I can’t exactly remember the conversation where my mom told me that my dad might have prostate cancer. Ironically enough, it happened on a November evening, but in the long months that ensued, we never said the words out loud again. We’d never been confronted with a something so deadly and so scary. Cancer is a heavy word—ominous, terrifying. It’s a word that makes you re-evaluate any and all of your past decisions, and makes you reconsider all upcoming ones. Talking about cancer is hard. But it’s important.
Enter Movember. This annual campaign began ten years ago and encourages men to grow a moustache in November to raise awareness and research funding for prostate cancer. The movement, which began in Australia, gained significant momentum in the past years, and teams of ‘Mo Bros’ and supportive ‘Mo Sistas’ from all over can now register online and raise large sums for national prostate cancer organizations. Last year, Canadian participants raised over $785,000 for Prostate Cancer Canada, with over $2 million raised overall by teams around the world.
In my years at McGill, I’ve seen Movember gain momentum and visibility on our campus. But like other movements that are based on fashion statements, conversations about Movember often revolve around the moustaches themselves. (Is it bushy enough, or is there scarcely enough fuzz? Is it well-groomed, or unkempt?). It’s rare to hear discussions that transcend the visual portion of the campaign, and instead, focus on the meaning behind the moustache. It is time to take a step away from evaluating people’s moustaches, and rather, to think of the reasons that they’re rocking the ‘mo: to raise awareness for prostate cancer.
Although some people do raise funds with their moustaches, many jump on the bandwagon, sporting a moustache without knowing enough about the cause behind it. Even if you aren’t raising money this November, remember that you can effect change and reduce the stigma associated with men’s health. If we can talk about embarrassing moustaches, why not also talk about what some view as embarrassing health topics?
Some facts to get you started in discussing men’s health: the prostate is walnut-sized gland in the male reproductive system. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, 26,500 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer in Canada last year, and 15 per cent died because of it. One in seven men will develop prostate cancer during his lifetime and one in 28 will die of it. Prostate cancer has a high survival rate—at 96 per cent—but only if caught in its early stages. Because early detection can really make a difference, doctors recommend that men have annual check-ups starting at age 40 or 50.
As the daughter of a prostate cancer survivor, I appreciate Movember because it’s a month to ask difficult questions and consider their answers. Do you know if your father, grandfather or other relatives had prostate cancer? This will double a man’s chances of having it later on. Have your loved ones ever had a check-up, and do they understand how important it is to have an annual one? These are questions that often don’t come up in regular household conversations—they never did in mine—but whose answers may surprise you.
This November, I encourage you to make the moustaches you see on campus a chance to start a conversation about the symptoms, risks, and implications of prostate cancer. Regardless of your ability to grow a moustache, these are important questions whose answers might one day affect people you care about. Talking about cancer is always difficult, but it’s important to be comfortable, or at least able, to discuss prostate cancer today, so that if the day ever comes that you need to face it head-on, you’ll know what the discussion entails and you’ll be better prepared to face it.