For many men, the discovery and treatment of cancer and other illnesses can be a very close shave. The Movember campaign, now in its ninth year, aims to grow awareness of the importance of men’s health and issues. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with Movember campaigner Ashley Hobbs on his Movember experiences.
For the past nine years, the annual Movember campaign has done unprecedented work on the national and regional levels for creating awareness and raising funds for men’s physical health issues. The idea, if it has somehow escaped your notice in recent years, is for participants to shave their beards on the first of November (see what they did there?), and over the following thirty days, cultivate a handsome soup-strainer & document its progress. Throughout the month, as with the rest of the year, the onus is on participants to discuss the importance of getting checked for illnesses like prostate cancer, and just as importantly, raise funds in their communities for the cause via sponsorship, events or other means.
Rowing in behind the cause in Cork City this year are John “Coach” Kavanagh, mixed martial artist and coach for UFC champion Conor McGregor, and his brother, Snapchat-famous media personality James Kavanagh. Speaking at the event’s launch recently, John Kavanagh spoke on his motivations for mucking in, new campaigns, and Growing a Mo’. “I am getting behind the Movember 2017 campaign because I know men are not talking about their health enough, both physical and mental, and we need to get a big conversation going, so men know what they can do to safeguard their future health. I am really impressed with the Movember MOVE initiative, as I think it is important for physical and mental health that men get moving. MOVE is great because it’s not about being the fittest or the fastest, it’s about having fun, doing good, while raising funds along the way.” A social media superstar in his own right, James Kavanagh added: “Movember is not just about growing a moustache for November! People should log on to Movember.com to register and get involved, and raise funds by hosting your own event or donating online.”
Corkman Ashley Hobbs is partaking in Movember again this year after growing a mo’ in previous years as part of the campaign, having been directly impacted by cancer in his lifetime, and helping others emerge on the other side. “Everyone is affected by cancer in some shape or form, be it a relative or a friend or family member. My own father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Thankfully, he came through it, mainly down to early detection and hard work by medical professionals. My grandfather died of prostate cancer, I know numerous friends and family that have had cancer down through the years, and that’s the main reason why I got behind Movember.” Since launching in Ireland in 2008, Movember has been the primary funder of prostate cancer initiatives around the country through a working relationship with the Irish Cancer Society. The crux of the campaign is the fact that most cancers are treatable and preventable, through a combination of early detection and small, manageable lifestyle changes. For Hobbs, this knowledge is something he wishes he knew while heading into his father’s cancer journey. “When you first hear the words ‘it’s cancer’, it’s an awful shock to the system. Years ago you daredn’t even mention the ‘c-word’. It’s something you didn’t even talk about, like if someone had cancer, ‘oh god, that’s it, he’s finished’. When I first heard those two words with my own father, it was shock, it was disbelief. It’s a case of ‘was there a mistake, are we sure about the results?’ You automatically assume it’s a death sentence. What I wish I’d know going in is that many cancers are treatable, and recovery is possible. That’s the biggest thing.”
Movember goes into its ninth year in Ireland in 2017, and has become a cultural phenomenon, coinciding as its emergence did with such happenings as the return of the moustache as part of mainstream fashion, even inspiring legions of knockoff, mustachioed clothing in high-street shops (none of which benefited the charity despite selling off the back of its popularity). At time of interview, Hobbs was on day eight of his 2017 moustache, feeling good about the year’s campaign. “The fuzz has taken hold (laughs). I’d to put a little note on the shaving mirrors at home, not to shave the moustache ’cause it’s a habit. Friends, family and colleagues have been very generous. Everyone has been affected in some shape or form by cancer, and when they hear about a worthy cause, they can be very, very generous. Last year was my most successful year, and this year we’ll push on as well. As I call it, Movember month. At the start of the month I went on Facebook and apologised in advance before I start sharing away. But people are very generous not only with money, but with their time and initiative. They just sometimes need a nudge, but people are good souls, they rise to the challenge.”
Amid all the fun and the broader social goals are some hard numbers to contend with. Neil Rooney, national lead on the Movember project, recently said in a statement: “Movember has set a 2030 target to reduce the number of men dying prematurely by 25%. Men are dying an average of 6 years younger than women, and we want to highlight ways to tackle this.” Hobbs, having been through the wringer on more than one occasion, is more than able to testify to the difference the awareness that Movember generates makes. “It’s been mainly through Facebook and Twitter, as well as work. This year, we’re offering that the highest donation gets to shave it off! (laughs) Mainly through social media, getting out there, discussing it and talking about it. I’ve had numerous conversations with people that you wouldn’t realise had been affected by cancer, or suicide, or mental health, all off the back of a couple of silly pictures of me with the moustache, and updating it through the month.”
An often-underestimated point of the cancer recovery journey is that of mental health, both for patients and their loved ones, with the shock and displacement of the initial diagnosis giving way to uncertainty, stress and worry. However, the Movember campaign has coincided with the rise in awareness over the austerity years of the importance of maintaining one’s mental health. Opening up, sharing experiences and continuing to talk is key, as Hobbs and his father can attest to. “It’s much more open. People will have a conversation with you, be it about their own experiences, those of a family member, friend, or whatever. You do see it an awful lot more, people are a lot more aware of the issues. It’s through talking, early detection and counselling, that whether it’s cancer or mental health issues, if people just reach out, that alone can make an awful difference… the normal channels can be very much (health-focused). Saying that, my father had to travel to Galway for his own treatment. There’s no way he could have travelled up and down, gone to hospital for treatments, etc., so the likes of CancerCare West, who put him up in their hostels overnight, and while he was there… for an example, he did yoga one night (laughs). My father’s very old-school, and just even being where other people had it, and was able to talk to others, I think that helped an awful lot. It’s not something the older generation want to talk about, but people have to realise it’s not a death sentence in all cases”
The issue of men’s healthcare is especially important and urgent in the greater Munster area, where the issue of prostate cancer in particular is need of addressing, according to Rooney. “According to the National Cancer Registry of Ireland, there has been an average of almost 900 cases of prostate cancer diagnosed in Munster since 2005. We want men suffering from prostate cancer to maintain control of their lives as they undergo treatment, improve their mobility, mental wellbeing and, ultimately, their quality of life. With these statistics in mind, Hobbs is keen for people to keep in mind the endgoal of Movember, and dispenses advice to prospective Mo’ Bros. “Keep growing the Mo’s. Cancer will be beaten. It’s something we need to talk about. Keep talking about it, raise the profile. Men are stubborn. They don’t talk, they don’t go to the doctor. ‘Sure, it’ll be grand’. But if they leave it too long, it might not be.”