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Published November 18, 2012, 11:40 PM

'Movember' raises awareness about testicular, prostate cancer

MOORHEAD - Scott Miller of Moorhead says he doesn’t have a problem telling people that he had testicular cancer, though it is difficult to say to someone he’s just started dating. “Not that it’s ever gone badly or that it’s ever been an issue, it’s just a hard thing to spit out,” Miller, 43, says.

By: Sherri Richards, INFORUM

MOORHEAD - Scott Miller of Moorhead says he doesn’t have a problem telling people that he had testicular cancer, though it is difficult to say to someone he’s just started dating.

“Not that it’s ever gone badly or that it’s ever been an issue, it’s just a hard thing to spit out,” Miller, 43, says.

Miller notes there’s an awkwardness in talking about testicular cancer, the leading cancer in men ages 15 to 35, that doesn’t seem to exist with breast cancer, even though both diseases affect intimate parts of the body integral to gender and identity.

It’s an unease and embarrassment Dr. Farhan Khan, a urologist with Essentia Health, sees even in the privacy of a doctor’s office.

“It’s a hard diagnosis for us to let the patients know. We talk to them about sperm banking, talk about getting a testicular prosthesis later on. Having said that, it’s not easy,” Khan says. “It’s related to very personal things that normally people don’t share even with friends.”

This societal awkwardness about testicular as well as prostate cancer, and the fact that men are less willing to talk about their health or go to the doctor anyway, can negatively impact men’s health, as delaying treatment affects a patient’s prognosis, Khan says.

That’s one of the key forces behind Movember, the global men’s health charity that encourages men to grow a moustache – or “mo” – during the month of November to raise awareness and funds for men’s health issues, specifically prostate and testicular cancer initiatives.

Movember started in Australia in 2003 and came to the U.S. in 2007. It’s now in 21 countries. In 2011, 855,203 Movember participants raised $126.3 million worldwide.

Locally, many men are growing out their ‘stache for Movember.

Rhombus Guys in downtown Fargo has a team of six, including three employees. For every can of Foster beer sold during the month, $1 is donated to the team, and the cans are strung from the restaurant’s rafters.

This is the second year Rhombus has had a team, says General Manager Ian Dickmeyer, who’s been part of Movember for a few years.

“It’s kind of a taboo subject. Guys don’t really go to the doctor as often as they should, they’re just not aware of how prevalent it is,” Dickmeyer says.

According to Movember.com, 1 in 270 men will be diagnosed with testicular cancer in their lifetime. One in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, with 97 percent of cases occurring in men age 50 and older.

Jason Hincks, chief operating officer of Movember, says he hopes the Movember campaign will influence men’s behavior away from what he describes as a “hangover from generations ago” to be tough and not show weakness.

He notes in Australia, where the Movember campaign has been around longer, “you do hear guys talking about having their prostates checked and men’s health in general.”

Of course, he says, society also has to get over its awkwardness about talking about genitals.

“If men’s prostates were on their elbows, we’d be a lot less reticent to talk about it,” Hincks says.

He describes the moustaches men grow as “furry billboards” that are hopefully a catalyst for conversation. Conversation leads to education, which will lead to better health, saving men’s lives, he says.

Khan, who took part in Movember last year, says both testicular and prostate cancers generally have good prognoses, and there are plenty of options for treatment. People just need to talk to their doctor, he says.

The most common symptom of testicular cancer is a painless mass in the testicles, Khan says. Advanced prostate cancer may cause trouble urinating, blood in the urine or semen, swelling in the legs or bone pain.

Miller was 25 and living in Nebraska when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1995. He’d felt a tenderness in his chest – his breasts, actually, due to increased levels of estrogen in his body – but didn’t do anything about it for a while.

He moved back to his parents’ home in Pelican Rapids, Minn., while he underwent chemotherapy in Fargo.

Several months later he had surgery in Indianapolis to remove his left testicle, the tumor near his kidney and lymph nodes along his spine. He bears a scar from the base of his sternum to his public bone from the surgery.

Miller says he was a bit naive of the gravity of his illness at the time. He was single and hadn’t thought about having kids. He did store some semen, but has since let the reserves go.

Miller wants men to know that there is life after testicular cancer.

“There’s not just life, there’s a sex life,” he says. “Men are scared of that. It’s part of what defines you as a man.”

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