10 November 2016

On the day that Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett died, I got a phone call from my dad telling me that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Andrew Perez: Showing my dad I'm here for him
Real Stories
On the day that Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett died, I got a phone call from my dad telling me that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

I don't actually remember the phone call very clearly, but I remember everything that happened afterward. My dad doesn't half-ass anything. He also doesn't leap into any decisions blindly. So when he told me that the doctors had caught the cancer early and that he still had myriad options to explore before deciding on a course of action, not a shred of me doubted him.

However, I'm not the type of person to wait and hope for the best. Growing up the older sibling of a disabled brother, my default setting is to do as much of the work as I possibly can in any situation. Much to my dismay, I realized quickly that there wasn't much I could actually do in this particular instance. My dad continued to explore options.

Eventually he found the UCSF Active Surveillance program and made a series of lifestyle changes, including diet, exercise and stress reduction. Finally I had a way of helping my dad, even if it was only in my head. I threw myself into changing my lifestyle along with him, altering my eating to better reflect his, keeping up with my exercise, and even beginning yoga and meditation practices. We read the same books, had the same shopping lists,and swapped yoga stories often.

It was a few months later when I was reading through an issue of Men's Health magazine when I saw an ad for a group called the Movember Foundation, who were holding a month-long moustache grow-a-thon to raise money to fight prostate and testicular cancers. I saw the article around October 29th.

Now, a couple of contextual elements to help fully illustrate the hippy, Theatre Studies graduate,Shakespeare-in-the-park-performing guy I was at the time. My graduation photos from the previous May show chest-length, shiny black hair and a Van Dyke that would probably have been better described as a "Satan”. Clearly, to get all that hair to the length that it was at the time had taken months and months. So when the Movember Foundation dared me to start the month of November clean-shaven, it would mean the first fresh face that I'd had in over a year and a half.

I told my dad about my plan, that I'd finally found a way that I could actually DO something positive and active to help. Maybe it wouldn't be directly helping him yet, but I had a feeling that this was a path I would walk for a long time to come. He was excited to see what would come of it. On the morning of Movember 1st, I shaved down. As I rinsed my face and stared at the person in the mirror, smooth baby face framed by wavy, shining black locks, I had only one thought: "Oh this won't do, that 22-year-old Latina is FAR too attractive." Fortunately, I was working at a beauty school as an administrator, so when I walked in the door that morning to the stunned stares of all of my students, I commandeered one of the teachers and requested an IMMEDIATE haircut.

Before he could take the first snip, one of my students asked what the deal was. I explained Movember and my dad and everything I was doing. She said, "Don't cut your hair yet. I’ll donate $50 if you get it cut into a mullet."

So I did. My dad had the photo made into a mouse pad, which I still use to this day. And from that day on, I knew that I could get people on board with ridiculous stunts and antics. There was The Suit Challenge and The Angry Monkey Dance (which you can view on YouTube).

All that tomfoolery aside, the reason for all the fuss is truly to stop men dying too young. Too many friends of mine have reached out when they hear my dad's story, asking for ways to convince their own fathers to take an active approach to saving themselves.

Too many men in America and across the globe believe that they cannot show emotion, believe that they cannot show weakness, believe that they cannot ask for help. And as a result of that mentality, which has been taught for far too long, generations of men are facing various cancers silently, often resignedly, when they do not have to. We need to have conversations about our health. We need to share what works and be open-minded enough to try something out of the ordinary. We need to support one another and remember that yes, big boys do cry.

Eating steak doesn't make you a man. Being stoic doesn't make you a man. Shouldering the burdens of the world in silence doesn't make you a man. So everyone, let's stop men dying too young. Let's show our empathy and support for the men in our lives who are struggling not only against health challenges, but against decades of mandated social conditioning. Let's grow our Mo's, hug some Mo's, and get some Mo Bros into the produce aisles and out onto the treadmills of the world.

If you won't do it for yourselves or the men who need the projects that the Movember Foundation supports, do it for The Angry Monkey Dance.

Andrew Perez, Mo Bro since 2009
Visit Andrew's fundraising page

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