prostate health. We have to speak up to remove the stigma, to ease the isolation, and to save lives.

Because that is what we are ALL doing, whether it’s as a volunteer, a donor, or a support group leader. Or if you’re just reading this wondering where you fit in. Or maybe you’re reading this in the middle of it all, not seeing how you could possibly think beyond your next doctor’s appointment. We’re all doing this for someone. We’re all working to save lives. And as ZERO evolves, expands its programming, raises its voice louder, and demands to be heard, we’re going to need every one of you.

So this Father’s Day, pick up the phone. Call someone. Check on them. Shoot them a text. Share your story. Share it all over the place. If you’ve never said the words out loud, try it out. If you know someone who needs a nudge to visit a doctor and get screened, offer to help set up the appointment. Be someone’s person. And if you’re alone, call me - I’ll be your “plus 1” any day.

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