“Mo” is Australian slang for mustache. And “Movember,” growing a mustache during November, was an idea concocted by a group of men over a few beers in Melbourne, Australia, 7 years ago.

One of those men, Adam Garone, noticed that many people asked him about his mustache at the workplace and he saw it as an opportunity to start a conversation about something more important than facial hair.

“They thought of men’s health — the one thing that isn’t talked about worldwide,” Kim Mendoza, Movember Foundation representative said this week in a phone interview. “These four guys started it in Australia and just made a big global movement.”

Inspired by the women who raise funds and awareness for breast cancer research, the “Mo Bros” decided to raise funds for cancers that affect men.

In 2004, the campaign grew to 432 Mo Bros, and they decided to focus on one cancer — prostate cancer. Together, they raised $55,000 for the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia, representing the single largest donation the organization had ever received.

In the following years, Movember spread to the U.S., U.K., Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, Spain, South Africa, the Netherlands and Finland.

“We’re expecting a couple of countries to come in for next campaign,” said Mendoza. “We are becoming one of the largest worldwide fundraisers for non-profit.”

U.S. participation rose more than 300 percent between 2008 and 2009, more than any other country. Nevertheless, the U.S. remains behind Australia, Canada and the U.K. in number of participants.

As of Thursday morning, 43,998 Mo Bros and Mo Sistas were registered in the United States for 2010 and $1,136,700 had been raised. The funds will benefit the Prostate Cancer Foundation and LIVESTRONG Young Adult Alliance Program.

Several Maine men who had never heard of Movember be-fore are participating. For one month, they will grow a mustache, changing both their face and “the face of men’s health.”

Mo Bro Gibran Graham of Bangor has grown a full beard and a goatee before, but he has never worn a mustache.

“It’s going to be an interesting month,” Graham said. “A lot of us have interesting ideas about people with mustaches. There’s a lot of jokes to be had, whether it be about ’70s movie stars or people of less illustrious nature who fell on the wrong side of the law, and I’m neither one of those things — not a movie star or a criminal.”

As his stubble turns into something substantial, he will experiment with the look. If it grows long enough for him to wax the ends out in curls, he just might.

It’s an official rule that Mo Bros can’t grow a beard. The mustache can’t connect to any other facial hair.

“We like them to just have a mustache only because that’s what strikes up the conversations,” said Movember Foundation West Coast public relations manager Kim Murphy in a phone interview.

“Every time someone asks me about it, they’re going to get a mouthful about men’s health,” Graham said. “As a man myself, these are issues I think about. I’ve certainly looked at a lot of different stuff on the Movember website to make sure I’ve got my facts straight.”

He also has put some re-search into mustaches. Recently, he bought “The Facial Hair Handbook” by two-time World Beard Champion Jack Passion.

Graham formed a team of eight men from the Bangor area: Brett Slater, Erich Hunter, Bill Cassinelli, Casey Benn, Luke Shorty, Zachary Schiller and Flip Florey. And he’s hoping to get more men on board.

“There seems to be not as many efforts out there that are specific to men’s health, and I thought it was important that light was being shed on it,” said Graham. “And it seemed like it would be a fun thing to do.

“I don’t think men go around planning to not talk about this. I think it’s just the way it is,” he said. “Maybe it’s just the fact that a lot of men don’t want to wear ‘pink ribbons’ for them-selves. That’s something that needs to change for better awareness.”

Graham imagines fundraising will come a lot easier when he has a little more growth on his face, and he plans to post photos on Facebook.

“I have to prove it, right? I don’t think any of us will shave it off until it’s time. We have a commitment to it,” he said.

Though Mo Sistas — women who support the cause and the male participants — make up a small percentage of participants, they are the majority of team captains.

Mo Sista Jean Fogelberg, 54, of Deer Isle is in the lead in fundraising efforts in the Bangor area with $539 in funds raised by Thursday. She has been donating to prostate cancer research for a number of years, ever since her husband, singer-songwriter Dan Fogelberg, died of the disease in December 2007.

On the Valentines Day after his death, Jean released a song her late husband had written for her called “Sometimes a Song” and donated the proceeds to the Prostate Cancer Foundation. She then became an advocate for the foundation, fund-raising for them “in small ways.”

“Prostate cancer is one of the most curable cancers if you catch it in time,” Jean said. “But getting men to talk about it is really hard.”

This is the first year she will participate in Movember. She learned about the campaign while attending the 3-day conference “Advance on Washington Pushing for Progress in Prostate Cancer” in Washington, D.C.

Her Movember team “In Memory of Dan” had raised $2,111 by Thursday. Team members and supporters have joined her Facebook page online and wear faux mustaches in their Facebook profile photos.

“The mustache is like a blue ribbon. It’s really the guys doing it,” she said. “The way women can show support is putting on mos on Facebook.”

About one in six men will be afflicted with prostate cancer in his lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society.

“My goal is getting men to talk about it and understand what the numbers mean and take responsibility because if my husband and I knew what the numbers meant, he’d be here today,” she said. “He was misdiagnosed.”

Men should start screening for prostate cancer between the ages of 40 and 50, according to the American Cancer Society. The Prostate-Specific Antigen Test measures the level of protein in the blood produced by the prostate gland. The higher a man’s PSA level, the more likely it is that cancer is present. Most doctors consider a PSA level below 4.0 ng/ML as normal.

“One of the main things we’re working on is getting better tests, and there’s one right around the corner,” Jean said.

Near the end of the month, Movember gala parties will be held across the United States. Mo Bros and Mo Sistas in costume will compete for the Man of Movember and Lady of Movember titles. Awards will also go to the Lame Mo — an encouragement award to the “facial follically challenged” Mo Bro.

The closest official gala to Maine is Boston, but people wishing to throw their own galas can request the Movem-ber Foundation to send them a gala pack. The foundation also gives out two international awards and awards to the top fund raising individuals and teams in each country.

“This is purely a word-of-mouth campaign, and it’s people hearing that other people are taking part,” said Lisa Potter, Movember Foundation Director of PR and Communications for North America in a phone interview. “This year, we are tracking again three times where we were last year [for U.S. participants].”

Registration is open all of November, but keep in mind that it takes time to grow a mo.

For Jean Fogelberg’s Mo Space website, visit us.movember.com/mospace/536860, and for Gibran Graham’s Mo Space, visit http://us.movember.com/mospace/734886/. For information on the Prostate Cancer Foundation, visit www.pfc.org.


Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.