Movember is more than a bit of a laugh as it’s getting men of all ages talking about prostate cancer says Arlene Harris.
The campaign originated in Australia in 2003 when two buddies experienced that rarest of things, a vision when drinking pints: they would resurrect the disregarded moustache and at the same time highlight the rise of prostate cancer (a disease which affects almost 3,300 annually in Ireland). Eleven years later, Movember is a global phenomenon.
“The idea originated in the pub one Sunday afternoon in 2003 and in the first year, 450 guys got involved and raised AUS$54,000,” Movember CEO and co-founder Adam Garone said on a recent visit to Ireland.
“It started as a passionate project and we never expected it to grow so quickly — over the past ten years, Movember has raised €409 million worldwide.”
But while it is undoubtedly an international effort, all monies raised will stay locally — so funds raised here from Movember will be used to help in the fight against prostate and testicular cancer in Ireland. And while raising money is a vital component of the campaign, it is also about raising awareness.
Movember co-founder Adam Garone.
“No other campaign has been able to make men as aware of their health as Movember has,” says Garone. “We hear stories all the time of how the process of growing a moustache has opened up dialogue between men and encouraged them to go to the doctor if they are worried about testicular or prostate cancer.”
While the cause is unknown and symptoms are hard to spot, this form of cancer is particularly prevalent in men over the age of 50. Four years ago, Brendan Madden was diagnosed with the disease when he was 62.
“I went for a check-up in 2010 and my doctor said my PSA levels were quite high but probably nothing to worry about,” recalls the 66-year-old. “He told me to make an appointment for another test in a few months.”
But when he returned to his GP, the PSA levels had increased and Brendan was referred for an ultrasound which revealed he had cancer.
“The consultant said I had tested positive for cancer and would need to have either surgery or chemotherapy,” says Brendan who worked as an archivist for Radio na Gaeltachta. “I wanted to get rid of it immediately so opted for surgery which took place three months later.”
About two months after his operation, the father-of-three attended an Irish Cancer Society (ICS) event for prostate cancer survivors.
“I had been feeling a bit sorry for myself but when I saw other people who were worse off than me, it made me realise how lucky I was,” he says. “I have ended up with erectile dysfunction but am in the process of trying to get that fixed so things could have been a lot worse.”
While the initial aim of Movember was to raise awareness of prostate cancer, it has since grown to incorporate men’s health in general. With around 170 cases per year in Ireland, testicular cancer affects far fewer men than prostate but the biggest risk group is young men.
The notion of cancer was very far from the mind of Stephen Griffin as he was just 20. But one evening he suffered an excruciating pain in his groin and went to A&E in his native Galway.
“I felt this intense pain in my groin while I was at work and it was so bad I had to hold onto the wall and was sweating profusely,” recalls the 23-year-old. “Being a typical Irish lad, I texted my mother who told me to go to hospital straight away. I was seen really quickly and doctors said it could be an infection but they would have to run tests to rule out cancer.”
Stephen, who is working as a doorman while training to become a Garda, was admitted and the following day received devastating news.
“My initial time in hospital is a bit of a blur but I had lots of tests and scans and was then told I had cancer. I went into complete shock — I heard the word cancer but have no idea what was said next. The doctor thought I was going to faint. My Dad, who was with me, was a great support but as long as I live, nothing will ever be as hard as having to tell my Mum that I had cancer. Although I had to have a testicle removed, I was unbelievably lucky that it was contained in the one area,” he says. “I didn’t need to have chemotherapy and my fertility hasn’t been affected so it was very successful overall.
“I went into that hospital as a young man and I came out as a grown-up. The doctor said if I hadn’t got help when I did, I wouldn’t have reached 21.”
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