Join Don Cherry & Wear Plaid For Dad Day: Q&A with Prostate Cancer Canada CEO

By Aaron Brophy 6/18/15 |

Prostate Cancer Canada CEO Rocco Rossi gets his plaid on — photo courtesy of PCC.
If there are more people than normal on the streets or in your workplace wearing plaid this Friday, June 19, it's not because Canada has suddenly been invaded by (more) lumberjacks, it's because it's the first-ever Wear Plaid For Dad Day.

An initiative kicked off by Prostate Cancer Canada, the idea behind Wear Plaid For Dad is really simple — wear some plaid, take some photos of your mesmerizing outfit, then shoot them into the social media world via the hashtag #WearPlaidForDad. And if you'd like to donate/raise some money along the way, that'd be helpful, too.

Some obvious plaid super-users like Hockey Night In Canada's Don Cherry, dragon-preneur W. Brett Wilson and Dave Thomas, one-half of Bob And Doug McKenzie, have already lined up to support Wear Plaid For Dad and all its sartorial glory by issuing a series of challenges found on the official website.

Samaritanmag spoke to Prostate Cancer Canada CEO Rocco Rossi to find out what Wear Plaid For Dad is all about, what people need to know about prostate cancer, where the money goes, and more.

What is Wear Plaid For Dad?

“All of us are familiar with dress down days, jeans days for work. It's been a traditional way to raise funds for a variety of great causes and we wanted to put a twist on it and on the final Friday before Father's Day on June 19 we'd love for workplaces to have employees come in, wear plaid, unleash their inner Don Cherry. Make a small donation, either at work itself or online, challenge their friends, challenge their competitors. Most importantly, post pictures with the hashtage #wearplaidfordad on June 19 so we can be loud.

“We know that plaid can be loud and we want that actually, because prostate cancer will affect one in eight Canadian men in their lifetime. This year alone in Canada over 4,000 men will die of the disease. These numbers are very close to the numbers for breast cancer, which will affect one in nine Canadian women. And some 5,000 Canadian women will tragically die of the disease and the ages of those two groups is virtually the same. And yet we hear a lot about breast cancer and very little about prostate cancer and that's largely because guys, when it comes to health, are idiots.

“We don't like to talk about health, we don't like to go to the doctor to get checked below the waist. If we're not bragging we're not talking about it.”

Why plaid?

Prostate Cancer Canada CEO Rocco Rossi with Vice Admiral Mark Norman of the Canadian Navy — photo courtesy of PCC.
“Well actually it dates back to a lunch meeting I had with Vice Admiral Mark Norman of the Canadian Navy in Toronto. He's a cancer survivor himself, he's in his early 50s. He had testicular cancer, not prostate cancer, but he understands the stigma and inaction that men typically feel towards health below the waist. I had pitched him becoming an ambassador for prostate Cancer Canada in general. And he was delighted at the notion and said immediately, ‘I'm on board. What can we do specifically?’

“We were swapping some stories and I said, ‘I loved when I went to a [military] event they had some lovely regimental plaid,’ and he said, ‘We use a little bit of plaid in the navy as well in some of our dress uniforms,’  and the penny just dropped and I said, "Well, why don't we create a Wear Plaid For Dad movement?’ because then that becomes an easy way for the military to participate and he loved the idea. It's colourful. So we kicked it off from that moment and with the credibility of having him on board we reached out to other celebrities: Don Cherry immediately said yes, and Dave Thomas of Bob And Doug McKenzie and SCTV fame said count me in, and John Catucci of You Gotta Eat Here and the Food Network always wears plaid shirts on the show, so it was a natural for him. It just steamrollered from then on.”

What are some of the other initiatives Prostate Cancer Canada has that we should know about?

“This is new. This is the very first year of Wear Plaid For Dad. Our traditional Father's Day period focuses around Father's Day itself and our national walk/run and that's in several major centres across the country. But walk/runs, there are just so many of them that we're looking for a way to differentiate. And Wear Plaid is a fun, new thing. But we still have the walks and we still love people in the cities where those are happening, whether it's Halifax or Fredericton or Toronto, London, Regina, Calgary, Edmonton, we'd love to have them join us.

“We do an annual Wake Up Call Breakfast in the major cities across Canada. This is more of a business leaders kind of fundraiser but it's very very powerful for us.

“We have a fun initiative for young professionals called Pants Off For Prostate Cancer and it had tremendous success in Halifax, Toronto and Vancouver and we're looking for other cities to embrace that.  Two young men in Toronto were affected by it through a family member and they said, ‘How do we raise funds and awareness for something that men are embarrassed to talk about it?’ What else are they embarrassed to talk about? Getting caught with their pants off. So they said let's have a pants off party and you come dressed to the nines and check your pants at the door and it's boxers and shirts and kilts and a very fun event for people.

“We've been a very lucky recipient of funds from Movember Canada, who support a number of charities including ours. It also supports men's mental health and testicular cancer and men's cardiovascular diseases.

“Then there are just so many third-party events, people through their company, their church group or their community service group, they have a golf tournament, they have a picnic and they designate us as their charity of choice.”

Why are men so skittish about prostate health?

