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Keeping abreast
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The argument exists that men and women have basically the same feelings and emotions, but that testosterone prevents most men from allowing their sensitive side to be witnessed very often.

In my experience, my close friends of both genders are sensitive folks who don’t mind talking about not only their successes and things that bring them great joy, but also about their fears and failures and things that make them angry. That’s what makes us friends. We’re able to put what we honestly are on the table and know that we’ll be loved — no matter what.

That being said, I’ve also known a bunch of guys who can be classified only as jerks. Some of them doubtless have bought into the macho thing, thinking they have to do everything better than the other guy, which is why their last words are usually:

"Hold my beer, dude. I want to try something."

On the other side of the coin, my close female friends all tend to have an abundance of the rarest of qualities — common sense. They see things as they are, and call it as they see it.

Unfortunately, there’s a large segment of the female population who equate to those testosterone-driven males. They fit into a category which rhymes, simply, with witch. They may have a thyroid issue, or maybe just an overactive pituitary gland. Don’t know, don’t care. I just try to avoid them, at all costs.

Males or females, nice guys or jerks, nice ladies or one of those others — all are susceptible to a disease which can be defeated if caught in the early stages: breast cancer.

What? Isn’t breast cancer a problem only for women?

Nope. Something like one-half of one percent of all breast cancer deaths in America are males. And I’m guessing that 100 percent of those fatalities ignored the symptoms until it was too late. So if you’re a guy, and you think Hooter’s is just a restaurant with scantily clad waitresses, pay close attention to your own pectorals when you’re lathering up in the shower.

About 25 years ago I’d come home from football practice and, showering, noticed a little hard lump in my left nipple. Yes, it’s discomforting to read the word "nipple" in print. If it makes you feel better, it’s uncomfortable typing it, too. But at any rate, I ignored the lump, thinking maybe I’d been hit when holding a blocking dummy at practice.

For the next three days I simply avoided lathering up that left nipple, hoping it would go away. It didn’t.

So I dutifully told my doctor, who sent me to local surgeon Steve Whitworth, who plopped me in a chair and sliced that bad boy right out of my chest. At home, I waited for what seemed an eternity for the biopsy test results.

When the results came in, I learned for sure that the single most beautiful word in the English language is: benign.

Fast forward, now, to the 21st century. The Newton Medical Center, one of the ubiquitous 1946 Hill-Burton hospitals placed all about America after World War II, now provides our area with state-of-the-art facilities and staff.

The Newton Medical Auxiliary has for years furnished needed equipment, including the most modern mammography equipment available, located in the Women’s Diagnostic Center.

Just last Friday this red-blooded good ole boy personally experienced what goes on in the Women’s Diagnostic Center. And not as a "Peeping Tom" either.

Two weeks ago I’d put my seat belt on and the doggone thing hurt my right nipple. That hadn’t gone away, either.

My doctor agreed there was a lump in there that hadn’t been there before; so I celebrated May Day, 2009, by having my first ever — mammogram. That’s right, spread the word. Nat Harwell had a mammogram in the Women’s Diagnostic Center.

Not only was that quite an experience, as my schoolgirl figure made it tough for the technician to fit the machine around my fat self, but the results required a follow-up ultrasound.

Let me tell you, the ultrasound is a whole lot more pleasant than the mammogram. A nice lady slathered warm slippery stuff all over my chest and let me view the inside of the lump on a monitor as she moved a transducer around. The technician and radiologist then agreed that my lump was not a big deal, which relieved me greatly.

It’s quite possible that my medical condition is not exactly what you’d like to read about on a Sunday morning. But it’s my hope that my experience will make at least one person aware of how important self-examination is with regards to breast cancer, and will also engender some measure of thoughtful gratitude for those who have worked for decades to provide state-of-the-art facilities to us all at Newton Medical Center.

That said, you’re now abreast of the situation!

Nat Harwell is a resident of Newton County. His columns regularly appear in Sunday’s paper.