For the second year in a row, I’m growing a mustache in order to raise awareness (and funds) for men’s health. The Movember campaign was designed to “get men to grow mustaches and the community to support them by creating an annual campaign that results in funds for men's health program investment and conversations about men's health that lead to greater awareness and understanding of the health risks men face….”
So this is my men’s health story.
With my dad’s problems in mind last spring, my GP decided it was time for the first of my manly screenings. This is not a subject most guys will willingly talk about, much less share like I’m about to do. All men love poop jokes, but there’s some invisible line when it comes to joking about the rubber glove, the compromising position, and that first cold finger making its way toward your prostate.
When I’d pulled my pants back up and had fastened my belt, talking about football to clear the air, the doctor told me I should make an appointment for a colonoscopy. If the prostate check is hard to talk about, discussing that time you lay on your side to get a camera shoved up your ass is even more taboo.
“Normally, you wouldn’t need to do this for several more years, but knowing your family history, I think you should get your first one out of the way,” he said.
So I made my appointment and ordered the prep kit, which arrived in the mail a couple weeks before the big day. Reading the directions made me sweat a little bit, and I had to take a second look at the calendar to make sure I could handle the 24 hours of punishment I’d endure before I made my way to the endoscopy center.
If you’ve ever had this procedure, you know what I’m talking about.
The day before the colonoscopy, I stuck to an all-liquid diet. Which meant that I lived on broth and JELL-O and tea, all in preparation for drinking the first serving of several gallons of liquid laxatives I’d need to consume that night. Simone looked askance at the giant tumbler of chalky liquid that served as my dinner before she dove into her grilled salmon and sautéed Brussels sprouts. I explained that I needed to clear out my system before I got my scan in the morning, and she wrinkled her nose.
That night, I had to drink an additional eight ounces of the stuff every two hours. I set my alarm so I wouldn’t sleep through the incremental dosing, but I needn’t have worried. Around 1am, I seriously considered just moving a pillow into the bathroom so that I could be closer to the toilet. But it was like a war zone in there, and I thought I owed it to myself to enjoy the comfort of my bed for whatever time was possible.
I was gaunt and pale when it was time to drive Simone to school the next morning, and she looked at me with concern.
“Are you sure you can make it all the way to my school and back?” she asked. “I’m concerned that you might have an accident in the car. Do you have any Depends?”
“I’m pretty sure everything is cleared out,” I said with a wan smile. “We don’t have anything to worry about.”
If I thought I’d have any dignity during my time at the center, that illusion was dissipated when I was guided into the treatment area, which looked more like a field hospital than an urban medical clinic — it was just a room with a long row of stalls partitioned by flimsy curtains. The place was loud with action and movement. I was asked to trade my clothes for a hospital gown, leaving only my shoes and socks on, and had barely managed to gather the gown’s opening to cover my ass when the anesthesiologist came in to get my IV going and ask the usual questions. A few minutes later, it was time for him to guide me to the screening room, where a small crowd of techs and the doctor encouraged me to hop onto the examination table and lay on my side, my shoes sticking off the end.
Seconds later, I heard my name.
“Eric?” said I voice I didn’t recognize. “Eric? You’re all done. Time to get up.”
“Aren’t you going to do the procedure?” I asked.
“It’s already done,” the doctor answered, smiling. “Looked good.”
I’d been out for less than eight minutes.
“Now I see why you have us keep our shoes on,” I said, as they helped me from the table and someone walked me back to the stall to get dressed.
All results came back normal, which was to be expected. But it was still a relief, and the good news is that I should be able wait another five years before the next ordeal. But that doesn’t mean that men’s health issues aren’t constantly on my mind as I grow older, and I as I support my father in his fight against cancer.
That said, I’m not so excited about this year’s Movember ‘stache.
Last year’s trucker mustache was fun to wear, especially as it grew in. I got looks and interest from women who normally wouldn’t even notice me (and men, too, actually), and friends and colleagues couldn’t help telling me that I looked like a badass. The mustache shaped my face, and everything I wore took on a different personality. It was like dressing up in disguise and being happy with the result.
This year, I’ve been getting more crooked, bemused smiles than appreciative sizing ups. I’ll wonder why I’m getting the funny looks and then remember the suspect caterpillar residing on my upper lip. I’ll touch it tentatively, counting down how many days are left until I can shave the thing off. So this year’s Movember mustache really has been more of a sacrifice and attention-getter. It has lead to more donations than last year, too.
My favorite game is when people gesture to the mustache and say, “Are you growing that for Movember?” I look at them vaguely for a moment, and reply, “What’s Movember?” I wait for the panic in their faces before coming clean.
If you haven’t donated to someone’s Movember campaign yet this year, I would be honored by your consideration. You’ve already made a contribution by reading this month’s column — I hope it’s giving you something to think about. But a few bucks wouldn’t hurt, too. Prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death for men in the United States, affecting more than two million men, and colon cancer is the third-leading cause. One in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime.
By talking about men’s health, telling our stories, and even the occasional poop joke, we can encourage more men to get checked early.