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Fighting cancer with funny moustaches: "We were not the norm. Cancer is very serious and we were not serious"

We talked to one of the founders of the charity, Justin Coghlan.

JC, co-founder of Movember
JC, co-founder of Movember

“WE SIT IN the privileged position that we came up with a brilliant idea – and everyone got on it… and then we harnessed it to help change the world.”

As statements go, it’s a big one – but the man talking about changing the world is Justin Coghlan (known as JC), one of the co-founders of the Movember Foundation charity.

If you see men sporting strange and wonderful moustaches in November, then you can blame Movember.  (And if you can’t grow a moustache, there are other ways to be a Mo Bro or Mo Sista.) But what it has also been doing is raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for cancer charities across the world, including Ireland.

What started off as a once-off idea to celebrate a friend’s birthday in Australia has gone on to become a global movement.

On average globally, men die six years before women, while men suffer from illnesses and diseases that are often preventable through minor lifestyle changes. What Movember does is try to shine a light on ways to get men to the doctor early, and get them thinking about health as a priority.

Where it all began

Leadership-Team_JC-4 JC

In 2003, friends Travis Garone and Luke Slattery held the first Movember in honour of Garone’s birthday in Melbourne. In 2004, they registered it as an official charity, raising over €30,000 for the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia. By 2006 it had received Australian charity status.

It soon gathered more participating countries, and Movember Ireland was official launched in 2008.

Neil Rooney, Movember director in Ireland, explained the impact of Movember fundraising here:

From money raised by Irish Mo Bros and Sistas, we now provide two full time nurses dedicated to helping men deal with the physical and mental side effects of prostate cancer who are based in Dublin and Galway.

In 2004, JC came on board to work with all things Movember in Queensland. When TheJournal.ie meets him 12 years later in Dublin, the charity has gone on to totally surpass his initial expectations.

Movember has raised over €516 million, and funded over 1200 projects focusing on prostate cancer, testicular cancer, poor mental health and physical inactivity. The Irish arm of Movember has linked up with groups like the Irish Cancer Society and there is already a rake of events planned for November this year.

“It was the perfect storm at the time,” says JC of Movember’s foundation. “It was like the Beatles – it was four very different people coming together and creating magic in men’s health.”

When they first started, the guys knew that Movember was something very new on the charity scene. “We were not the norm, charity is very conservative and cancer is very serious and we were not serious,” points out JC.

Source: Made Man/YouTube

“We were doing a fun thing at that time which was just moustaches, for a serious cause.” That led them to coin the phrase “having fun doing good”.

The impact of Movember isn’t lost on the four Movember founders. “We are sitting here today humbled and privileged to be the world’s largest men’s health organisation,” says JC now.

But he says that what has kept him awake at night was that they didn’t waste the opportunity – or money. Instead, they’ve turned the charity into a massive, worldwide foundation that involves a dash of marketing, and perhaps even a spark of hipsterism too.

Changing lives

Movember’s aim, says JC, is to encourage men to get checked out so that prostate cancer can be detected early. If it’s caught early, you’ve got a 96% survival rate for five years and above, says JC.

“If you get detected after and you present late, it’s called metastasising – your survival rate for five years plus is 29%.”

“If you get checked early it’s a game-changer,” he says. “And that’s why we kind of took it on.” He says the charity has advanced prostate cancer by 50 years.

He doesn’t use the phrase “cure cancer”, because “no one’s ever gonna cure cancer – you will manage cancer, you will live with and beyond cancer”.

Did getting involved in Movember change how he took care of his health? “I didn’t find it difficult to talk about [beforehand], but it changed me. Because the more I got involved, and the more we did and more we expanded … I don’t wake up in a day now and I don’t have a conversation about suicide prevention.”

This is another element of the Movember work – trying to get guys to talk in an effort to prevent suicide rates from climbing. (The latest figures show that young men are at the greatest risk of suicide in Ireland.)

JC points out that as men get older “the big stuff” – illness, family changes, work changes – can happen. “[And] they’ve got no one to turn to.

So what we want men to do is check in with your mates before you check out. So it’s that one conversation. And women have this amazing… they can talk face to face [and] never lose their network, guys have this shoulder to shoulder, so you’ll be watching a sport event, you’ll be doing something or tinkering with something – that’s when guys are going to open up. They’re not even going to look at each other, they’re going to talk, ‘oh how’s that going’.

JC, also aims to get men to move 30 minutes a day – and understand their historical data. “If prostate cancer is in your family you are 2.5 times more likely to get it,” he points out.

“Walk for 30 minutes a day, understand what’s going to kill you, and you know it’s that old adage diet and exercise – you don’t have to be a triathlete, you just have to understand everyone is built differently.”

The changing face of charity

Mo Running in Phoenix Park Source: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

Movember was created around the same time as Facebook, and the latter has helped the spread of fundraising phenomena like the ice bucket challenge. Has this threatened Movember’s long-running work? Not in JC’s eyes.

“I applaud it,” he says. “People copy us all the time – not the ice bucket challenge but people copy us all the time and people go to me ‘oh they are ripping off Movember’. They are doing good, so let them do it, right? It doesn’t have to be about that.”

The biggest concern I personally have about the ice bucket challenge is they made so much money so fast and it had this rolling effect. I think it negatively impacted people giving, and not for us, and then it kind of exposed ‘oh that person got way too much money’… everyone started to question themselves in giving and that I think affected the whole industry and it changed perceptions on giving which is a good and a bad thing.

It’s not a bad thing for Movember, says JC, “cos we’re accountable for every dollar we spend”.

Despite the emergence of social-media based fundraising events, Movember has steadily been able to keep up – and grow – its work.

“We’re just so privileged, we get to wake up every day – we change the world, right,” enthuses JC.

“That’s a pretty powerful thing and if we can just save one man every day and do that for us we’re just kicking away at a journey.

“I know that sounds corny and cheesy but we want to change the world, that’s what we want to do and we think we’re doing a pretty good job of it with men’s health and we’ll continue to do that.”

Movember in Ireland 

img_4629__medium Source: Declan Branagan

This year, Movember is hitting the road in Ireland to gather men’s health stories across the country.

Movember is capturing a national snapshot of men and women who have personal stories to share on men’s health, and will use these stories and images as part of their awareness and education campaign this year.

Declan Branagan, a survivor who is one of the participants from Dublin said:

Two years ago I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. As the founder and CEO of my company eXpd8, it was hard to switch off from work and focus on myself. However, my diagnosis was also a real eye-opener. Every face tells a story. My story is one of many, and if it encourages other guys to go and get checked, even better… Three seconds saved my life. It’s so important to be able to speak openly about it, and discuss it.

To find out how you can do your bit to get involved in the 2016 campaign, head to ie.movember.com.

Read: New figures show young men are at greatest risk of suicide in Ireland>

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