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You never know who you will help by supporting 3D mammography

My youngest son walked out of his bedroom on Thursday morning and to say he was startled by his father would be an understatement of gigantic proportions.“Oh my God, Dad, what happened to you,” Noah said, for what stood before him was something he had never seen — his father without a lick of facial hair. “I don’t know if I can handle this. You look … way different. What the hell happened?”So I explained that it wasn’t going to last long, that I had taken a razor or two or three and rid myself of the goatee and he mustache I had went to bed with so I could participate in a “No-Shave November” fundraiser to not only raise money but also awareness about why we need to bring 3D mammography to Mercy Medical Center-New Hampton.Still, it was a shock to my poor boy. He’s never seen his dad without at least a mustache, and I think he was a bit shellshocked that day.Heck, so was I. I’ve worn a mustache since 1983 when I headed to college at Mankato State University. And often, I’ve had a goatee or a full beard to go along with it.But when Denise Webster, the promoter of the “Most Valuable Beard” promotion, asked me if I’d take part, I couldn’t say no even when she told me I’d have to start with a clean-shaven face.Although my family has been ravaged by cancer — Dad died of lung cancer and Mom succumbed to colon cancer — breast cancer has touched me only through friends.The mother of a good friend died from the disease when we were in high school, and I can still see the pain seared on Danny’s face at her funeral. That was more than 35 years ago, but it’s a memory I’ll carry to my grave.Yet today, I’d like to share the story of a former colleague, a photographer at the Globe Gazette in Mason City named Jeff Heinz.Yes, Jeff, is a man, and early last year, it was Jeff’s story that reminded me that breast cancer is not exclusive to women.We worked together for the better part of a decade at the Mason City paper, but the truth of the matter is the last time I saw Jeff was right before he retired after devoting 37 years to the Globe in June 2015.But we’ve remained friends on Facebook, and it was on the social media site that I learned in early 2017 that Jeff had breast cancer.“It took me by surprise, I’m not going to lie,” he told me over the phone that day. “You don’t think of it as being a guy thing, but it happens. One-half of 1 percent of breast cancer cases are men, and somehow I found myself in that tiny little number. My doctor had been practicing for 30 years, and I was his first-ever male breast cancer case.”To put it bluntly, 2017 was a horrific year for my former colleague. Doctors discovered the cancer in January and performed surgery in February. Chemotherapy and radiation followed, and it wasn’t pretty.“The chemo dang near killed me,” he said. “I was basically bedridden in the summer of 2017.”The drugs that counteract the effects of chemotherapy and radiation ravaged his immune system, and he came down with bronchitis and pneumonia and just about any other illness that afflicts those with weakened systems.But what I admire most about Jeff is that he has kept battling and he now is an outspoken advocate for male breast cancer awareness.He knows. A lump is a lump, no matter what the sex of the person is.So when Denise approached me, I couldn’t say no for a few reasons. One, Denise is hard to say no to. Two, my friend’s mom. Three, Jeff Heinz.He was — well, he still is — a talented photographer. His fire photos, for example, were the kind that made your jaw drop, and I appreciated the fact that even when I had a relatively “boring story” to shoot, Jeff more often than not found a way to “art” it with a photo that, even today, I can’t imagine taking.On Saturday, we talked about the “old days” and laughed at one of our favorite memories, the first Friday night football game in which our newspaper was going to be able to run full color pages … and the Mason City Mohawks came out in black pants and black jerseys.Jeff looked as crestfallen as a child who came downstairs to find nary a present under the Christmas tree.“I do remember that,” he said, “and you’re right, I did dang near cry.”But we also talked about the importance of breast cancer awareness … in both women and men. And after we were done talking, he sent me a message.“I had a 3-D mammogram this last May and will continue having one a year,” he said. “I strongly support the usage of 3-D mammograms for early cancer detection.”So if you have a buck or two or five you want to donate to the cause, there’s a pink can sitting on the front desk of the New Hampton Tribune. Trust me, it will make a difference.— For more on this story, see the Nov. 13 New Hampton Tribune.

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