Feature by Jeff Commings
PHOENIX, Arizona, November 30. THE month of November became the month of Movember as millions of men around the world grew mustaches in solidarity against depression and male-related cancers.
It's no surprise that Eric Shanteau is taking part in the worldwide phenomenon, having dealt with a testicular cancer diagnosis in 2008 shortly before the Olympic Trials. He had surgery to remove the tumor after competing in the Beijing Olympics, and has proudly updated fans with cancer-free reports since then. To make his connection to Movember even greater, he said he lives two miles from the Movember headquarters in Venice, California.
“I first heard about Movember in 2008 not long after I was diagnosed with testicular cancer,” Shanteau said. “Honestly, when I first heard how it started and what the basis of what it was, I couldn't understand how they had been so successful. After learning more about it, the simplicity is what has made the movement so successful.”
The “movement” reportedly started in Australia in 1999 with 80 members, then spread worldwide officially in 2004, with the United States finally taking hold of the idea in 2006. While growing hair on one's upper lip will not cure cancer, the idea of using a mustache as the Movember Foundation's icon goes along with its motto to “change the face of men's health.” The foundation's aim since its official inception in 2004 is to raise global awareness and funds for cancer research, and it appears to be succeeding at a remarkable rate.
The foundation has raised more than US$299 million in eight years, with annual donations growing exponentially each year. In 2011, the foundation raised $126.3 million for organizations such as the Livestrong and Prostate Cancer foundations. And membership grows every year as well, from just 450 in 2004 to nearly 2 million in 2011.
“The money is obviously incredible, but the most valuable part is the conversation that the mustache starts,” Shanteau said. “Most people, myself included, don't look very natural sporting a 'stache, so people will ask you about it or make a comment and — bingo! — you immediately have a reason to talk about men's cancer awareness. In my opinion awareness is the biggest weapon we have in the fight against cancer. If people acknowledge they may have a problem and seek out help, the chances of being diagnosed in the early stages are much better and that is what saves lives.”
Anthony Ervin also claims a connection to cancer, watching his mother successfully battle the disease. He jokes that his ease of growing a mustache makes supporting the Movember movement easy, and admits that he needs to do more than grow facial hair to spread awareness about cancer.
“My mother is a cancer survivor, so my heart is close to the cause, but I look to Eric Shanteau for expanding my awareness,” he said.
Ervin and Shanteau sported their Movember mustaches at this month's Golden Goggle Awards:
When 2004 Olympic champion Darian Townsend first heard about Movember and its motives, he encountered some follicular difficulties in outwardly supporting the cause in 2009, but since last year has fully grown a mustache and helped promote Movember through his Twitter account. This year, Townsend said he was tempted to shave his mustache as he attempted to swim fast during the FINA World Cup, but stood by the cause for the entire month.
“It's all good fun in the end, and even if you don't last the entire month, having one person ask you about the reasoning behind it, is enough to help spread the word,” he said.
Darian shows off his Movember mustache:
And though Townsend doesn't have the personal connection to cancer that Shanteau or Ervin has, he knows he is bound to have one in his lifetime.
“At some point sadly in our lives, we will all know of someone who has either beaten cancer or tragically passed from the disease” Townsend said. “I think the more we do to create awareness and help support the scientists that are working on beating the disease, the better. Even something as small as growing out your mustache for the month of November is contributing.”
With Movember 2012 reaching its end, millions of razors will be put to work as most men return to their normal looks. Ervin commented that though he is proud of his mustache, “Scarcity creates value, so I must limit the mustache to Movember.”
Shanteau, who laments that his mustache does not connect in the middle, will likely no longer get the lingering looks from inquisitive strangers.
“Growing a mustache isn't hard,” Shanteau said, adding that “dealing with the weird looks you get from people is what makes this interesting. I have to remind myself it's because I have a completely ridiculous, but amazing mustache.”