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Singer Joe Ferrara gets Marvel’s attention in his battle against prostate cancer

How many male comic-book fans will go see their doctor, or otherwise learn about prostate cancer because they saw a cancer-awarness banner on the cover of their latest issue of “Iron Man” or Captain America”?

Whether it’s thousands, hundreds or just one doesn’t matter too much to Joe Ferrara. It’s not about a head count. It’s about bringing prostate cancer up to breast cancer in the level of awareness in the general public. It’s about a simple equation: Awareness equals early diagnosis equals saved lives.

Ferrara is again presiding at the Songfest, an annual free concert of many of Santa Cruz’s finest musicians to raise awareness of prostate cancer. The eighth annual event takes place Saturday, Sept. 3 at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center from 5 to 8 p.m. It features Ferrara, singer Tammi Brown with guitarist Yuji Tojo, vocalist and guitarist Claudio Melega, singer and entertainer Rocky Pase, singer/songwriter Steve Kritzer and musician/bandleader Rhan Wilson and his All in Good Time Orchestra.

The concert this year comes with an extra bit of oomph thanks to that new cover banner on selected issues of new Marvel comics. Those who know Joe Ferrara are aware of his artistic double life, as a tireless performer at the Shadowbrook in Capitola and other venues, as as the impresario of the Santa Cruz comic-book and pop culture emporium Atlantis Fantasyworld.

It was in his role as a West Coast comic-book industry icon that Ferrara influenced Marvel to include the banner to honor Prostate Cancer Awareness Month in September. As a result, the banner will be on the cover of limited editions of the September issues of “The Avengers,” “Captain America: Steve Rogers,” “Captain Marvel,” “Iron Man” and “The Mighty Thor.”

That is some kind of reach.

It was back in the spring of 2005 when Ferrara encountered two friends on two separate occasions, both of whom said that they were diagnosed with prostate cancer, though they showed no symptoms. Ferrara then got himself checked out and he too was diagnosed. Because he came in early and asymptomatic, he was able to arrest the spread of the cancer and is now cancer-free.

“The research in breast cancer is years ahead that of prostate cancer,” said Ferrara. “The general feeling is that’s because women are more vocal about health care and they’ve been fighting that battle for years. For men, it’s still a taboo to talk about these kinds of subjects.”

It’s not a taboo for Ferrara who has been talking about the subject for a decade. He’s also worked to make the Santa Cruz County Prostate Cancer Support Group one of the most prominent anti-cancer groups in the area. The free concert on Sept. 3 will feature information on prostate cancer, its diagnosis and treatment, including information on the PSA blood test.

“It’s more important than ever for men to have these conversations,” said Ferrara. “The culture of masculinity has made it hard for talk about these kinds of health issues. When it comes to cancer, women have these conversations. Men don’t.”

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