“Look, when it involves health below the waist guys are skittish because it's all wrapped up in their sexuality and their sense of manhood. These are not things we discuss. We're taught from a very early age to man up. You got aches? You got pains? Suck it up. Be a man. And that gives us this twisted sense of invincibility. Whereas what we want to do through our efforts like Wear Plaid For Dad is to be loud on this issue. Actually manning up is not ignoring pain, it's taking care of yourself, it's being tested so you can take care of yourself and your family.

“And the wonderful thing, if there can be a wonderful thing about this disease, with early detection in prostate cancer in well over 90 per cent of cases it's eminently treatable. But if you wait until too late, until it goes metastatic and the cancer has migrated outside the prostate into the bones or other organs, then your chance at survival drops to 25 per cent or even less. So it's absolutely critical to get tested.

“So this Wear Plaid For Dad, this is to raise funds for the most common cancer to affect men in the days leading up to Father's Day when we celebrate, for those of us who are fortunate enough, in life, and for those who have lost them, the memory of our dads.”


The most effective way to combat prostate cancer is getting checked by your doctor, right?

“Absolutely. Right now there are two tests that we encourage men to have performed as a combination. One is the simple blood test, the PSA test — for prostate specific antigens — they can do it from the same blood they use to check your cholesterol and other indicators. The other test is the one that guys get really squeamish about, the digital rectal exam — the finger in the bum test. It's the three words most likely to put me into the fetal position. But that's a great thing because it's the best position from which to perform the test.

“And that combination, it's a couple of seconds of discomfort that can change your life. Neither test is perfect but they're the best that we have and in the last 20 years, and this is something that we can't emphasize enough, because people have this huge tendency to be cynical particularly when it comes to cancer charities to say, "There's still lots of cancer. There's growing cases. Are we making any difference?" And in prostate cancer in the last 20 years, a big chunk of which is because of early detection and the PSA test, we've decreased mortality in prostate cancer by over 40 per cent. So 4,000 men will tragically die of the disease this year. But if we had the same mortality rate for the population that we did just 20 years ago, that number would be 6,500. So there are 2,500 dads, brothers, sons, husbands, neighbours, co-workers who are going to get to celebrate Fathers' Day this year who wouldn't have just 20 years ago.”

At what age should men start getting themselves tested?

“We recommend that men start to be tested at age 40. And if it's in your family you might even want to have a conversation about starting before. Because while it's one in eight for the general population, if it's in your family you're of greater risk. If you're of Afro-Carribean heritage you're at an even greater risk than Caucasians or Asians for prostate cancer. So those are communities that need to be hyper-sensitive.

“And this is not to say that you need to be tested every year. What we recommend is what we call smart screening. And starting at age 40 together with the results of those two tests and those other risk factors — if it's in your family, if you're of Afro-Carribean heritage — you're going to be able to have an intelligent conversation with your doctor to know how often you need to repeat.

“If you have no family history and if you have an extremely low or virtually undetectable psa test at age 40 and the digital rectal exam shows nothing, the doctor may very well say we'll look at this again in three, five years. If it's high, if you have history, they'll say we're gonna think about doing this every year, or every six months depending on your history.”

One thing I know Prostate Cancer Canada does is spend a lot of its money on research, funding post-doctoral researchers and such. How does that work?

“We're quite different from universities and hospitals in the sense that every university, every hospital, every clinic you go to across this land will tell you that they're "world class." And every bell curve I've seen in my life tells me that's not possible. It's mathematically not possible for everyone to be number one. So what Prostate Cancer Canada does uniquely in the country is we're institutionally and geographically agnostic. We want to fund the best of the best regardless of where they are because we want to bring an end to this disease and the death and suffering that it causes. So we have annual competitions, we have multiple year competitions and we fund as many of the very top as we can both in terms of senior investigators and rising stars. We just did an announcement of nine exceptional post-graduate researchers across the country who are the next generation of stars in prostate research

“And roughly 80 per cent of what we invest in is research on a peer review basis. And then about 15 per cent is in the area of awareness, encouraging men to be checked, providing a free 1-800 service in multiple languages we've got for men to call because very often a man gets diagnosed and a doctor only has a few minutes to see them and they don't even get the questions out before the meeting is over. Or they're too embarrassed to ask it in front of someone so they like the anonymity.

“And then we've got about five per cent in advocacy, which is to try to ensure the outcome, once a man is diagnosed with prostate cancer, is not left to postal code lottery. We want to make sure that when drugs are available, when procedures are available, we understand that if you're in a small town you're not going to have the same resources that a big city will have, but to the extent that it's possible to have a level playing field in key elements we advocate with government to make sure, hey, Nova Scotia, Alberta and B.C. and have this, look Saskatchewan, you really need to pony up.

“Also, we're exceptionally proud of the fact that our cost-to-raise, both administration and fundraising cost, has been consistently capped at under 20 per cent. It's around 16 to 18 per cent and so that means we're stretching the dollar as far as we're capable of to make sure it's having an impact. And that 40 per cent decrease in mortality in the last 20 years is just really encouraging. I lost an uncle at age 53 to the disease and his son, my cousin, is fighting it, so this personally is very critical for me, and I do see in our lifetime we can drive those 4,000 deaths down to a handful. Now we're going to have to get better at side-effects and quality of life issues for sure, but we have to save the life first and that is within sight which is so incredibly exciting.”

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