Grow a moustache to raise money and cancer awareness

Prostate cancer is the one of the most common cancers in the UK and for some fundraising with a sponsored event is the best way to remember a loved one.

Catherine Stewart’s husband John was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer in 2008 and died in April 2011. He had two daughters, Jessica, now 17, and Esme, now 13.

John was a keen sportsman and Catherine decided to start fundraising with a three-day, 300km cycle ride in Italy between Pisa and Rome.

“It was my first road ride and, apart from me and one girlfriend, the rest of the party were blokes,” she says. “It was an extraordinary experience, tough and hot, but a very bonding adventure. We were all doing this because we loved John and felt the need to promote awareness of prostate cancer.” They also raised £22,000 in the process.

Catherine recalls that John wanted to raise awareness about prostate cancer because it’s little-discussed and has an “embarrassment factor”. “Prostate cancer is not just an old man’s disease,” she explains. “It happened to my husband in the prime of his life.” While some supporters like Catherine use their motivation to raise awareness, others also use their celebrity.

A man grows a moustache for the month of November and, when people ask about it, he gets the chance to discuss men’s health

Les Ferdinand, the ex-England footballer, lost his grandfather to prostate cancer. His campaigns have been especially important to prostate cancer charities because Ferdinand focuses on African-Caribbean men, who are on average three times more likely to develop the disease.

Launching a campaign for Prostate Cancer UK earlier this year, he said: “Men are getting more health conscious, but there is still plenty of room for more awareness about the disease.”

For those of us who aren’t famous, and can’t manage a 300km cycle ride, one of the most popular ways to support prostate cancer charities is to back Movember. The idea of the campaign is a man grows a moustache for the month of November and, when people ask about it, he gets the chance to discuss men’s health, an otherwise “off-limits” subject. The campaign is also a good way to involve corporate sponsors.

Chief executive of Prostate Cancer UK, Owen Sharp, says: “Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men and, before long, will be most the common of all cancers. Prostate Cancer UK has committed to significantly increasing investment into both supporting men with the disease, and developing research to identify better forms of diagnosis and treatment. These commitments are in no small part down to the fundraising efforts of Mo Bros and Mo Sistas, and we are enormously grateful to them.

“As well as raising money, Movember is all about promoting awareness of prostate cancer and other men’s health issues. Change will not happen until we start talking about prostate cancer and create a genuine men’s health movement. By wearing their Mo with pride, Mo Bros are responsible for millions of conversations about men’s health in the UK alone.”

As Catherine explains, many men are reluctant to see a doctor. “Initially John put his symptoms down to ‘getting a bit older’, getting up sometimes in the night and losing what he described as his ‘range’ when going to the toilet.

“I marched him off to our GP and after an initial examination, the doctor arranged a biopsy within a week or so. Unfortunately for John it was already too late, the tumour had spread outside the prostate and was therefore more difficult to treat effectively.”

She agrees with medical opinion that PSA testing is useful but, on its own, not always reliable. “There is a move to get men over 50 to have a PSA test but, as I understand it, there are too many false results for this to be a helpful diagnostic tool on its own.”

For fundraisers like Catherine, there’s a desire to save others from the pain of losing a loved one. Prostate cancer can often be diagnosed and controlled, especially if caught early. But, as she says, screening for prostate cancer works best if men have already presented symptoms to the GP.

Whatever we do and however much money we raise for prostate cancer charities, it will make little difference unless men see the signs and go to the doctor.


Who’s backing Movember?

Sharp campaign

Zaid Al-Qassab, commercial director for beauty and grooming, P&G UK and Ireland:

“Gillette’s running a full-scale marketing campaign behind Movember and, as part of the campaign, we’ll donate up to £100,000 from Movember-stamped products. We recognise the small part we play in men’s everyday routines and so we have to be passionate about what matters to men.”

Waxing lyrical

Emily Maben, head of global marketing, Penhaligon’s:

“We have worked with Movember for three years now and each year we do something different – this year we have created an exclusive moustache wax for them. Penhaligon’s started as a barbershop back in 1870 and our founder sported a rather fine tash, so it made perfect sense to get involved. Over the three years we’ve raised approximately £25,000, with lots to follow in future.”

Surgeon Mo

Ross Fisher, 48, surgeon at Sheffield Children’s Hospital: 

“I have no relatives affected, but my father has lost three friends to prostate cancer. I support Movember by wearing a moustache and over the last four years I have raised more than £7,000. Before, during and after the campaign, I check with the charity web pages to see what happens to funds raised, and the costs involved in running the campaign.”

Staying positive

Catherine Stewart, 49, company secretary at Signify: 

“We’ve done a couple of sponsored rides, one 300kms and another 215 kms, and last year we did a post-Movember ‘Shave Off’ on local radio. All this activity is, to some extent, trying to make something positive come out of something so wasteful.”