Each November for the last 13 years, a growing number of surfers have made a tradition to Grow out their Mos, in honor of November Movember, the only global charity focused solely on men's heath, raising funds and awareness for prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health and suicide prevention.
Prostate cancer, the most common cancer short of skin cancer, is estimated to affect 1 in 7 men in their lifetime. And that one-in-seven chance is expected to double in the next fifteen years. Highly treatable, nearly 99% of men diagnosed early survive prostate cancer. Yet still in this day of state of the art diagnostics, one out of 39 men will die from prostate cancer, simply because they didn't seek out a doctor in time.
For San Clemente's Nate "Big Deluxe" Yeomans, the reality of undiagnosed prostate cancer hit home for him, his family, and their community when his grandfather passed away from complications with prostate cancer several years ago.
A hometown hero in San Clemente, Yeomans is known in the community and in the greater Southern California area as a value-driven, hard working and talented family man, quickly identifiable by his impressive moustache. After the passing of his grandfather, Yeomans became interested in helping raise awareness about prostate cancer. Using his profile as a professional surfer Yeomans began to advocate on behalf of men's health issues, and took it upon himself to have these uncomfortable conversations with friends and family and those he encountered, partnering with the global charity, Movember, to help spread their message of openness and support for men everywhere, encouraging them to take control of their health and schedule regular check ups.
Today marks the first day of Movember's annual campaign, where during the month of November, men are challenged to grow a moustache for 30 days. This year the organization has expanded beyond the subject of prostate cancer, to include testicular cancer and suicide prevention. We sat down with a freshly-shaven Nate Yeomans in San Clemente, to talk about how something as silly as a mustache can save surfer's lives.
AG: You have a really personal story as far as how you became interested in men's heath advocacy and prostate cancer. Can you talk about that?
NY: Yeah, my grandpa got prostate cancer in his early-'70s and passed away. It could have been prevented if he would have been diagnosed earlier on and had he been more on top of it. He wasn't young, but he wasn't old, and at that age, you should get at least a yearly check up. It had been two years between checkups when he was diagnosed.
What was your grandfather like?
He was a pastor. He was really influential in the 1970s, and a lot of the pastors in the [San Clemente/Laguna Niguel] area now were students of his. So it was really cool for me, growing up in the church and seeing his influence on the community, in a positive way.
He played football and baseball for UCLA, and he was a hunter and fisherman. We spent a lot of time hunting when I was a kid. When I went through hard times in my life, he was always someone that I could go to and talk to. He wasn't judgmental. He'd offer his advice and never cut you down. If he had to be real he would be, but in a loving way.
He got prostate cancer, then it went into remission, and then it came back really badly. He was in the hospital, and they basically said to us, "Hey, you might want to just take him home." But it was a blessing. The doctor said it could get really ugly, like he could live for six or ten months, and it could get really bad. I think he went home for like two weeks. He passed away early one morning. He wasn't in a lot of pain.
How’d you get involved with Movember?
Well, I saw guys growing moustaches early in the winter, and it was always when we were in Hawaii, and there was all this downtime, and I was like, "What is going on with this?" I wanted to know what it was tied to, and so I googled "Movember" and ended up on their site. I was like, "Oh, wow. This is a thing. It accomplishes something. It's for a reason."
What’s their whole campaign about? What are they trying to accomplish?
They're focused on prostate and testicular cancer, and now they are putting a lot of energy into men's mental health issues and suicide prevention. Movember is interested in destigmatizing these sorts of issues—ones that guys might be uncomfortable talking about, or things that aren't traditionally masculine to discuss. I mean you don't rap out with your buddies about your prostate or your balls. These are things we don't traditionally talk about. But they're real issues.
And I mean, there's nothing fun about getting your prostate checked. It's humiliating. I got e.coli in my prostate, from surfing in dirty water like a decade ago, and they had to do the same procedure to check it. I'd go to the doctor, and see all these old guys walking out not looking so hot, looking like they'd been through something bad. I remember asking my doctor: "How did you get in this field? Because, no offense, I'd be really happy if I never saw you again. Nothing personal." But he told when he was in medical school his dad died of prostate cancer. So he shifted gears.
Men don't have to die from prostate cancer. It's treatable. You just have to be on top of it and get check ups, get educated. All the things Movember are tackling are things men naturally avoid talking about. But it gives an entry point for people to start talking about it.
It seems like so many guys I know have stories like that, of knowing someone who died of cancer that was easily treatable had they caught it earlier. What's Movember asking men to do during the month of November?
The mustache is supposed to start the conversation. You're supposed to shave down November 1, and then Grow it throughout the month. So guys like me, who are furry and grow fast, or guys who have a hard time growing something substantial over the period of a month, we're all in it together. I just happen to grow facial hair naturally well, so I do alright.
You've had a few conversation-starting mustaches over the years.
I've dabbled [Laughs]. I went full handlebar for a little bit. Then I had a little like pure, 1980s, manstache for a bit. Last time, it got really long and started to curl up. That was my favorite.
I mean, the hipster thing is one thing, but you travel anywhere in the world, and a gentleman with a good moustache is always fascinating. They always are the guys that strike me as someone I want to talk to and know their story. Cowboys, mechanics, fishermen, some rich dude who has it finely trimmed—I'm in. I gotta know, “What's your story, man?”
Making men's mental health one of their causes seems like a pretty major statement for Movember. But that's another one of those things men typically choose to not talk about.
Three out of four suicides are men. It's a huge problem. I mean look at Rory Parker, just a couple weeks ago. He took his own life. Hawaiian guy, a little older than me. I've known him my whole life, he used to come to NSSA Nationals every year. He seemed like the most bad-ass, gnarly, confident guy. He lived in Hawaii, and we hadn't seen each other in a few years, but just one of those guys where, like everyone always says, you never would have thought. But again, [mental health is] unfortunately not talked about or brought to light enough.
Movember has been really successful; they’ve raised more than $710 million, funding more than 1,200 projects. A lot of it is spent on research and different initiatives, and a lot of it is just raising awareness. Because that's honestly the most important thing. Starting conversations about these subjects,
It's about just bringing light to it and about helping to stop men dying too young. I mean take testicular cancer, which affects young guys, is the most common cancer in men between 15 and 34. These are things you can either overlook and say, I don't want to take care of this, or you can do something about it.
How's the reception been amongst your tighter crew of friends?
There's a lot of friendly roustings. The Gudangs call me Prostate Nate [Laughs]. But they brought that up one day and one of our friends, I won't say their name, was like, "I'm going to the doctor tomorrow." He'd had some pain and something going on and he was going to do something about it. He ended up being fine, but it was a real eye-opener. And through the humor and the jokes, he did something about it.
It's a weird thing, because I'm not going around walking up to strangers, going, "Hi, I'm Nate, have you been to the doctor lately?" You know? I grow a mustache, and a talk to people when it comes up. And when I go to the doctor, I know to ask questions and talk about what I need to be worrying about and have that conversation. Because I know the risks and I know the statistics. And for me now, as a father, it's unimaginable that you could end your life because of something completely preventable or treatable. I want to be around as long as I need to be to see my grandkids. I've always sort of just thought, actions speak louder than words. Even if those actions are just growing a moustache.
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