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A growing concern

Former Bachelorette contestant, Sasha Mielczarek supports Movember

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A growing concern

Movember ambassadors are again reminding Australian men to stop shaving and start talking – to their GPs, their families and each other.

The Connoisseur, the Trucker, the Freestyler, and the Magnum – Sasha Mielczarek has sported one of these moustache styles every year since 2003.

The 31-year-old construction manager has been a dedicated Mo Bro, raising funds for prostate cancer research and spreading awareness during Movember for 14 years, but it wasn’t until two years ago, when he was the one chosen by Sam Frost in the first season of Australia’s The Bachelorette, that he became a recognisable face.

Mr Mielczarek says although he and Ms Frost have since parted ways, his profile and passion for supporting Movember led him to become an ambassador for the organisation in 2015, alongside former INXS member Kirk Pengilly, a man with an undeniably distinctive moustache.

The reason for Mr Mielczarek’s tireless work for Movember is a personal one.

His grandfather and father have both battled prostate cancer and he lost his great-uncle and, more recently, a dear friend to the disease.

He says, “My grandfather still has complications from his surgery and my dad was only 47 when he had prostate cancer in 2010.

“My friend, who I worked with for seven years, was only 57 years old and he suffered in silence.

“The chances are that I will have it down the track, given it is hereditary. But I am so passionate about raising awareness because, unlike my friend, men don’t have to suffer in silence.

“More men die of prostate cancer than women do of breast cancer and it is largely due to it not being detected early enough.”

Mr Mielczarek says he uses the visual cue of seeing men starting to sprout moustaches as a trigger to remember to book in for his annual health check.

“Everyone thinks you have to go and get a finger up the bum, but it’s as simple as getting a PSA [prostate-specific antigen] blood test and if levels are not high, you won’t need to have the old-style examination done,” he says.

“I use it as a time to get a full check-up done, but it’s not a huge deal and it could save your life. Prostate cancer is curable if you get onto it early enough.”

Sunshine Coast consultant radiation oncologist Dr Marcel Knesl says some of the early symptoms of prostate cancer include a change in urinary flow, waking frequently in the night to go to the toilet, and pelvic pain.

Dr Knesl, who splits his time between the Sunshine Coast University Hospital and the Radiation Oncology Centre in Maroochydore, says if anyone over the age of 40 experiences these symptoms, or has a family history of prostate cancer, he should visit his general practitioner and request a PSA test.

“Results are measured with a Gleason score [GS] out of 10. If your first PSA has a score of well under one, your risk is very low and you won’t need another check for five years.

“But if it is over one, say around 1.5, you would repeat it in a year’s time to see if it is increasing,” he explains.

“When you get to a GS of six, it is a slow-growing cancer with no required treatment and the patient will be placed on active surveillance.

“For a GS seven to 10, we recommend treatment and there are two options – prostatectomy or radiotherapy.

“Both procedures give you the exact same final outcome in terms of local control and overall survival, but have different side effects.”

Dr Knesl says advances in technology mean men can now have a pelvic prostate MRI scan, which can identify a cancerous nodule in the prostate, much the same as a mammogram can detect cancer in breast tissue.

“Patients whose prostate cancer is diagnosed early are completely cured of their cancer, or have it well controlled, and they should have a normal life expectancy,” he says.

“We know that some of the best preventative actions to reduce risk of all cancers are regular exercise, maintaining a good BMI and eating a plant-based diet.”

Although Movember’s roots are firmly planted in prostate cancer awareness, the organisation has now moved into the mental health space, encouraging men to open up to one another to reduce the prevalence of depression and high rates of suicide among Australian men.

“Given that I work in the construction industry and three out of four suicides are men, for me, it’s all about getting men to open up and talk about things,” Mr Mielczarek says.

“The Unmute campaign that was run by Movember is about getting blokes to get together, go fishing and chew the fat, or jump in the car and talk sh**.

“I’ve had my own mental health battles recently and I found I was promoting all this stuff, but wasn’t doing them myself.”

With a strong physical presence, Mr Mielczarek looks like a stereotypical man’s man, but he says the media whirlwind that followed his every move after The Bachelorette hit him hard and was further compounded when things didn’t work out for him and Ms Frost.

“The whole thing with them publishing rumours and spinning everything… I wasn’t dealing with it. I wasn’t talking about it and just tried to move on,” he says.

“I had also lost my grandmother a year ago very suddenly. We were very close and she was a huge influence on my life. I had blocked this out until that point.”

Mr Mielczarek says his mum didn’t believe his insistence that he was fine when she asked if something was wrong during a phone conversation.

“She had a sense that something wasn’t right and drove down to meet me once I got home from the gym.

“Mum’s always been there for me and if I need to tell someone anything it would be Mum. I got emotional talking to her and it felt great getting it off my chest.

“I began to feel like things were turning around,” he says.

“This was only a small mental health journey for me, but it affected everything. Others suffer a lot more and still find it hard to reach out.”

The move to change the mentality that men have to be strong and ‘suck it up’ or ‘drink a glass of concrete’ is one Mr Mielczarek says is slowly gaining traction.

“Back in the day, there was a huge stigma around it, but in the job sites I work on, I am also open about supporting people in mental health,” he says.

“I have done a MATES in Construction course to be a mental first aider to support them and help to patch them up if they need advice on what to do or where to go to seek help.

“I run a site with 260 guys and I have created an environment where the majority of the guys are comfortable with approaching me and they are absolutely not ostracised for doing so.

“I can talk to them on their level and share my own struggles to show how we all go through things.

“Everyone’s different though. Some people struggle for a bit and then they’re okay, but others suffer constantly.

“It can impact on your work, physical fitness, family life, and you can start to develop addictions to drugs and alcohol to mask the issue, because it becomes the only way to feel good about yourself.”

Mr Mielczarek says woman can also support Movember by raising funds and awareness throughout the month.

“A lady at my company had a great time drawing a moustache on her face or wearing a fake one every day of the month, so anyone can get involved,” he says.

“We want to stop men from dying too young. Prostate cancer is curable and mental health is curable.

“We need to encourage the men in our lives to seek help for both their physical and mental health this Movember.”

FAST FACTS

• One in two Australian men has had a mental health problem at some point in his life.
• Three out of four suicides are men.
• An estimated 16,665 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2017.
• Prostate cancer will account for 12.5 per cent of male deaths from cancer this year.
• In 2017, it is estimated that the risk of a male being diagnosed with prostate cancer by his 85th birthday will be one in seven.

Sources: Movember and Cancer Australia

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Roxy has been a journalist for more than a decade and joined the MWP team at the end of 2016. She is a chocolate-powered writing machine who loves to engage with the Coast community, uncover untold inspirational stories and share information that can help people.

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