While June signifies Men’s Health Month, dedicating several weeks to educational campaigns and advocacy for men’s health nationwide, one Etowah County organization encourages men to consider their wellness year-round.
As local nonprofit Man Up Gadsden prepares to host its annual Blue Ball on Friday, June 11 to benefit men’s health, the organization’s founders reflect on the unwavering purpose behind it all.
Founded four years ago, Man Up Gadsden stemmed from a friendship between two passionate individuals who recognized a void in their community regarding support services for men’s health: Absolute Fitness Marketing Director Teresa Taylor and Clinical Urology Associates’ Dr. John Pirani.
Co-founder Teresa Taylor’s interest in aiding others through nonprofit organizations first sparked in high school and followed her into adulthood, where she frequently assisted in the organization of local events like United Way’s Girlfriend Gala benefitting Success by 6, and served on the board of Never Surrender – a nonprofit rooted in education, prevention and support for those battling breast cancer. While Taylor proved no stranger to volunteerism and understood the importance of wellness, as the mother of two boys (now ages 27 and 15), she grew increasingly aware that something was missing.
“As my boys got a little older, I found there was nothing – no organizations out there – that really brought attention to men’s health,” said Taylor. “I found there was nothing that really educates men about their health, and I noticed that men don’t seem to pay attention to their health. They want to make sure they take care of their mom, girlfriend, wife or whoever, but they don’t really pay attention [to themselves].”
Following Never Surrender’s campaign in October of 2017, Taylor received a visit from Pirani, whose own involvement in the community and vast medical knowledge lead him to a similar conclusion. Pirani, also the parent of two boys, noticed Taylor’s commitment to Never Surrender and pitched an idea for a parallel campaign. As a urologist, Pirani witnessed two prominent threats to men’s health that were not being discussed: prostate and testicular cancer.
According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, as the most common non-cutaneous cancer throughout the United States, prostate cancer affects three million men. Likewise, according to the Testicular Cancer Foundation, testicular cancer emerges as the most frequently diagnosed cancer among young men between the ages of 15 to 34. With the increase of patients experiencing either prostate or testicular cancer Pirani treated, he knew the need for awareness proved vital.
Pirani’s vision for education and prevention correlated with Taylor’s desire to shatter the stagnancy surrounding men’s health. Their combined efforts first manifested in blue rallies, mirroring Never Surrender’s pink rallies in schools that addressed the issue of breast cancer to female students. Just as male students did not attend the pink rallies, female students did not attend the blue rallies to create a private environment where students felt comfortable asking questions and learning without embarrassment.
Taylor and Pirani developed shower cards and pamphlets featuring factual information regarding testicular cancer, encouraging young men to schedule cancer screenings and self-exams to promote early detection. As their efforts expanded, Pirani and Taylor realized an established organization was necessary to ensure the complete continuation and manifestation of their mission to help others, resulting in the development of the 501 (c) (3) nonprofit Man Up Gadsden.
Designed to support men affected by prostate and testicular cancer in any facet of their lives, while focusing on preventative measures for those prior to that stage, Man Up Gadsden mobilizes an ensemble of resources in the Etowah County community to assist however possible. As the first nonprofit dedicated to men’s health in Gadsden, Man Up Gadsden collaborates with other local organizations such as United Way and the Family Success Center to generate an instrumental impact.
Working closely alongside United Way’s 2-1-1 First Call for Help Director Lishala Carter and Family Success Center Director Emma Hazelwood Clapp, Man Up Gadsden strives to direct men to the appropriate assistance for their situations. Through a thorough understanding of each diagnosis, Man Up Gadsden ensures patients know all available options regarding treatment and courses of action. Man Up Gadsden connects men to doctors, schedules appointments and prepares them for treatment while providing financial assistance for more than medication alone.
Taylor shared that treatment and medication are expensive, remembering a wife with breast cancer whose husband learned he himself had cancer just months after her diagnosis – resulting in a stressful financial situation. When individuals are dealt an unexpected card that entirely alters their lives, Taylor hopes that no one chooses to weather the storm alone. She noted that through Man Up Gadsden, United Way and the Family Success Center, avenues of assistance lead to a hopeful path.
“Any way that [prostate or testicular cancer] has affected their lives, we can help,” said Taylor. “We are there to assist in any way possible – if it’s medication, actual appointments themselves, money for a hospital bill, or literally gotten to the point to where they don’t have money for food (from previous appointments and medication), we can do a gift certificate to a grocery store. We had a gentleman who lived on the edge of Etowah County and he did not have the assistance to get to his doctor’s appointments. We paid for Love’s Taxi Service to pick him up, take him to appointments and take him back home.”
