Many Powell River men will be noticeably unshaven as moustaches take form on upper lips throughout November, a month when specific attention is paid to men’s health issues.
Movember rules are simple. Participants start with a clean-shaven face, grow and groom their moustaches for the entire month and display gentlemanly conduct at all times. Also, beards and goatees are not accepted.
Movember was brought to Powell River eight years ago by auxiliary firefighter and local Movember team leader Darryl Jackson, who said he was inspired by the movement and what its Australian founders were accomplishing by bringing discussion about a deadly cancer that affects men out of the shadows.
“At the time, nobody talked about prostate cancer,” said Jackson. “One in seven men in their lifetime will be diagnosed, one in 27 will lose their lives to it and most of the time it’s because people aren't talking about it.”
Movember has changed that, according to Jackson.
Powell River Fire Rescue was the first to become involved in the local campaign, which now includes Malaspina Volunteer Fire Department, Van Anda Fire Department, Catalyst Paper Corporation’s emergency response team, Powell River RCMP Detachment and members of Northside Volunteer Fire Department working together as Powell River and Area Emergency Response Movember Team.
More individuals are also becoming involved after being affected by cancers specific to men.
“The first year we only had a handful of people, maybe seven or eight,” said Jackson. “It has grown and people look forward to it. People in our department start talking about it months before it happens.”
Along with increased involvement, more men are talking openly about health issues and having regular prostate exams, especially men over 50. But it is complicated, according to retired Powell River physician Blake Hoffert, who spearheaded efforts to create an oncology clinic at Powell River General Hospital.
“It's a two-fold problem,” said Hoffert. “It's not just the reluctance of the patients. It's also the reluctance of the family doctor to push for the exam.”
Hoffert said the prostate-specific antigen blood test makes the issue even more complicated.
“The problem with the blood test is it is one of those imperfect tests,” he said. “It helps, but not a lot.”
Complicating the matter further is treatment, according to Hoffert.
“You can watch your weight, you can use just drugs, which is reasonable, you can consider surgery and you can consider different types of radiation,” he said. “Sometimes it’s the preference of the patient and sometimes the bias of the physician; even that's complicated.”
Young men do not talk much about risks, health and mental well-being because they are still busy figuring out life, according to Movember participant Allan Knapp, who became involved for personal reasons.
“Cancer has taken and threatened many in my family, so cancer fundraisers are a soft spot for me,” said Knapp. “If I knew that 20 years from now such fundraising would lead to life-saving treatments that save my son, or any loved one, it would mean the world to me.”
Movember has gone well beyond its original goal of raising awareness and fundraising for research into prostate cancer. The Movember Foundation now supports more than 1,000 different men’s health causes globally, including cancers specific to men, a program that helps fathers who have lost children and men’s mental health.
More than $20,000 has been raised in Powell River since 2009 and most of that total has been donated in the last three years, according to Jackson. More importantly, people are talking opening about about men’s health issues, he said.
“Historically, we’ve been conditioned to keep things in,” said Jackson. “We try not to show when things are bothering us because we see that as a bit of a weakness and for a lot of people that weakness ends up tragic.”
Part of Movember’s appeal is that while promoting a good cause, it can also be fun. As the number of men participating grows, organizers are also seeing more women becoming involved.
Powell River Fire Rescue member Jennifer Salisbury said she cares about men’s health issues because she works in a traditionally male environment. Salisbury joined the Movember team in 2013 and became more passionate about the campaign as she understood it more. She has also won the local title of Miss Movember.
“It's because they noticed I put the most dedication into it,” said Salisbury, “and every year I wear a fuzzy, stick-on moustache.”
Among men, a competition takes place for who can grow the best and the worst moustache.
Jackson, Powell River Fire Rescue member Greg Williams and retired member Scott Hodgins have each won the winner’s trophy twice. This year is the tiebreaker and Hodgins said he is ready for the grudge match.
“I haven't had a chance to really start talking smack yet, but I'm going to,” said Hodgins.
Hodgins said it is hip to have facial hair. Some men have no trouble growing a handlebar, chevron, English, horseshoe, pencil or walrus moustache, but for others, not so much, he added.
“One of our first few years we had one guy put mascara on his peach fuzz because he had nothing else, and that's after a full month,” said Hodgins.
For more information about Movember and to donate, go to moteam.co/powell-river-and-area-emergency-services.