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Manning up to cancer

By Jay Abramovitch

Who says men don’t cry? Don’t show emotions? Can’t support each other on a deep intimate level through the hellish barbaric like experience we call cancer?

Just suck it up and man up, right?

This is the very stigma and masculine toxicity of being the “tough guy” that Man Up to Cancer is trying to — no, wait a second — WILL prove wrong and change!

The mission of Man Up to Cancer is simple:

We’re on a mission to change the definition of “man up.”

For us, it means reaching out instead of isolating, and having the courage to accept help. Manning up isn’t just about being tough. It’s about knowing we are smarter and stronger as a pack than we are as lone wolves. 

This seemingly simple, yet beast of a project was exactly what founder Trevor Maxwell took on after spending the first part of his journey alone in Maine, USA. Standing at 6’4″ and 225 lbs, his image suggests the epicentre of “manning up” and getting through cancer with brute force and on his own.

The sad, heartbreaking reality was not this at all. It was that very same 6’4″ 225 lb man lying on the floor crying, lost, alone, and hopeless, day after day with nowhere to turn after being diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer simply because he’s a man. He doesn’t “need” support, or programs, or specialized interventions focused on the very unique challenges of cancer he faced.

Let’s back up a bit

In November 2020, at the age of 36, life as I knew it turned upside down with a stage 3 colon cancer diagnosis. I very quickly came to learn the stark realization that I was one the “forgotten ones” in the cancer world. Not only was I a young adult who got plagued with an “old person’s cancer,” I was a man.

My search was on.

I attended support group after support group full of women. The therapist, doctors, social workers — all women. Where the heck were all the men?

Don’t get me wrong, this is not about one gender or another in a negative or confrontational way. I have some amazing lifelong friends I’ve made along the way who are women, my team is made up of a good number of women. I love them all dearly and appreciate them so and words could not express my gratitude. But there were things that came up for me that I wanted to discuss with people who had experience with the same issues or answers to my specific questions.

Finding my people

When I was introduced to Man Up to Cancer, I was skeptical. After my very first interaction with members on the private group, The Howling Place, I knew I was home. The kindness, love, support, acceptance, and vulnerability of these men was overwhelming and something I never thought even existed. This is the only place like this that exists for men as far as I know. How messed up and unacceptable is that!?

This platform is an online community which was entirely Facebook- and private messaging-based, and the closest we came to being face-to-face was our biweekly Zoom meet ups. That was until September 2022 at Camp Duffield in Upstate New York!

The Gathering of The Wolves was the very first time all of us would be face-to-face with dozens of men whom we had shared our deepest darkest secrets and struggles with for almost two years.

Let’s think about this — 60 men who have never met in person who have been emotionally supporting one another over social media, texts, calls, and Zoom during the turmoil of cancer from three countries (US, Canada, and Belgium), coming together in one space for three days. Let that sink in for a moment.

Myself, along with three other Canadian Wolfpack members, took our passports, Tim Hortons, and a whole bunch of the unknown headed to Camp Duffield. It could have either been a life-changing epic magical experience, or — let’s face it — the start to one of those horror movies!

The second we showed up and I laid my eyes on all of the men I have gotten to “know” — probably better than some of their own family and closest friends — was overwhelming. Tears were instantly running down my face. To hug these incredible men and to be standing right in front of them was something beyond my wildest dreams.

The Wolfpack is a sacred safe place so I’m going to stop there but what I will say is:

And I will proudly say and scream it from the roof tops:

This was one of the most impactful, meaningful, and profound experiences of my entire life.

Watch out world. there are 60 men — and 1,700 others that couldn’t be with us in person at Camp Duffield — out there and on a mission! We will not stop, we will not quit, until every man affected by cancer out there knows you are not alone! The Wolfpack is here waiting for you.


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