When Drew Duggan first became involved with Movember, it was more about supporting a mate than for any personal reason.
The 30-year-old exercise physiologist, who was living in New York at the time, was helping his friend, Kurt Fearnley, prepare for the 2014 New York Marathon when Kurt suggested the pair shave prior to the race.
The trim would be the last in a month-long campaign to grow facial hair to raise funds and awareness for men’s health.
“It started as a fun way to do something good,” Drew said.
“Kurt was heavily involved in it and I thought we’d have a laugh and grow some silly moustaches together.”
Ironically, just a few years later, the annual global campaign would become personal after Drew’s stepfather was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
“Now it directly impacted someone I cared about,” Drew said.
“I did Movember again that year but was more aware of what it was all about.”
Then, in a strange, coincidental twist of fate, Drew received his own cancer diagnosis in January 2019.
At 34-years-old, the owner of Wellfit Personal Training Broadmeadow would be forced to undergo his own cycle of chemotherapy after a small lump revealed he had testicular cancer.
“I had an op to remove the lump but it had spread into the lymph nodes in my stomach,” he said.
“I had to start treatment the next week.”
Drew spent the following 12 weeks undergoing chemotherapy at the Calvary Mater Newcastle, five days a week for four hours at a time.
Despite being at peak fitness, the self-confessed country-boy admits he was broken, both physically and mentally.
“Each round of treatment got progressively harder,” he said.
“The first couple of rounds were okay but I soon had no energy, I felt sick and the brain fog was the worst bit.
“I couldn’t read a book or watch TV – I had no idea that was going to happen to me.”
Having worked for more than 15 years in the fitness industry, Drew was now unable to enjoy the simplest of workouts.
“It was such a big drop from feeling great to feeling terrible,” he said.
“It was a massive change but I didn’t have a choice in it so I just had to accept it.
“That’s the thing with cancer, you can’t change the fact you have it when you’re first diagnosed, and you can’t just leave it.”
After five years of growing a moustache during the second-last month of the year, Drew says he has learned that, like cancer treatment, there is small pain for large gain.
“It’s a small price to pay for a good cause,” he said.
“Once the moustache grows down and touches your lips it’s annoying that’s for sure.
“The second half of the month isn’t as much fun as the first.”
Now in its 17th year, the annual Mo-growing campaign encourages ‘Mo Bros’ and ‘Mo Sisters’ across the country to rally in support of Movember’s cause areas.
“The reason I liked Movember was because Kurt had shown me the stats about how much actually gets to where it’s supposed to go,” Drew said.
“[With] some charities you might donate $100 and $10 of it gets to where it needs to go, [but] Movember is up over 70%, which is massive considering how much effort they put into growing it as well.
“Not only does it focus on areas that directly affect me and people I love but money is going where it should be.”
Funds raised during Movember go to research and funding into prostate cancer, testicular cancer, men’s mental health, and suicide prevention.
“This year the way it has played out with COVID, there’s been a lot more stress on men mentally,” Drew said.
“Both job wise and isolation. Even the places where men might normally speak to each other were closed, like pubs and gyms.
“There were so many factors exacerbating men’s mental health issues this year.
“I got involved more because of the cancer link but this year I’m so proud of the way Movember has tackled men’s mental health issues as well.”