Tommy Holl is sporting his Movember mustache for the fourth consecutive yearbut never for a more personal reason.
Movember is the annual month-long event that encourages men to grow mustaches during the month of November to raise awareness of men's health issues, such as prostate cancer and other male cancersand it coincides with Holl's personal battle with cancer.
The Holl story actually starts 12 years ago, when a student at Hinsdale Central High School, playing for the school's lacrosse club. Holl took his glove off one day and noticed a bump on his left pinky finger. "It didn't hurt and I didn't think anything of it [at the time]. It didn't concern me at all, and I let it go for the longest time," he said.
But then earlier this year, as he had done in the past, he was picking at it. This time, though, he made it worse and when his mom saw it, she insisted that he get it checked out.
Holl went to a surgeon in Downers Grove, who removed it and had a biopsy processed of the remains.
Holl soon was told it was cancer.
"It didn't sink in right away because I was thinking, the cancer is what [the doctor] removed. I thought, I was fine," he said.
Holl returned to the doctor a few days later with his parents and was referred to a specialist at Rush University Medical Center.
"I didn't think this would be anything," he said.
But, on Oct. 21, doctors told Holl that it is "serious and rare" and that they wanted to remove his whole finger. "I was in shock," he said.
Holl's medical team also discussed chemotherapy and radiation treatment. "That's when it really got real; that's when I lost it," Holl said. "I never thought cancer, chemotherapy or radiation were going to be a part of my life, especially when so young."
Holl, 30, grew up in Clarendon Hills and now lives in suburban Willowbrook. He works in TV media production.
Holl got a second opinion and doctors were discussing removing his whole finger. Holl admittedly was in "pinky survivor mode" to do whatever he could.
Holl, on Nov. 7, had cancer surgery at Rush University Medical Centerand half his finger was removed.
"Everything was happening in such a short period of time. It's been overwhelming and stressful," Holl said. "But I am now thrilled to say, as the doctor told me, I definitely am cancer-free. I have a clean bill of health."
He soon will be getting the stitches and bandage removed. His next checkup then is in three months.
"It's been a whirlwind over the past six weeks," said Holl, who is single and openly gay. "Everyone has been so awesome, so supportive.
"It looked like nothing [for years], but ended up being something. It really makes you think about life, though I still feel like it's out of a movie, and someone is soon going to yell, 'Cut!'
"But I know … this could have taken my life," he added, teary eyed.
Holl has received an outpouring of support, with calls, texts and social media messages from literally around the world.
"Awareness is so important because you never know where that support and comfort is going to come from," said Holl, who also this fall aligned with Imerman Angels, which provides personalized one-on-one support for cancer fighters, survivors and caregivers.
"In the past, I've participated in Movember because it's fun, is helping other people and is a great cause. Now, it's a personal mission; I really want to spread awareness as much as possible. You never think cancer is going to be part of your vocabulary, personally. But it can be."
Holl is hoping to raise at least $1,000 for Movember.
Donations to Holl's Movember fundraising campaign can be made at mobro.co/tommyholl .