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'Movember' movement for men's health celebrates its 10th year

Nov. 29, 2013 at 8:16 AM ET

Video: While growing out a moustache to raise awareness for men’s health may not seem like a legitmate fundraising effort, the Australian-born idea has generated more than $400 million in funds, quickly becoming one of the biggest cancer research fundraising efforts across the globe.

Ten years ago, two brothers in Australia and 30 of their friends decided it was time for the mustache to make a comeback.

Previously relegated to the cultural dustbin of adult film stars and 1980s private investigators, the mustaches were an immediate conversation-starter when Adam Garone and his friends decided to grow them in Melbourne in 2003.

“Everyone would ask us, stop us and go, 'Why are you wearing a mustache?'" Garone told TODAY. “And the conversation fell kind of flat.”

The group then decided they wanted their mustaches to stand for something.

“We were inspired by the women around us and what they were doing for breast cancer, and we thought, 'There’s nothing for men’s health,'" Garone said.

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It resulted in the creation of Movember, a global charity that raises awareness and funding for men’s health issues such as prostate and testicular cancer. The charity encourages men to grow a mustache for the 30 days of November, asking friends and family to donate to their efforts through Movember’s website.

Since the charity's inception, these “Mo Bros,’’ along with female supporters known as “Mo Sistas,” have raised $446 million worldwide and have funded 577 projects aimed at having a positive impact on men’s health. The TODAY anchors have joined the cause with their own “No Shave November,’’ with Matt Lauer, Willie Geist and Al Roker putting down the razor for 30 days. All three will shave their beards off live on TODAY on Monday, Dec. 2. 

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Movember's founders want people to realize that prostate cancer strikes one in six men in the United States, and testicular cancer is the most common form of cancer in men under 35. Another sobering statistic: The suicide rate among men is four times higher than it is for women.

“It’s all about breaking down stigmas,’’ Garone said. “It’s gone on to become our hairy ribbon, and the gateway for men to get engaged in their health and have conversations.”

The message has hit home for Movember employee Tom Whiteside, who ignored months of negative symptoms and night sweats before his mother urged him to see a doctor in the mid-2000s.

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“I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma," Whiteside told TODAY. “It was Stage 4 by the time they found it."

Six years later, Whiteside is cancer-free, and he hopes his 'stache will encourage more men to go to the doctor and for others to help raise money for research.

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"So mine, we call it a 'ginger Mo,'" Whiteside said about his red mustache. “It's a little fair. It's honestly the lamest mustaches that raise the most awareness and fun.”

Garone and Movember have taken the facial accompaniment once reserved for Magnum P.I. and turned it into a funding machine to benefit men’s health.

“I wake up every morning and go, 'My life has become about a mustache,'" Garone said. “It's about changing the face of men's health.” 

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