Now more than ever, public media is essential. Give Now.

Written by: Kathie Houchens
Date: November 3, 2015


Ribbons have a long history of poignant meaning both for those who wear them or tie them to a tree, and those who respond to their message.  The yellow ribbon may predate the Pilgrims, coming from England where the poem “She wore a yellow ribbon” symbolized a lady awaiting the return of her hero from battle. While it still carries that meaning, although not limited to ladies, ribbons, as symbols, have taken on much wider sentiment.

In the past months we have seen blue ribbons for prostate cancer awareness in September, pink ribbons in October for breast cancer awareness, and if you search the internet for the color designations of various causes you will find as many colors as in the rainbow and even more.  The marketing-savvy folk have produced all kinds of jewelry and clothing to make the message wearable. Lapel pins, bracelets, necklaces, rings, hair clips, t-shirts, scarves – they grab attention and start conversations. Whatever ribbon you may choose to wear, in this Third Act of life, it seems unavoidable that some challenge will arise unbidden to surprise.  Sometimes the ribbon chooses you!

That is what happened to us.  Unbelievable news!  Not yet retired, enjoying the empty nest, feeling strong and “in our prime,” we were plunged headlong into the battle against prostate cancer.  That called for new strategies, changed routines, a lot of research, and hard choices. Prostate cancer is a couples’ disease.  We are facing it together, and well.  Our journey has taken us to places and experiences I could not have imagined.  Yet there were gifts hidden in the grit. I have learned to breathe more deeply, to step back from activities that no longer serve, to embrace change with courage and ingenuity.  A cancer diagnosis brought us face-to-face on issues that we might never have broached.  Dave is the measured scientist, I am the creative artist, and we complement each other.  As a team we make life choices for a better diet, regular exercise, and treatment options that improve our wellbeing.

Beyond our own world, though, we reach out to communities of cancer survivors.   We help facilitate support groups, volunteer at hospitals, or lead discussions at national conferences. Invitations come to serve on boards for advocacy groups or to become a consumer reviewer for grant-proposal committees.  Rather than feel assaulted by bad news, an unwelcome diagnosis, we are learning to transform this adventure into a fruitful new normal for us.  Whatever you confront on your path through maturity, you can look for positive ways to invest yourself through the experience.


That is what Linda Hoetger did when she created Petey the Prostate Crusader, a walnut with a second life.  Petey represents the size of a prostate gland, but dresses up for every occasion to raise awareness about prostate cancer. He has his own Facebook page!  Along with her husband Ray, Linda has shared their story widely. Her renditions of “Petey” sit on the desks of local and national officials.  City mayors have written proclamations and lighted landmarks blue. Congresswoman Joyce Beatty read a statement of awareness into congressional record in Washington, D.C. in September. The Hoetgers are active in support groups and advocacy organizations.  They educate and inspire out of their own experience.

Whether or not cancer is a critical issue for you, possibilities abound for contributing your time and skills in the community around you.  A search of the internet reveals volunteer opportunities with hundreds of options and organizations eager to welcome you.  Psychologist Erik Erikson calls a mature adulthood the “generative” stage of life.  We sense an inward urge to be significant, not just successful.  We want to prepare a way for future generations, to give back something lasting.  As our time commitments shift we may expand our circles, become involved in new activities where we can make a difference.  In the words of Brené Brown, we need to dare greatly, to allow our vulnerability to grow into courageous response to life’s lemons.  Lemonade IS possible.  ( Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown)

Is there a cause that touches your passion, where you might bring your energy and interest? Fred Buechner, theologian and writer, suggests, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” (Frederick BuechnerWishful Thinking: A Theological ABC)

Whether you pin on a ribbon or wear a bracelet to support and advocate, or create a nutty character to represent your cause, you may find unexpected fulfillment in connecting with others.  Join the conversation.  How is your life journey inviting you to embrace the unexpected in a positive way?