Mo Sister Sheila in a barber chair.
Sheila channels her grief into something positive. Image by: Sarah Pannell
Mo Sister Sheila in a barber chair.
31 August 2022

Prostate Cancer Awareness Month: Mo Sister Sheila’s tribute to her late father

Movember
5 minutes read time

Globally, more than 1.4 million men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year, making it the second most common cancer in men worldwide, particularly common in men over the age of 50 years.

After losing her dad in 2015 to prostate cancer, Mo Sister Sheila became involved in Movember and has been a proud Mo supporter year on year since. Her participation has become a way for her to channel her grief into something positive. Setting herself incredible physical challenges as a tribute to her late father, Sheila’s involvement is a testament that Movember isn’t just for men but is something everyone can get involved in.

Sheila shared with us a little bit about her dad, John, and everything she is doing to help Movember improve health outcomes for men diagnosed with prostate cancer. Movember proudly funds True North, a global prostate cancer program that aims to transform the way men make decisions, receive care, manage symptoms and share lived experiences across their prostate cancer journey.

You’ve been involved with Movember for a few years now, can you tell us about your involvement and what Movember means to you?

When I initially got involved in Movember back in 2016, it had been 12 months since I had lost my dad. I didn’t realise it at the time, but looking back on my Movember journey, it not only gave me an outlet for my grief but allowed me to turn it into something positive.

Participating in Movember each year seems like a fitting tribute to my dad, who coincidentally lost his cancer battle during the month of November back in 2015. Over the last six years, I’ve combined my love of walking with Movember’s global fundraising event to get moving for men’s health.

More recently, some of the men in my life have opened up about their struggles with mental health, so my Movember journey has evolved from being fixated on solely raising awareness surrounding prostate cancer to also focusing on mental health. Movember’s resources, workshops, and conversations have allowed me to navigate some incredibly tough situations, provide emotional and physical support where possible, but also recognise my limitations and seek professional help when I have been overwhelmed and out of my depth.

What do you think are some of the challenges facing men and their health today?

Stigma, first and foremost. We’re still overcoming this idea as a society that men need to be big and strong, shying away from showing any type of weakness. For men there’s this common misconception that when it comes to ill health, it’s perceived as a sign of weakness – this couldn’t be further from the truth! We need to facilitate an environment in which men not only feel comfortable discussing their health but do so openly and without fear. Movember is taking enormous strides to break down this stigma.

Can you tell us a little about your dad?

Dad was an intelligent, passionate, generous, patient, and caring man. Born into a large Ugandan family, he was the second eldest and a pseudo-father to many of his younger siblings. I love the immense pride that dad always had in those around him and his willingness to always put others first – his generosity was endless. He was proud of me and my siblings, and I believe he was inherently prouder of us when we failed, picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off and tried again. My favourite characteristic of dads was his fierce independence. Moving away from home to a foreign land is daunting, but he took it in his stride and in doing so instilled that same independence in us.

Can you tell us about your dad’s diagnosis?

I was devastated, dad called me early in the morning back in 2013 to tell me he had cancer, and I couldn’t breathe. But dad being dad, was so strong and in great spirits. He knew he had a fight ahead of him, but he was confident he could win.

What’s the main thing you’d like the public to take away from your dad’s story?

Whether it’s mental or physical health issues that you’re facing, please do not do it alone. The people in your life that care about you will want to support you in whatever way you need, but they can’t do that if they’re blind to the battles you’re facing. It still hurts me to think my dad had to fight his initial battle alone without the support of those around him.

What’s your message when it comes to men’s health and what do you want men to know about prostate cancer?

Talk about it, go see your doctor for that overdue check-up, have a chat with a friend about whatever has been getting you down and seek out professional help. Changing the face of men’s health starts with you. Prostate cancer no longer requires an uncomfortable exam to detect a possible prostate problem, a simple blood draw can lead to early detection and help increase your survival rate.

Can you tell us a little about your fundraising efforts?

I walked the equivalent distance of Melbourne to Brisbane in Movember 2018 and Melbourne to Sydney in 2019, which was about 878Km. In 2020, I decided to incorporate a route that was linked to my homeland, walking from Malin Head to Mizen Head and back, squeezing 1,100km into 30 days. I knew it was going to be the toughest walking challenge I had ever done. Through the support of those around me, I made it over the finish line and raised more funds than I ever thought possible.

I didn’t think I could go any further, but then a frightening number jumped out at me: 1,440. This is the number of men who take their own lives every day globally. It’s a number I wanted to highlight to show just how devastating the men’s mental health crisis has become. I decided I would push on to walk and cycle the additional distance up to 1,440 km, which I completed with a few kilometres to spare.

This Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, Movember encourages you to get to know the facts and act early, for yourself and the men in your life. The difference between early detection and late detection can be life and death. True North aims to provide information, resources, and support to help men navigate through every step of the prostate cancer journey. Learn more about the Movember-funded program True North here.