Minnesota men help others ‘fight’ cancer with support and friendship

In September 2020, Andrew Heilman was diagnosed with stage four gum cancer. He has undergone surgeries to remove many teeth, as well as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. In May, he needed surgery again.

But things were different the second time around.

Heilman, who admits it’s hard for a lot of guys – including himself – to “admit that you need help,” has found his way to an online community called Man Up to Cancer. It made all the difference.

“It’s largely macho thinking” of men, said Heilman, 36, of Isanti. “We’re naturally supposed to be the ones taking care of everything, managing everything. It’s not easy to be vulnerable.”

The guy-centric community (manuptocancer.com) was founded by Trevor Maxwell, a stage 4 colorectal cancer survivor from Cape Elizabeth, Maine. It offers a website, podcast, social media posts and a Facebook group of over 1,300 men, unofficially known as the Wolf Pack.

“I discovered Man Up to Cancer when I was probably at the lowest point of my trip,” Heilman said. “I felt so lonely and scared for my family, but I knew I had to keep fighting. Then I found the pack of wolves and realized I was not alone – there had so many guys there who were fighting the same physical and mental battle as me, and we can help each other. ”

In November, Heilman began a one-year volunteer tenure as Wolf Pack Leader, promoting the group’s mission with fellow Minnesota Ben Yokel and 16 other men across the country.

Heilman plans to go to cancer centers to drop off the group’s materials and contact men facing cancer directly to answer questions and assure them “that I am here and have been through it and understand what they are doing. cross.

“The main thing is to let the guys know they’re not alone,” said Heilman, who sells industrial machinery. He has been cancer free for about seven months and will soon begin reconstructive surgery.

Yokel, from Duluth, has been living with advanced colorectal cancer since December 2014. When diagnosed he said, “My world was torn apart.

“It was too cold to go out, I was uncomfortable driving. It was a lonely trip,” said Yokel, 60, a retired dermatologist. He found a few communities online, but they tended to be treatment-oriented, he said, “and not so much the emotional aspects. Men, in general, we’re just not good at sharing. how we feel and then at 2 am it all falls apart. “

Father of three grown children and grandfather of three, Yokel was a founding member of Man Up. He now has friends all over the world, especially in Australia and Europe. “Someone is still online,” he joked.

He considers himself “one of the lucky ones”, who after surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, is now cancer free. As a pack leader, he looks forward to offering male cancer control newbies “all the resources to help them get through the diagnosis or just someone to call when the going is stressful.”

Maxwell, 44 and a freelance journalist, was diagnosed in 2018 and created Man Up to Cancer in January 2020. He confessed that, “like a lot of guys, I haven’t seen a primary care doctor, no check-up. , For years”.

When he became alarmingly anemic, his doctor sent him for a colonoscopy, where the cancer was revealed.

Maxwell cites studies which show that men are more likely than women to isolate themselves from cancer and are more likely to struggle with depression, anxiety and other mental health issues during treatment and beyond. .

The community was his “call to action, really,” said Maxwell, married with two teenage children. “I started it because I went through my own struggle with anxiety and depression and as I started digging that hole and started entering online support groups it was blatant they were dominated by women.

“Sometimes the woman would come in and say, ‘My husband has stage 4 cancer and his head is in the sand.’ Men just aren’t comfortable asking for help and that’s a real problem because anyone who tries to fight cancer on their own can face so many negative consequences. “

Man Up to Cancer’s mission, he said, is to encourage men to be strong enough to accept help.

“We’re trying to reverse the script on what it means to ‘increase roster’,” said Maxwell. “These men are becoming role models.”

Comments are closed.