Celebrated designer Kelly Gale Amen is a cancer survivor. Specifically he is a prostate cancer survivor, and he's looking to call attention to cancers in places that most people feel are frankly embarrassing. His latest initiative is called Cancer Below the Belt, and he's encoyraging people to get involved using the hashtag #getcaughtwithyourpantsdown.
The project got started when Playboy model turned photographer Shelby Murry was being photographed with Amen by Allen Henson. She remarked that it would be funny if he took his pants off, Amen agreed, and that was the beginning of an idea.
"We're focused on uterine, cervical, testicular, prostate, colon, anal, ovarian, and rectal cancers," says Murry. "People don't like to talk about having a sick prostate, but we're trying to use this campaign to remove some of the stigma, make it fun, and hopefully catch cancer in the early, most treatable stages."
Murry and Amen are inspired by the campaigns that sprang up following First Lady Nancy Reagan's battles with breast cancer in the 1980s. Previously, women with breast cancer were generally at the mercy of their doctors, many of whom tended to treat the issue from a rather patriarchal position. Subsequent activism since then has focused on allowing women to control their treatment and not suffer any shame for an "embarrassing" disease. One need only look at the popularity of movements like Free the Tatas to witness how far treatment of breast cancer has come.
Now we're seeing a similar new frontier. Even though the number of men that contract prostate cancer is similar to the number of women who develop breast cancer, it receives far less attention and funding. In 2010 breast cancer research billed in at nearly $900 million from the federal government, and prostate cancer research amounted to less than half that amount. A big part of that is undoubtedly that prostate cancer simply hasn't kept up in public awareness as breast cancer has.
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Amen and Murry are looking to amend that. In addition to hoping that people interested in raising awareness of prostate cancer will join in the dropping-your-pants fun, they plan to raise money for a wider awareness campaign through the sale of custom-designed vagina pillows.
Amen made the first V-pillow in 1980, and decided that now was the time to bring the idea back to highlight his fight against the below the belt cancers. Currently, the pillows range from $200 to $1000. Proceeds from their sale will not be donated to a single cancer charity, but used as a part of a large-scale undertaking controlled by Amen to take #getcaughtwithyourpantsdown to billboards and television.
"People don't have to be afraid," says Murry. "They can be open. That's why we're doing the whole pantless thing. We want to make it fun. Something that people can relate to."