Men’s Health Month Hero: Gabe Canales of Blue Cure

June 6th, 2016


Gabe Canales 2016_What does it mean to be a hero? In Meatless Monday’s terminology it means having the courage and wherewithal to turn challenge into change. Former marketing and PR exec Gabe Canales did just that. When he was diagnosed with prostate cancer at the age of 35, he set out to discover why and how he got sick, then brought those answers to thousands of men and boys across America. Today he is the founder and president of Blue Cure, an organization that empowers males to embrace an anti-cancer lifestyle, including Meatless Monday, as early as possible. Each year, another 240,000 of our brothers, husbands, and fathers are diagnosed with prostate cancer. Gabe Canales is making sure that number diminishes, one brother at a time. Check out our recent interview with him below.

Gabe, you were diagnosed with prostate cancer at such an early age. It’s usually considered an “old man’s disease.” What was your first reaction?

I thought: “Am I going to die?” I don’t have a family history of prostate cancer so I wondered, “How did I get it?”

What changes did you choose to make in your diet and lifestyle?

I grew up in Texas where I ate lots of Mexican food, smoked barbecue, and country food like chicken-fried steak smothered in cream gravy. After I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, a doctor (one of many) in New York asked me to radically alter my dietary habits. So I ditched beef and pork, adopted a mainly plant-based diet with lots of cruciferous vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. I also eliminated dairy and reduced my sugar intake.

I used to drive a big Chevy Tahoe but almost three years ago I got rid of it, bought a bicycle, and made a choice to walk, jog, and bike everywhere in Houston. It was the best decision for me. When it’s raining or if I have to dress in a suit, I’ll take an Uber. In addition, I exercise at the gym five to six days a week for an hour.

What motivated you to start Blue Cure and what’s at the heart of the Blue Cure message?

When I was diagnosed, I got “active” in more ways than one. Here’s a short video about my story:

 

I started Blue Cure to be the blue side of the women’s pink movement for breast cancer, but for prostate cancer. Most men don’t start thinking about screenings till age 55, but Blue Cure reaches out to men and youth decades before screenings start. The substance behind our blue is education—to empower men, youth. and families with knowledge on ways to prevent, reduce risk, and improve outcomes of those diagnosed with prostate cancer. One in two men will be diagnosed with cancer, one in six will be diagnosed with prostate cancer; however, only one in 10 cancers are due to an inherited genetic mutation. There is so much we can do to reduce our risk by changing diet and lifestyle habits, eliminating/reducing exposure to harmful chemicals, managing stress, and sleeping more.

How is Meatless Monday part of your program?

Blue Cure promotes Meatless Monday. That one day of the week has served me and the Blue Cure community well. Most guys and youth I meet love fast food, are big meat eaters, and have very little if any fresh fruits and vegetables. We have to meet people where they are without hitting them over the head with judgment. So I encourage them to consider Meatless Monday as an opportunity to make small changes which will lead to healthier habits. Behavioral modification doesn’t happen overnight and Meatless Monday is a great jump-starter which can lead to bigger changes.

Via Blue Cure, you have started youth sports camps and basketball teams (elementary, junior, and high school levels) across Texas to prevent and reduce prostate cancer through lifestyle changes. Why should youth be thinking so early about prostate cancer and how do you convince them to change their soda-guzzling, sugar-consuming, cigarette-smoking habits?

Youth care about the “NOW,” so we let them know that by adopting healthier habits now, they can positively affect their athletic performance while reducing their risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. The education is age-appropriate and varies.

Blue Cure promotes physical activity, eating more plants, sleeping more, managing stress, and removing environmental toxins. It’s important we plant these seeds at an earlier age. Young people often give us their attention when they realize we have support from professional boxers, football, basketball, and baseball players. They want to be like them!

What are the obstacles men face (socially, culturally, physically) in eating less meat?

Where I live (Texas), many friends celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and special occasions with a steak. A lot of marketing from restaurants and fast food hits us with the message of meat as a reward.

Eating meat is part of our culture and identified with masculinity. We have to change perceptions. In 2012, the first year Blue Cure sponsored a Meatless Monday on a college campus, I made sure that college basketball players were involved in serving the meatless options we offered. The idea was to have more male students line up to try the delicious meatless options.

 

Bacon and Ranch Salad

Try Blue Cure’s “Bacon” and Ranch Salad

 

Again, my encouragement to men and youth is to add fruits and vegetables to each meal. Would it surprise you to know that I’ve spoken with many men on college campuses who share they don’t eat any fruits and vegetables? Start off with Meatless Monday, and on another day, remove it from another meal, and so on. These small changes will lead to bigger changes and soon you will find that you are reducing meat consumption and eating more plants—easily.

You have amazing support from athletes, civic leaders, corporations, major cancer centers, etc. Who are some of these entities and why have they’ve signed on with you?

I believe Blue Cure receives support from a growing number of influencers because they believe in the received support from professional athletes like NFL players JJ Watt, Owen Daniels, Chris Myers, celebrities like Roger Moore, Bob Saget, and Fran Drescher. Our #LightitBlue initiative has received support from cancer centers and hospitals like Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Baylor College of Medicine, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, Memorial-Hermann Health System in Houston, and others.

I’m grateful for the support we’ve received from professional athletes, celebrities, business, and political leaders, and the growing number of advocates who support our mission.

What’s your next biggest goal?

We just launched our nationwide #LightitBlue initiative, with the goal of “lighting blue” 100 landmarks, city halls, stadiums, and cancer centers for one evening during September’s National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. We are asking supporters to go to LightitBlue.org and  nominate a landmark in their city. We will work behind the scenes to secure a commitment. We would also like The White House to “light blue” one evening, just as “The People’s House” has lit up pink one evening during October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We must change the conversation with a greater emphasis on prevention. Here’s a recent television interview about #LightitBlue with me and former NFL player and Blue Cure board member Chris Myers.