‘Movember’ focuses on men’s health

Stuart Calder, right, and his wife, Jess.

To mark the start of Movember, the Movember Foundation held a “shave down” at the ClockTower at the Waterfront, where more than 250 men from local businesses had their facial hair shaved off, giving them a fresh start as they regrow their facial hair during a month dedicated to raising awareness of men’s health issues.

The non-profit organisation raises awareness around, among others, prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health and suicide prevention, in 21 countries.

In South Africa, Movember is run by the Men’s Foundation of South Africa under licence from the International Movember Foundation. Since 2010, over R25 million has been raised in South Africa through local Movember efforts.

According to Garron Gsell, chief executive and founder of the Men’s Foundation, men’s health is in crisis, with men dying on average six years younger than women and for reasons that are largely preventable.

“When it comes to their health, men need to have open conversations and take action. If something doesn’t feel right, men need to know it’s okay to reach out for help and get tested.”

Also throwing her support behind the campaign is Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo.

“I’ve joined the shave down to heighten the awareness of preventable health issues in men. Men need to take care of their health and well-being.”

First in line at the shave down was professional rugby player and Movember ambassador Stuart Calder, who survived testicular cancer. Mr Calder, who is from Rondebosch, said when he first found out he had cancer, it was mind-blowing, as he was fit, only 28 years old, and healthy.

“I didn’t think this could happen to me.”

He said he had noticed a dull ache that made him uncomfortable. Reluctant to go to the doctor to have it checked, he only went to seek medical attention after his wife, Jess, forced him to.

“The doctors said the tumour had been growing for a year before I had it checked out. I went for an operation to have it removed, and thereafter, they discovered that the cancer had spread through my lymph system, so I had to go for three rounds of chemotherapy, which amounted to 63 days.”

Mr Calder said finding out that he had cancer had left him with mixed emotions. “I was very upset. I asked myself, ‘why me?’. Then I realised that no man is given a challenge that he cannot conquer.

“I wasn’t angry, I was just curious as to why it happened to me. My answer to that was that I’ve been given this challenge, and maybe it was for me to end up as part of this campaign to help someone.”

He describes himself as someone who has “survived chemo”. “I am now in remission, but the chemo was the worst. It makes you feel sick for weeks until your next treatment.”

Mr Calder is proud to announce that he is now cancer-free, but goes for regular check-ups. He quit rugby to spend more time with his wife, and their baby girl, born a month after he finished chemo.

He is encouraging men and women to join Movember under the Move banner and commit to walking or running 60km over the month of November – 60km for the 60 men who are lost to suicide every hour globally.

He said men should ignore the fears of being embarrassed.

“The body you have is the only one you will ever have. You have to get into the habit of doing checks, and seek medical advice if you are unsure.”

He said the support of friends and family got him through his ordeal. “Men need to start talking. Once you talk, you get things off your chest.”

During November, men are encouraged to sign up at movember.com, groom their moustaches after shaving clean, and post daily updates and then call on friends and family to back them with donations. All funds will go to research and survivor programmes linked to men’s health in South Africa.