HGTV's Tarek El Moussa Talks Cancer Diagnosis, Men's Health Awareness

M.A., Health Writer
Bruce Hulse

Life is full of surprises, the good ones and the other ones. For Tarek El Moussa, 36, an unexpected email from a Texas fan of his hit HGTV series, "Flip or Flop," resulted in a diagnosis of thyroid cancer in 2013. The show supporter happened to be a registered nurse who couldn't help but notice what she thought was a prominent lump in El Moussa's throat as she watched him on screen, a truth later confirmed by a biopsy. He was experiencing odd symptoms, such as having to clear his throat a lot and having trouble swallowing.

That wasn't the only jarring news El Moussa would receive, for soon after his successful surgery to remove a malignant thyroid tumor, he decided to pore over older medical records to be sure no details had been missed. When he saw a note about an "irregular testicular exam," he headed back to his doctor for an ultrasound that confirmed he had testicular cancer. Soon, he was scheduled for another surgery.

Now cancer-free and in remission, El Moussa is eager to share his story so other men might learn from his experience — and possibly save their own lives. He's a "SpokesMo" for the Movember Foundation, and in that role, he hopes guys who get together can move conversations beyond "How 'bout those Astros?" to "Have you had a prostate and testicular exam recently?"

Learn more about Movember in this HealthCentral story with the founder of the movement, and find out how this creative and effective campaign is looking to improve men's health worldwide.

HealthCentral (HC): Why is being a SpokesMo important to you?

El Moussa: It's natural to want to be private about something like all of this, but more exposure means possibly saving more lives. That's why I became an ambassador. Even my stepfather was diagnosed with testicular cancer and he just finished his chemotherapy — that really hits home.

I let my friends know I dealt with testicular cancer, and I urge them to get their physicals and take care of themselves. It takes 10 seconds to check yourself, so ask your doctor how to do that. I want men to get checked out when they should, because the sooner you find cancer, the better.

TarekAndKids, credit Bruce Hulse
Bruce Hulse

HC: What is the month of November, make that Movember, all about for you?

El Moussa: This is really a great time for men to improve their health, to get moving, be active, and eat better. In fact, Movember includes an opportunity to Move, to set a goal to walk, run, bike, or even row. It's also a way to fundraise to support the current men's health crisis, accomplished by yourself or with a team.

HC: You must be very physically aware of yourself now. What else are you doing to take care of you in the physical activity realm?

El Moussa: First, it's really important to find something you like if you are going to do it for the long term. For me, it's hot yoga. The type I do has a lot of movement, lunging and twisting, which is some good cardio for me.

HC: How's your diet? Did you change your eating after your experience with cancer?

El Moussa: I eat three meals and two snacks a day. I make sure I have at least three servings of vegetables, and I include complex carbohydrates and plenty of protein. (Complex carbs do include vegetables, as well as peas, beans, and whole grains.)

HC: You've said that as a result of your diagnoses and treatments, you had to deal with exhaustion, roller-coaster emotions, and bad physical side effects. That sounds really difficult for anyone. How do you sustain your mental and emotional balance now?

El Moussa: Every day, we're all presented difficult things to deal with. My situation was challenging. Being happy is real, and so is being depressed, so be aware of feelings. The key, I think, is to surround yourself with positive people. If you need support, ask for it and get it. Keep your head up and keep moving forward.

See more helpful articles:

About Thyroid Cancer — Risks, Statistics, Different Types

Why Young Men Avoid Sexual Health Care

What’s Behind the Depression Treatment Gap?