Increasing numbers of Cypriot men are taking part in Movember, the male health awareness month
By Zoe Christodoulides
FACIAL HAIR in November is slowly but surely becoming a hot topic in Cyprus. As thousands of men around the world put down their razors and clippers in support of male health, Cypriot men are gradually embracing the trend, with more men growing their facial hair than ever before in support of the ‘Movember’ cause.
With the term first coined by a group of young men in Australia back in 1999, it soon caught on overseas. On par with the little pink ribbon that has now become synonymous with breast cancer awareness, the aim of the moustache is that of increasing chances of early detection and diagnosis, encouraging men to get an annual check-up while adopting a healthier lifestyle.
Enter the American Medical Center/American Heart Institute in Nicosia today and you’ll see the ground floor adorned with familiar Cypriot faces sporting their tashes in aid of Movember. From actors and mayors, to sports personalities and TV presenters, the portrait shots project a poignant message in aid of increasing awareness of prostate cancer and raising money for the cause. There are even women in the mix, posing with fake facial hair and supporting the endeavour in the ‘Moustaches for a Cause’ exhibit.
Set up by Round Table 1 and the owner of the well-known ‘Is Not Gallery’, Andros Efstathiou, they felt it was high time that Cypriots were sensitised to the matter.
“We engaged in a discussion about how to get people interested in what has so far been a bit of an alien concept in Cyprus. People here know about breast cancer but prostate cancer is rarely spoken about,” Efstathiou points out. “So we thought that using famous local faces was the best way to generate interest around the subject.”
The exhibition was first set up at Is Not Gallery at the start of the month before moving on to the American Medical Center and has generated a substantial amount of public interest.
“It has certainly drawn a lot of people’s attention and we have sold all of the 14 portraits with the funds to be given towards prostate cancer research,” says Efstathiou.
But the path ahead is still a long one for our little island. “I think next year we need to talk about the subject a lot sooner than November. We need to gradually engrain the idea into the public consciousness, possibly through social media. The more people that get involved, the more money that will be raised for the cause.”
And raised awareness, it seems, is something that we are in dire need of.
“There is a definite taboo on the matter in Cyprus and we need to break that,” insists George Astras, medical oncology consultant at the American Medical Center. “In other countries you can find plenty of leaflets on prostate cancer in medical centres and hospitals but it’s not so common here.”
Are men in Cyprus perhaps embarrassed to touch on the subject?
“Oh yes certainly, more so the older generation. I think younger men are definitely becoming more comfortable talking about it,” he says.
But older men cannot afford turn a blind eye to the illness. As the years tick by, the risk of developing prostate cancer becomes all the more likely, occurring when some of the cells of the prostate reproduce far more rapidly than in a normal prostate and tumour forms. If left untreated, prostate cancer cells may eventually break out of the prostate and invade distant parts of the body – particularly the bones and lymph nodes – producing secondary tumours, in a process known as metastasis.
“We encourage everyone over the age of 40 to have a Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test,” says the oncologist.
Statistically speaking, one in six men will get prostate cancer in the lifetime and detecting it early is key.
“While in the early stages, this type of cancer can be cured. But more than that, new treatments and hormonal therapies mean that men with this cancer can now live a far longer time than ever before.”
And while numbers may be on the rise, Astras points out that this often correlates with people living well into their 80s and 90s. “People living longer obviously have a greater chance of developing the disease at an older age.”
Like most forms of cancer, a healthy lifestyle always factors into the equation. But genetics have a great role to play, with Astras encouraging all men to check their family history for cases of this type of disease which is often hereditary.
As more young men than ever before rally to raise awareness of the issue, the tash trend has been leaving its mark in various places around the capital. Thadd Correia, 36, has been growing his facial hair since the start of the month, keen on spreading the word that men need to take as much care of their health as women do. The American International School Teacher has joined forces with a handful of other teachers to promote the cause.
“Growing a new moustache is a conversation starter really,” he says. “People ask you why you’ve grown one and you can then go on to talk about the cause.”
Thadd confirms that the whole Movember trend is one which is still not very familiar with the Cypriot public at large, but he hopes that the trend is one that’s here to stay.
“Men don’t tend to be the ones to run into doctor’s office when something wrong. But men have health needs too and should get checked just like women do,” he says. “Going around with moustaches at school builds awareness from a young age which is of prime importance; to encourage men to generally pay attention to health and get checked if something is off.” As money is raised at the school, it will be handed over to local charities dealing with men’s health.
“I first started do grow a moustache in November a few years ago when I was studying in the UK,” says 29-year-old designer Stavros Andreou who has been sporting a thick handlebar tash for a few weeks. “And of course, most people knew what it was all about. When I first grew one here two years ago, people would ask me what it was for and would look bewildered when I tried to explain the Movember idea to them. But this year, I think that it has caught on more,” he says.
“I don’t know if it’s just because some people think it looks cool but it doesn’t really matter either way. The idea is to spark interest really. And if it’s because people think you look ‘cool’ or ‘trendy’ so be it. The point is that they turn to look and maybe even ask you what it’s all about.”
This year has also seen a Movember Cyprus Facebook page set up in aid of the cause. As organic support grows, Cypriots wishing to take part in the endeavour can join the so called ‘Generation Moustache’ in Cyprus by registering on the worldwide Movember.com website and choosing Cyprus as their participation country in the process.
But while charity events and individuals going all out for the cause is all well and good, an underlying problem remains, with no official Movember Cyprus charity in existence. Anyone registering on the UK Movember site from Cyprus will be supporting health programmes in the UK, while anyone organising an independent fundraising activity on the island is left to his own devices when deciding where the money goes.
“The lack of a single charity for the cause means that the Movember campaign is inevitably not as effective as it could be; we really need to do more to promote men’s health on the island,” confirms Dr Astras.
An official charity dedicated to prostate cancer seems to be key, enabling money to be securely raised for the specific cause throughout the year in a similar fashion to the Europa Donna Cyprus charity for breast cancer.
And if little black moustaches were to become as popular as the pink breast cancer ribbons, perhaps prostate cancer would no longer be swept under the carpet in male circles out of fear of what is still often deemed an embarrassing taboo.