Bringing it Home: Behind the mustache is a movement
November 17, 2013
Editor's note: "Bringing It Home" runs weekends in The Aspen Times and focuses on state, national or international issues that have ties to or impacts on the Roaring Fork Valley.
It's late November. The handlebars, Fu Manchus and Salvador Dalis have grown in. And behind every obscene display of manhood is progress.
In Aspen alone, Movember — a month-long event promoting men's health awareness through overgrown facial hair — has resulted in three cases where a man has learned of a potential health risk and treated it early on.
"These are locals, so it's a literal impact," said Will Rutledge, 42, a three-time cancer survivor, who joined the movement in 2005.
Rutledge was first diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1994, just before he moved to Aspen from his hometown of Jackson, Miss. He battled it twice more in 2000 and 2010, and today, he's an integral part of Movember Aspen.
Started 10 years ago by 30 "Mo Bros" in Melbourne, Australia, Movember has turned into a global event. It first appeared in the U.S. in 2005, when Pamela Herr, of nonprofit Health Aspen, helped Aspen sign on as one of the first American cities to participate in the event.
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Every Nov. 1, Movember Aspen kicks off with a gathering of clean-shaven participants. On Sunday, this year's competition will compare staches during the Denver Broncos game at the Meatball Shack. But the most important part of Movember Aspen takes place Nov. 23, when men can receive free prostate-specific-antigen blood tests from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Aspen Optimal Health, 605 W. Main St. Herr said the tests — which typically cost hundreds of dollars — are unique to the Aspen movement.
"This is a vehicle that we, and I personally, have used to get men to take their health seriously," said Rutledge, who had no prior screenings when he was first diagnosed with cancer. "And if you take your health seriously, these types of cancers are highly treatable and preventable — if you catch it early."
Movember Aspen will commence Nov. 29 during a 1970s prom-theme gala at Sky Hotel, where the best and worst mustaches will be crowned.
"The final part is nasty. Some of the mustaches are filthy," Rutledge said, adding that there are two types of mustaches: white-collar and blue-collar. His mustache is no collar — "straight-up middle school education."
In the end, whichever man has promoted Movember Aspen the most — socially and financially — wins "Man of Movember," which qualifies him for the international contest. Herr said Health Aspen raises about $20,000 annually for the cause, with the primary beneficiaries being the Prostate Cancer and Livestrong foundations.
"Men are less likely to go to the doctor (than women)," Herr said. "So it's a fun way to get involved and get tested."
According to the U.S. Movember website, a man is 35 percent more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than a woman is to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Each year, more than 238,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer, and 30,000 die from it. One in 6 men is diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime, with 97 percent of cases occurring in men 50 and older. If detected and treated early, prostate cancer has a 97 percent success rate.
Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in American males between ages 15 and 34. Because treatment is so successful, the risk of dying from testicular cancer is very low: about 1 in 5,000. In 2013, 370 men will die from testicular cancer.
"The key to this drive is to get men to take care of themselves routinely rather than when you get sick," Rutledge said. "We need to respond with preventive treatments rather than symptoms."