Sometimes a small change symbolizes a big one.
As they have for the past three years, the Sturgeon Bay Fire Department and CDE Signs & Shirts have teamed up to design cancer-awareness T-shirts. Once again, members of the Fire Department will wear the shirts while on duty in October. And, as in years past, the proceeds will benefit various local organizations and families fighting cancer.
But this year, the shirts are navy blue instead of pink.
Although pink is generally associated with breast cancer awareness, Tim Dietman, Sturgeon Bay Assistant Fire Chief and one of the T-shirt creators, said past years’ shirts were never intended to draw attention only to breast cancer.
“Even though we did pink, we recognized that there are many different cancers,” Dietman said.
But after Dietman realized people might mistakenly think pink cancer awareness T-shirts were only for breast cancer awareness, he decided a color change had to be made. So, Dietman and Paula Reichel of CDE Signs & Shirts designed navy blue T-shirts featuring 18 ribbons of different colors, corresponding with many different types of cancer.
“We tried to represent everybody,” Dietman said.
The new color isn’t the only change to the T-shirts. For the first time this year, the shirts have sponsors; 16 individuals and businesses have funded the project. More importantly, the shirt project — which started as part of a cancer awareness campaign by fire departments across the state — has taken on new meaning for the Sturgeon Bay Fire Department, Reichel and Door County.
In March 2013, Sturgeon Bay firefighter John Soukup succumbed to kidney cancer. The previous winter, Reichel’s sister, Pam Jorns, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. (Jorns is now cancer-free.) And on Sept. 28, 2012, 13-year-old Bo Johnson died of extramedullary acute myeloid leukemia; inspired by Johnson’s battle, many Door County residents hung orange ribbons from their homes and businesses and helped create the Go Bo! Foundation for leukemia research.
Those three battles against cancer were all part of the inspiration for the redesigned shirts, Dietman and Reichel said.
“Tim and I just had a new look on how cancer affects people,” Reichel said. “It really gave us a whole new awareness of the support people need, the money people need.”
“A lot of people don’t realize how many people are affected (by cancer),” he said. “(We’re) basically trying to get the whole community involved and understanding … that it affects friends, family, neighbors, people we all know.”
The shirt project has already provided some friends and family of Soukup, Jorns and Johnson with opportunities to increase cancer awareness and show support for cancer patients. Reichel and her family donated time for t-shirt design and printing. Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant in Sister Bay, owned by Bo Johnson’s family, is one of the T-shirt sponsors. And the Sturgeon Bay Fire Department plans to sell shirts at its open house and pancake breakfast on Saturday.
“(Cancer) kind of relates to all of us,” Dietman said.
Soukup, whose number “6” appears on the shirt sleeve, had been with the Sturgeon Bay Fire Department since 1999. Jorns’ husband currently is a part-time firefighter there. And Soukup and Johnson were connected as well.
“When Bo Johnson was dying, he wanted to ride in an orange El Camino,” Dietman said. “John had a yellow and black El Camino ... John, knowing that he (Bo) was dying, wanted to help Bo with one of his last requests."
Soukup and his uncle, who owned an orange El Camino, drove their cars to Sister Bay. Although Bo was too sick to ride in the cars, he had his picture taken with the El Caminos and watched a parade of El Caminos and other cars from his wheelchair.
John Soukup’s wife, Polly Soukup, said John knew his own cancer was terminal when he reached out to Johnson.
“It’s not like John wasn’t a compassionate person (before his diagnosis),” Polly Soukup said, “but (cancer) really opened his eyes.”
Rolf Johnson, Bo Johnson’s uncle, witnessed the parade and Bo’s reaction and said the experience brought him to tears.
“I was surprised. Then again, I wasn’t,” Rolf Johnson said. “This represents what a tight community we are.”
The front of the Community Cancer T-Shirt reads, “No one fights alone.”
Community Cancer T-shirts, sweatshirts and hoodies can be purchased at the Sturgeon Bay Fire Department’s pancake breakfast, 7-11 a.m. Saturdayat the station, 421 Michigan St. Order forms are available in Sturgeon Bay City Hall; orders may also be placed by calling Tim Dietman at (920) 559-7110. Dietman and Reichel plan to have the T-shirt available for sale all year.
All proceeds will go to Door CANcer Inc., the Cancer Center of Door County and the Go Bo! Foundation.
Contact Kate Stein at firstname.lastname@example.org.