After losing his father to bladder cancer in 1999, Shawn Haakenson has a lot to live for.

The 32-year-old is married to wife, Nadine, and has a 2-year-old son named Cash. Haakenson’s mother battled cancer too. Though she’s cancer-free now, she traveled to Minnesota, sometimes by herself, for treatment.

So when Jamestown Regional Medical Center created a beard-growing contest for men’s health, support just grew… and grew.

That growth was due in part to Haakenson and the James River Correctional Center’s (JRCC) #GROWvember team: “All About the Beard – No Stubble.” Haakenson is a sergeant there. He and his six teammates – Tarnue Ballah, Brad Carlson, Jared Schwanz, Mitch Hansmeier, Travis Yunck and James Young – took top prize for most money raised in the #GROWvember beard-growing contest. In total, JRCC and the other 13 teams raised more than $3,000. All proceeds benefit the upcoming JRMC cancer center.

Correctional center officers are more than just coworkers. The guards there work seven days in a row and then get three days off. They work in stressful, unpredictable conditions during the day shift, then the night shift and many times, on Easter Sunday and Christmas Day. The relationships they form require teamwork and trust. Lots of it.

Haakenson said he planned to do the contest alone if no one wanted to join him. But they did, without question. Some of his fellow guards even reached out to him, asking if they could join. That community spirit is not unique to the seven members of the #GROWvemeber team. JRCC regularly participates in community events, most recently, the Holiday Dazzle parade where they took top prize for their decorated float.

The JRMC #GROWvember contest raised awareness and action to men’s health below the belt. The goal of the campaign was to bring awareness to issues in the bedroom and bathroom. Some of those issues are due to an enlarged prostate. Others may be symptoms of cancer.

“Symptoms are the best way to determine if a person may need a urologist,” said Dr. Robert Bates, a Harvard-trained urologist at JRMC. “If a man has to go to the bathroom frequently, or urgently, he should see me. If things aren’t going well in the bedroom or he isn’t feeling like himself, I can help.”

The #GROWvember cause was also near to the heart of Hansmeier, one of the JRCC team members. His father battled prostate cancer in their home state of Minnesota.

“My mom pestered him to get tested because she’s a nurse,” he said. “He’d have never done it otherwise. I want other people to know that they need to get tested too.”

Haakenson said one of the benefits of the local urologist is referrals – to see Dr. Bates, patients don’t need one.

“They can just call and make an appointment,” he said. “They don’t need to go through their primary care physician and wait. That’s huge.”

Given the sensitivity of the below-the-belt subject matter, one would think it’d be delicate to talk about. But not for the JRCC #GROWvember team. They conduct delicate, sensitive and sometimes absurd conversations every day.

“We want to raise awareness, so someone else doesn’t lose a parent,” Schwanz said.

When Haakenson’s dad died, he was 49 years old. Shawn was only 15.

“This cause is amazing, it touches a lot of people,” he said. “I’ll be glad to get this kind of care so close to home.”

For more information about men’s health below the belt, or to schedule an appointment, call 952-4878.