Man Up Gadsden also provides emotional support for men and families experiencing illness, striving to shatter any stigma surrounding prostate or testicular cancer. While some might experience embarrassment regarding the subject matter, health is nothing to shy away from. Taylor noted that while one 15-minute appointment might be uncomfortable, those 15 minutes could save a person’s life.
“Be self-aware,” said Taylor. “Don’t be embarrassed or afraid to reach out and ask for help or schedule appointments. If you see something or feel something [abnormal, concerning or questionable] Dr. Pirani says, ‘Don’t let the sun set before you make the call.’ Meaning, the day you think something is wrong, call us. That’s how strongly he feels, how passionate he is, because that’s how fast cancer can grow.”
Man Up Gadsden hosts three major fundraisers throughout the year, joining its blue rallies and lectures to promote awareness for men’s health. The organization’s Casting for Cancer Bass Fishing Tournament arises in September, with its Dasche for the Stache 5K debuting in November. In June, Man Up Gadsden organizes the annual fundraiser that started it all – The Blue Ball, its largest event, which garnered $27,000 for men’s health in 2019. This year’s event sold out.
“When we first named the event, we wanted it to be something shocking where people would think, ‘What is that for?’” said Taylor. “When they realize The Blue Ball is for prostate and testicular cancer, they bust out laughing. It draws attention to the fact that’s what it’s for and what we’re raising money for, [but it helps decrease the stigma around prostate and testicular cancer by showing] it’s not an embarrassment and it’s not something taboo. It’s been accepted in the community and we’re very happy about that.”
“As a population, we’re used to bringing awareness to breast cancer, but nothing about men. It took many years for breast cancer [awareness to become prominent]. Over the span of the last four years we’ve been doing this, we’ve made huge strides. We spoke with 3,500 to 4,000 boys – leaps and bounds over before, where you never even spoke of it or men might be embarrassed to say, ‘Yes, I had testicular cancer.’ There are so many people in Gadsden who have been diagnosed with testicular cancer and realized that it’s okay to talk about it. People who think, ‘I’m cancer free now, I’m good and I’m helping somebody else to talk about it.’ It did not take us very long, once we started the organization, to say it’s okay for us to talk about this, for us to go out in the community and say these words. It’s not a bad word – it’s a health situation.”
From Riverview Regional Medical Center turning its fountain blue in support of men’s health, to the flood of sponsors who unite with Man Up Gadsden each year, Etowah County’s generosity and willingness to help shines as a beacon of light. Taylor expressed her gratitude for the endless volunteers who donate their time coordinating events (which often sell out) and the sponsors who contribute financially to provide for local patients. Transparency is a pillar of Man Up Gadsden, with Taylor ensuring that all donators understand exactly where their contributions are dispersed, whether that be to provide treatment for patients, educational materials or other means of assistance. In return, Man Up Gadsden ensures its sponsors receive as much recognition as possible, highlighting those individuals, businesses and partners whose generosity makes Man Up Gadsden’s efforts viable.
“I’ve realized over a period of time what a small community can do when they come together,” said Taylor. “There are a lot of generous people, a lot of giving people who really want to help and think the same way we do. They have boys and men in their life that they love. [Sharing that] is a great feeling.”
Taylor resonated her hope for Man Up Gadsden’s future, sharing her vision for its growth and continued mission of service, education and prevention. She emphasized the organization’s openness to collaborate with others who wish to join their crusade, from volunteer and sponsorship opportunities, to individual fundraising events. While Man Up Gadsden seeks to inform men of the facts that could transform their health for the better, the nonprofit recognizes men as more than statistics – advocating for fathers and sons, brothers and uncles, husbands and friends to lead prosperous and healthy lives.
“When Dr. Pirani told me when we first started, and that first mother came in with that shower card and a young boy (a college student) was diagnosed with testicular cancer, I think that’s when I knew what we’re doing is helping,” said Taylor. “That is when I could physically see that it’s saved somebody’s life…had they not gotten that shower card and come in for an appointment, they wouldn’t be here today. As a mother, it makes me tear up even thinking about it, because that boy was around the same age as my oldest son. That was really my turning point, when I prayed and said, ‘Thank you God for leading me to this situation, to put me in contact with Dr. Pirani and the people who have helped us, to let me be a part of this organization.’”
For more information on Man Up Gadsden, visit www.manupgadsden.com, call 256-492-4040 or find Man Up Gadsden on Instagram and Facebook.