WEST ORANGE, NJ — The most wonderful time of the year may be just around the corner, but West Orange is currently in the middle of the hairiest.
That is because the township is once again participating in Movember, an international charity movement held each November during which men are encouraged to grow mustaches in order to raise awareness for men’s health issues. Team Mo’Wo, the official town team, is also raising money through online donations for the Movember Foundation, which will in turn distribute all contributions to more than 1,000 projects focusing on prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental illness and physical inactivity. So far $980 has been collected for the cause as of press time Nov. 10, according to Team Mo’Wo’s Movember page.
Of course, the team hopes to raise much more than that during the course of the month, according to team captain Perry Bashkoff. Since bringing the initiative to West Orange three years ago, Bashkoff said the township has collected more than $20,000, adding that the team would love to find the right donors to double that amount this year. Most importantly, he said it is vital to let men know that they should always take care of themselves.
“It’s important to raise awareness for everyone’s health, of course, but men have that special trait of never going to the doctor,” Bashkoff told the West Orange Chronicle in a Nov. 6 email. “Encouraging men to get regular checkups and screenings and to not turn the other way when something seems off with their health is so important and one of the underlying messages throughout the month.”
Growing a mustache may seem like a silly way to send that message, but it is evidently an effective one. Since Movember was launched by two friends in Australia in 2003, the movement has raised $650 million with the help of 5 million “Mo Bros” and “Mo Sistas,” as its supporters are called. And the attention-getting facial hair is a key reason why so many people get involved, Bashkoff said.
“It starts the conversation,” Bashkoff said. “A beard is more normal than a mustache these days, so when you’re growing, you receive a lot of inquiries. It gives you the opportunity to talk about why you’re doing it. I’m always excited to grow the mustache for Movember for this very reason — generating the dialog, which honestly happens every single day.”
But obviously not everyone can grow a mustache, which is why the initiative this year introduced the MOVE component allowing people to participate by performing some form of physical activity every day throughout the month of November. Now everyone — including women and men whose jobs prohibit them from growing facial hair — can join Movember and keep healthy at the same. And that is doubly true in West Orange, where the 8 to 8 Barber Shop is offering free mustache trims all month and Retro Fitness gave away free 30-day gym memberships to Team Mo’Wo participants.
Rani and Kelly Soto are two West Orange residents especially proud to take part in Movember. In 2010, their lives were devastated when Rani was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The months of chemotherapy and radiation that followed were extremely difficult, but thanks in large part to the support of their family and friends, they made it through.
On April 1, 2016, Rani Soto’s cancer will be five years in remission, making him officially cured. But even though that harrowing experience is behind them, the Sotos said they will be forever grateful to the people who were there for them during that time. From neighbors who shoveled the snow from their drive to relatives who traveled from all over the country just to be with them, Kelly Soto said they saw firsthand that there is truly goodness in this world.
And now they want to give back, both as a way to thank those who helped them as well as a way to cope with what they went through.
“My husband was not only affected physically, but emotionally as well,” Kelly Soto told the Chronicle in a Nov. 7 phone interview. “And it still lives on. It’s still a challenge every day to face certain things like ‘Why me?’ and ‘Maybe it may happen again.’ But if you find different avenues to relieve those tensions and the pain and the hurt and find ways to help others, I think it really helps going forward.”
Last year the typically clean-cut Rani Soto participated in Movember by growing facial hair and discussing men’s health issues with everyone who noticed, but this year he said he and his family have become much more involved. Having started his own Movember team — which is linked with Team Mo’Wo — he explained that he is actively calling for donations on social media in addition to selling Movember buttons he created himself. The Sotos even recently held a Zumba event as a way of embracing the MOVE component of the initiative while also collecting donations.
Most of all, Rani Soto said he has been letting everyone around him know that they, too, can help the cause.
“Either grow it, donate, share (the message) or make the man in your life go to the doctor this month,” Rani Soto told the Chronicle in a Nov. 7 phone interview. “If you can do one of those four things, it will bring awareness and lead to the eradication of these cancerous diseases.”
That would certainly be a good thing, considering how prevalent cancer is for men. According to the Movember Foundation, one in two men will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. Approximately 380 men die of testicular cancer every year, while a man dies of prostate cancer every 19.1 minutes.
With those statistics, it is no wonder why the West Orange community comes together to support Team Mo’Wo. In fact, West Orange Public Library director David Cubie told the Chronicle he even shaved off his goatee just to grow it back for the cause. In a Nov. 6 phone interview, Cubie also pointed out that residents can visit the library to learn more about how they can stay healthy.
Meanwhile, Mayor Robert Parisi said he would encourage all residents to get involved in Movember, calling it a “great community event.” Having participated for the past three years, Parisi said that, in addition to raising awareness of men’s health issues, the initiative also unites the community. And though he normally does not sport a mustache, he said he has no problem growing one if it raises awareness that could eventually save lives.
“I think it’s a great initiative,” Parisi told the Chronicle in a Nov. 6 phone interview. “It’s certainly good to focus our efforts for one month to not only take care of ourselves, but to remind others to take care of themselves and to get checkups and to stay on top of their health.”
To donate to Team Mo’Wo, visit www.westorange.org/movember.