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A Movember to Remember

Today’s Wisch List column from the Kankakee Daily Journal

A Movember to Remember

The WISCH LIST

Dec. 5, 2009

Last year for Halloween, a trio of co-workers and I dressed up as Bill Swerski’s Superfans from the old Saturday Night Live skit (you know, “Da Bears, Da Bulls, Polish sassidge …”) and won “Best Costumes” at our company party.

To transform ourselves into disciples of Ditka, we donned Chicago Bears regalia, sunglasses and, of course, fake mustaches. Although, for the past five weeks this year I haven’t needed a fake anything to look like Da Coach.

My own mustache has worked just fine.

For myself and scores of other newly mustachioed men throughout Chicago, it’s been a Movember to Remember.

All because our razors have been forgotten.

You might recall that on Nov. 7 I let you know through this column that myself and 15 teammates had decided to take part in Movember, a six-year-old charity event where men begin November clean-shaven, but then make like Magnum, P.I., and spend a month growing a mustache to raise funds and awareness for men’s health, specifically prostate and testicular cancers.

The idea for Movember was sparked in 2003 when a group of friends in Melbourne, Australia, decided to grow Mo’s (Australian slang for mustache) and then use their new looks to raise donations and help stereotypically reticent men start talking about prostate caner, which affects 1 in 6 males during their lifetimes.

To date, the Movember Foundation – which launched its movement in the U.S. in 2007 – has raised more than $47 million globally, making it the world’s largest charity event for men. This year, for the first time, Movember donations are split between the Prostate Cancer Foundation and the Lance Armstrong Foundation, whose namesake famously battled testicular cancer, the most commonly diagnosed cancer for 18- to 35-year-olds.

For such a worthy cause, I was happy to put my own whiskers to work. But before growing out my first “Mo,” I first sought out the wisdom of two friends who have had mustaches for nearly as long as I’ve been alive (33 years).

One was my co-worker and Movember teammate Randy, who grew out his mustache in August 1976 to start his freshman year of college at the University of Illinois.

“Everyone was growing mustaches then,” Randy explained. “You were out of the house and it was a rite of passage. But, unlike a beard, you figured you could go home for Thanksgiving with a mustache and your Mom would still do your laundry.”

Since ’76, Randy had never shaved off his mustache – until the start of Movmber. His wife had never even seen him without one. Although, if you ask Randy, why would she had ever wanted to?

“Women, a lotta women,” Randy said with a smirk when I asked about the biggest perk of having a mustache. “They just flock to you.”

I next touched base with my friend Dan, who’s had his mustache in some form for nearly three decades and told me, “I first grew a mustache almost as soon as I could — when I was 16. I grew it to show I could grow one, that I was no longer a kid, but a ‘man.’ And I also believed a mustache looked good on most men, forming a triangle with the eyebrows. Symmetry, you know.

“A third reason for growing it was, around that time, PBS ran shows done by early TV pioneer Ernie Kovacs. I believed Kovacs – who had a ‘Magic Marker’ mustache – looked sharp, so I emulated him.”

I’m not sure who I emulated with my mustache this month. But most people have said I look like a cop.

Officer Wisch, at your service.

With all the chuckles it’s induced, Movember is, without a doubt, about charity, not vanity. And while our Movember team lost a few men along the way, the Merry Band of Mustache-Makers who did survive the entire month had generated nearly $2,500 in donations heading into Chicago’s official Movember Gala Party on Friday night.

That event capped off Movember, but it doesn’t mean you can’t still contribute to the cause. To do so, simply visit www.movember.com, search for “Dave Wischnowsky” and make a donation.

I know, for certain, that my friend Jeremy Januski, of Aroma Park, would appreciate it.

Last Saturday, while back home for Thanksgiving, I met with him to discuss how five years ago he was rushed to the ER with lower abdominal pain so severe that he could barely move. At just the age of 19, Januski was diagnosed with non-semanomus testicular cancer, which required surgery, followed by several weeks of chemotherapy. Now 24 and cancer-free, Januski urged men to conduct self-checks for testicular cancer.

“It’s one of the most curable cancers, if it’s caught early enough,” Januski said. “Guys just don’t think to check, but they should.”

A supporter of Movember movement, I asked Januski if he might grow out his own Mo next fall.

“I think my girlfriend would be a little upset with me,” he said with a laugh.

Bah. Who doesn’t love a man with a mustache? And now that Movember is over, I’m not quite sure what to do with myself.

Anyone up for growing a Decembeard?

Really, what's more Chicago than a mustache?
Really, what's more Chicago than a mustache?