Over the past couple of years, I’ve developed a real soft spot for the Movember charity. It’s annual moustache growing antics have become a well-established fundraising venture, just like Children in Need or Comic Relief.
This year is no different. Men across the world are growing moustaches throughout November or taking part in Move-mber events to raise funds that will help those with prostate and testicular cancer and seek ways to improve men’s mental health.
While the fundraising carries on as normal, 2017 is significant for Movember. Although established in Australia in 2013, Movember celebrates its tenth anniversary in the UK this year. To mark this impressive milestone, I was fortunate enough to interview dad of two Chris Livett.
The past 18 months have been incredibly turbulent for Chris and they demonstrate the importance of Movember’s work. Here’s Chris’s story.
Dealing with mental health issues
Chris is employed by a US bank, in his words working on “large projects.” Things seemed to be going well for him but in autumn 2016 he had a breakdown.
In a story that will be familiar to many with experience of mental health issues, Chris struggled to balance work and family life.
“Balancing work and being a good dad and husband became too much. I just broke down,” he explained.
He admitted to finding himself in a “downward spiral” and having suicidal thoughts. With the help of his very supportive wife and employer, not to mention health insurance policy, Chris got through this period. He underwent counselling and cognitive behaviourial therapy and returned to work in February 2017.
It was a phased return, initially going back part-time and building up to full-time hours. When Chris explained what happened next, I was left speechless.
At the end of February this year, just as Chris was easing back into the workplace, he went on a family holiday. At one point, he visited the lavatory and noticed some blood.
He went to see the doctor, who arranged a colonoscopy. As I’ve said, prostate cancer is an area that Movember specialises in.
Sure enough, Chris was diagnosed with prostate cancer. That was just for starters. He also had bowel and bladder cancer and was told it had probably been undiagnosed for about a decade.
He received treatment at the Royal Liverpool Hospital and Clatterbridge Cancer Centre before having a “massive” operation just a few weeks ago in September. Virtually all the organs in his pelvis were removed.
“They took out 10 kilograms of organs,” said Chris. “I’m still recovering. I have about six months of chemo to go but I’m focused on being stronger. I’m trying, I’m getting up and about.”
With two young children, 11-year-old Isabelle and 10 year-old-Ben, Chris was adamant he wanted the treatment so he could be around for them. This is where things get incredibly personal for Chris as he lost his own mother to cancer when he was the same age as Isabelle.
“I know what it’s like to grow up without a parent. I didn’t want history to repeat itself.”
Considering all Chris has been through, this is a massive turn-around from the guy who’d had a breakdown and was prepared to end it all just over a year ago.
Of his time recovering from surgery, Chris said: “At points I thought I was a goner. I was determined to walk out of the hospital. When I did, I was in tears and seeing the kids when I got home was overwhelming.”
The Movember connection
Just three days before Chris underwent his surgical procedure, he was, believe it or not, riding around the local area on a motorbike raising funds for Movember. He was taking the opportunity to participate in one of the charity’s Distinguished Gentlemen Rides.
This is an annual event which sees motorcycle enthusiasts across the world dress up smartly and undertake sponsored rides to raise funds for Movember. This year, Chris was one of 70,000 bikers from 95 countries aiming to raise $5million.
Chris raised £2,500 for his efforts. He admitted is was a useful “distraction” on the run up to his surgery.
I asked Chris how he stayed so positive. A keen rugby player, Chris said he had great support from his friends at Wirral Rugby Club. He also said he stayed happy for his kids.
There was special praise for his wife, Lindsay.
“My wife is fantastic. She’s had to deal with everything.”
What can you do?
Movember exists to help people like Chris. One way you can support the charity is by visiting its website and donating.
Movember’s funds are spent a number of ways. It invests in research to build up a better picture of men’s health, it invests in medical research programmes and also in education programmes. Via the Movember Foundation, it invests in a number of different projects aimed at improving men’s mental health.
Of course, it’s not just about donating. You may have concerns about your mental health or the mental health of someone you know. You may also want to know more about testicular and prostate cancer.
If so, you will find lots of information on the Movember website. Should you have health concerns, don’t wait, take action now.
The need for Movember can be easily demonstrated. The following statistics show why its work is vital.
- One if four men will be affected by mental health issues during their lifetime and men, on average, die four years younger than women
- Three out of four suicides in the UK involve men and 12 men a day take their own life
- Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in the UK among men and one man dies every 45 minutes as a result of having the condition
- Testicular cancer is the most common form of cancer in men under the age of 40 and 2,400 men are diagnosed with it every year.
It’s easy to question why a charity should focus on one gender. It’s a justified question, but the facts speak for themselves.
There are issues with the way men are raised. As Chris himself said, boys grow up trying to be tough and hide their feelings leading to mental health problems when these boys become men. Historically, men haven’t been encouraged to consider their health in the same way women have.
When a man does fall ill, be it with a physical condition like testicular cancer or a mental health issue, it affects those around them. As Chris pointed out, his wife had to keep the family running while he has been ill so these issues don’t simply affect men.
Advice from Chris
I ask Chris what message he would have for someone who was concerned for their mental health.
“You are not alone. It’s not until you start talking to other people you realise how many of them have faced the issues you are going through.”
Chris explained that friends had opened up to him about their own experiences. Several admitted to having anxiety issues while one had attempted suicide when he was younger.
“It’s recognising you need to speak to someone. There’s always someone you can talk to: A brother, a best mate, a girlfriend and there are loads of anonymous counselling telephone helplines.”
And what advice did Chris have for anyone with concerns they may have prostate or any other cancer? His advice was incredibly straightforward.
“If something does not seem normal, get yourself checked out.”
Here’s to many more years
Over the past couple of years, I have assisted Movember with one of its projects. I’ve always liked its slightly edgy and creative approach and found the work to be very inspiring.
Hearing Chris’s story, however, really brings the work of the charity in focus. Hearing first-hand how someone has dealt with mental health issues and then cancer shows how important the charity’s work is. I hope Movemeber celebrates many more years of successful work both in the UK and across the globe.