By Rachel Sturtz
He exercised regularly around his new home in Atlanta, felt excited about his career prospects, and enjoyed a robust social life. Everything was fine. Then Gee discovered a lump on his testicle and by the weekend, endured pain so excruciating it felt like he was getting punched in the stomach with every movement.
He immediately suspected testicular cancer, whose symptoms he’d learned about from friends, in the fall of 2007, who’d grown moustaches for Movember, a nonprofit organization that raises money and awareness for men’s health. A week after he found the lump, an ultrasound revealed it was cancer and that it needed to be removed. Pathology identified it as Stage 1A testicular cancer. Gee’s surgery on September 11, 2013, lasted only an hour and a half and successfully excised the cancer from his body. His was a rare early catch: Statistics show that men typically postpone doctor consultations until suspicious symptoms worsen. Gee credits his quick diagnosis to Movember, which taught him to to pay attention to his body and know the signs and symptoms of testicular cancer. “Movember definitely helped me in being proactive about my health and treatment,” says Seth. “Bad news today versus bad news six months from now could be a matter of life and death.”
MOVE isn’t just about fitness, it’s about committing to taking charge of your health.
When Movember began in 2003, it was merely a celebration of moustaches. Aussie Adam Garone and a handful of friends decided to grow upper lip hair for a month— public opinion be damned. At the end of the month, they realized they could leverage the conversations inspired by their tousled lips to raise money for men’s health. Women and breast cancer had the ubiquitous pink ribbon symbolizing their cause, but prostate cancer—which affects one in seven men—had no equivalent. In 2004, with the tagline “Changing the face of men’s health,” 480 members joined the Movember guys and raised $40,851 for the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia.
After 12 years, the Movember Foundation retains its cheeky irreverence, but today it’s the largest funder of prostate and testicular cancer research in the world, raising more than $650 million so far. Still more impressive, Movember raises the majority of its cash in 30 days. To make that work, Movember keeps admin costs down, donating 80 percent of raised funds directly to men’s health programs. In 2006, Movember began to expand its global reach to include mental health issues (Movember mental health programs came to the U.S. in 2014), and this year they’re challenging sedentary people to MOVE.
“We know that exercise is both physically and mentally good for us,” says Mark Hedstrom, Country Director for Movember U.S. “MOVE isn’t just about fitness, it’s about committing to taking charge of your health and being active. It’s a new challenge.”
MOVE participants promise to move 30 minutes every day of November. Walk. Run. Throw down a hotly contested game of table tennis like Forrest Gump. Anything to get the heart rate up counts. Organizers hope that one dedicated month of movement will inspire participants to keep it up year-round.
Getting people moving might sound like a lesser cause than fighting cancer. It’s not. An estimated 3.2 million deaths in the U.S. are attributed to physical inactivity. And only 53.8 percent of men meet the U.S. Department of Health’s daily standards for exercise—an easily attainable 2.5 hours of moderate activity each week (or 75 minutes of vigorous effort) and a minimum of two strength-training sessions.
Look for some of the money raised this year through MOVE to fund ongoing research on the impact of exercise on cancer symptoms and progression. Another MOVE-funded study looks at exercise as medicine. This evolution means Movember is now connecting with a larger audience and provides an expanding platform for the partnership between First Descents and Movember. “FD’s mission is similar to ours,” says Hedstrom. “Engaging young adults impacted by cancer and having a conversation while creating remarkable experiences are central to fostering and supporting the communities we both serve.”
The initiatives are remarkably successful. “I’d take cancer over depression any day,” says Ken Smith, a “Mo Bro” who is currently living with prostate cancer and has struggled with depression. “But you don’t get to choose. It’s a huge service that Movember is getting people to talk about mental health. It’s one thing to talk about your privates. It’s another to talk about your craziness.”
When Smith realized there were no Movember groups by his home in Fort Collins, Colorado, he started a team. The initial Movember response locally was so popular that he eventually went on to captain 17 teams in the MOuntain MOustache Network, a group of Fort Collins-based Movember groups. And then in 2012, Smith paired up with Fort Collins craft brewers. What followed are Movember-themed beers like Verboten’s Twigs and Berries beer and ‘Stache On, the first brew created by Colorado State University’s fermentation majors.
“The highlight of my life so far?” says Smith, “The YouTube thank you I got from the entire Movember staff for the work I’ve done. I didn’t know I needed to get sick to have found something to be so passionate about.”
First Descents and Movember have started conversations about launching a pilot program focused on men’s health in 2016.