Neil Orr x Movember
Neil OrrImage by: Max Rosenstein
Neil Orr x Movember
3 November 2021

Movember Over The Years: A Reflection From Neil Orr

6 minutes read time

For Mo Bro Neil Orr, his Movember journey is a deep rooted one; for nearly 20 years, Neil has been growing a moustache in support of men’s health, with his first experience being in 2004.

Since then, Neil has faced many challenges and triumphs, from being diagnosed with prostate cancer to participating in multiple cancer awareness fundraisers, becoming a peer support member of the York Region Critical Incident Stress Team, and much more. Neil sat down with us in the barber chair to share his experiences and lessons learned on community, mental health and prostate cancer after almost two decades.

What’s your motivation for doing Movember?

With Movember, as with the other cancer awareness fundraisers I have participated in such as Ride to Conquer Cancer and Cops for Cancer’s head shaving, I have always looked at it as an investment in my future. With the prevalence of cancer one has to think the odds are pretty good that you will encounter some form of the disease in your lifetime.

Neil, you’ve been a part of so many Movembers and we’re grateful for that! What was your first experience with it like, and do you have any standout Movember stories?

My first experience I believe was in 2004 (or very close to the year that Movember launched in Canada). I was a member of the executive of our police association at the time and we went all in and I helped to organize our launch and wrap up parties.I had a moustache from 1984 to 1994 when I shaved it off one day out of impulse. My daughters were shocked to say the least. Fast forward to 2004 I decided to give it another go. The camaraderie of doing it with a group, along with the motivation to raise awareness and some money made the experience a fun and rewarding one.

While you’ve been going through the process of diagnosis and treatment, what people and resources in your life have been supporting you?

Well let’s begin with Dr. Di Costanzo of Markham Urology. You don’t go on a journey like this without first hearing those words “You have prostate cancer” His tone was one of concern and commitment to ‘throw everything they had’ at my disease. My PSA was 58 and my Gleason score was 9. I needed a doctor who was as committed to healing me as I was to getting healed. I was provided a resource book on prostate cancer to take home and read. I was given referrals to oncologists at Sunnybrook Hospital as well as Southlake Hospital in Newmarket. Dr. Louis Fenkell has become my radiation oncologist and is managing my external radiation treatment at the Stronach Regional Cancer Centre at Southlake. Their candor and willingness to answer all my questions and provide me literature to explore, gave me a sense of knowledge and control over my destiny.

My wife Heather and I are a team in every sense of the word. We conquered her cancer journey together almost 10 years ago, and we’re on this journey together as well. My family is the glue that holds the package together. Both daughters Alex and Hilary stepped in and eased the strain in the house, allowing me to heal and Heather to be my support.

My circle of friends has humbled me to say the least. Their outpouring of support, positive vibes, offers to help with anything and prayers left me encouraged and grateful to have them in my world. In the full spirit of Movember I have been blessed to have men reach out to me and share their very personal stories of diagnosis, treatment decisions, and recoveries. With emotions still close to the surface, they walked me through their journeys and all of them reinforced that whatever choices I made, I needed to own them. For them, I am truly grateful.

Being a peer support member of the York Region Critical Incident Stress Team, how did that involvement come about?

Well similar to my introduction to the cancer awareness campaigns, I initially looked at working with the team as an investment in my future mental health. I joined the team and took the requisite peer support training. I took part in many Critical Incident debriefings until finally I was diagnosed with PTSD. I was able to apply my training and experiences with others to my own situation which I have no doubt shortened my recovery.

" Never underestimate the impact your efforts could have on people you don’t even know you have reached. The dialogue that this campaign initiates could very well be the game changer in someone’s life. "

If you could go back and tell First Year Mo Neil any piece of advice or wisdom, what would it be?

Never take a break growing the Mo! In November 2020 I took a break from growing the moustache, and mid-November I was diagnosed. It goes without saying: my upper lip will never be bare in November again.

I would also say, never underestimate the impact your efforts could have on people you don’t even know you have reached. The dialogue that this campaign initiates could very well be the game changer in someone’s life.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your life? How did you overcome them?

Like everyone else I have faced numerous challenges. Heather and I faced infertility together and adopted our 2 daughters. We faced her cancer journey together. We have faced the loss of parents to dementia together.

I believe what allowed me to overcome those challenges was that I didn’t let the situations define who I was. It was just hours after Dr. D had told me my diagnosis that I found myself searching for purpose. I didn’t cower with the news and ask ‘why me?’ Instead, I said ‘why NOT me?’ Why not give cancer to someone who has the capacity to fight, physically and mentally? I have never let cancer define who I am; it is merely something I have. I committed to Dr. D that I would fight this with everything I had and that I would be there for anyone that needed an ear. I committed to making sure that every guy I come in contact with knows my story. Knowledge is power and you need a hell of a lot of it in this battle.

What is one of the most impactful conversations you have had with a friend, a family member, a teammate, etc.?

This diagnosis has allowed me to start conversations with friends, family and acquaintances about a subject that not many are comfortable discussing. In doing so I have been able to educate many on the male anatomy and functionality of some of our parts. I have also made it a point to express in no uncertain terms the importance of asking their doctor for a PSA test. It warms my heart and makes my eyes water when guys send me text messages with their PSA results and they usually include a ‘thank you, Neil. I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t for you’. So to narrow down just one impactful conversation would be virtually impossible. I can’t think of anything more impactful than knowing that guys are getting tested and asking their doctors questions.

On a side note, I entered into a pact with Dr. D. I told him all he needed to do was keep me alive long enough for me to see the Maple Leafs win a Stanley Cup. I foresee many more years of good health in my future.

Donate to Neil's Mo Space here.