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Tuesday, November 1, 2016

In Other Words: Get the Test and Save the ‘Stache.

Chuck Keller
It’s November, No Shave November. So how did that even start? It seems that back in 2004 some blokes in Australia decided to cultivate mustaches for the month in order to raise awareness for prostate cancer.  And that is why the mustache is the symbol of prostate awareness campaigns around the globe.

Now there is never a good time to get bad news but I got mine during one of the most stressful times of year in my life as a teacher - the opening of the school year. I had some tests run earlier because the numbers were a bit troubling with my annual health check ups. I had a biopsy and I received the diagnosis the day before school started.  So I was a bit prepared to hear the worst.  I had Stage 3 prostate cancer.

My story is the same as so many others. Shock. Dismay. Worry. My world changed. I had the C-word. Long story short - I did my research, decided on a treatment plan, and here I am five years later. And thanks to excellent medical advances and care, the cancer is gone. But not everyone is so lucky.

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"Buck" Caruso sports a cosmopolitan 'stache and beard.
As it turns out everyone has been touched by some form of this insidious disease. Everyone. Let that sink in. Everyone. The American Cancer Institute predicted that in 2015 over 1.5 million people were diagnosed with cancer and over half a million current cancer patients will die. But to be specific here, if caught early, there is a 98% chance of surviving prostate cancer.  It is one of the most survivable cancers.

Interestingly though, I never asked “Why me?” when I was diagnosed.  Instead I asked “What do I do next?” and “What do I have to learn from this?” And apparently there was a lot. I read book after book after book. I interviewed survivors about treatments, hospitals, doctors, effects, and issues to expect. Everyone was helpful. The conversations were blunt and honest. I was not a victim and I was not about to have pity on myself. That's not very productive. But I still had, you know, cancer.

But like so many things in life, cancer is a blessing and a curse.  Cancer is a blessing because it forces us to evaluate our lives. We ask, “What is really important? Who is important?” We tend to get rid of a lot of junk in our lives. That’s good.

Jeff Richmond displays a dramatic 'stache and beard.
The curse is, well, we have cancer. It sucks. It is always present in our minds no matter how distracted we try to be. And even when we are cured it is never that far out of mind. And depending on the treatment, there can be some long term effects.

But another larger blessing is that there is no better time to be alive than right now. Modern medical science is amazing. So many of us are alive because of medical advances of one sort or other.  I am grateful to everyone who has walked, run, bicycled, or whatever to raise funds to support research. I am grateful for the research and experiments.
Neil Jackson's 'stache has an artistic flair.
I am also grateful to everyone who had cancer before me and worked with research hospitals. I am grateful for those cancer patients who helped researchers advance the science. They are heroes. I am not sad about having cancer. I am not happy either. It is just a part of who I am.

I went to a teaching medical school for my treatment. It’s part of my DNA, I guess, to teach. But now I was the lesson.  And that was important because if doctors or a fellow sufferer could learn something about this disease that could help others then my life has served a greater purpose. I am five years out and cancer free. So for this No Shave November, men, save the ‘stache. Talk to your doctor.  Get the test.

Steve Yelton sports the business 'stache.
As a side note, these men agreed to show their 'staches in support of prostate awareness month.  Thanks, guys. You rock.

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