My First Mammogram — Part 2

Real Men Do Wear Pink


And Breast Cancer

It has been a month since I posted a column about the experience of undergoing my first mammogram. And I promised I would keep you updated about my progress.

On Tuesday, April 28, I saw my doctor again after finishing two sessions of taking antibiotics she had prescribed for what she and the radiologist believed to be an infection in my right breast.

Please remember that there was what appeared to be swelling or “fullness” in that breast. There was also tenderness and pain. The doctors were especially concerned because of my family history: My mother died of breast cancer in 2010, after battling the deadly disease three times.

Each time it recurred, it was much more aggressive than the previous occurrence. Finally, at age 95 and literally worn out, my mother decided not to submit to any more surgery, and believed that radiation and chemotherapy would do more harm than good.

Several months after that decision, she died peacefully in her sleep one night. She had gone from being 120 pounds, down to about 80. But she was ready to go, and knew her shepherd would welcome her.

As for me, I didn’t sleep much the night before my doctor visit earlier this week. All sorts of things dashed in and out of mind. I was also nervous while waiting in the examining room for my doctor to come in. When she finally did, I told her that the 20 days of antibiotics seems to have been somewhat beneficial. There was less swelling or “fullness” in the breast; very little actual pain, but still some tenderness around the nipple.

After she probed, prodded and asked several questions, she had a smile on her face, which helped to lighten my mood. She said she believed the “spot,” or infection was gone. I shouted, “Yes!”  — but only inside my own head.

I knew there was a “but” — and there was. “We won’t know for sure until there’s another ultrasound and mammogram,” she said.

Remembering the pain, discomfort and overall strangeness of the previous mammogram, set in a place (The Women’s Breast Center) where I felt out of place, I began to negotiate. “How about just a follow-up ultrasound,” I asked, “but not another mammogram?”

After thinking about it for a few seconds, she said, “Okay, I’ll put on the referral just a follow-up ultrasound.” But when she saw the smile beam across my face, she added a caution: “But if the radiologist determines you still need a second mammogram, I’ll have to concur.”

My smile shrank. She gave me the referral form requesting  only the ultrasound test, and told me to call promptly to schedule the procedure. It’s been a day or so now, and I haven’t called, yet. Don’t worry, I will.

But I still hold out hope that I won’t have to face the sadistic robot, “Klaatu” — that imposing mammogram machine — again.

Stay tuned.




What price a community’s soul?: Spring break and The Almighty Dollar

Spring Break:

Rapes,  A Mass Shooting

And Other Debauchery


Several residents of the normally tranquil community of 12,000 in Panama City Beach, Fla., are deeply concerned that the annual rite of spring that brings tens of thousands of college students swarming to their hotels, restaurants, parks, beaches and city streets has gotten out of control recently.

“Chaos,” is how many  of them — and even some city officials — are referring to the gatherings that occur in March and April, featuring plenty of bikinis, swim trunks,  alcohol and drugs.

But the truth is, this prolonged, anything-goes party has been out of control for years. City and law enforcement officials, and many residents, have held their noses, breathed huge sighs of relief — once the students vacate the city limits — then clean up the mess and count the money the students pump into the economy. According to recent published reports, the economic boost, this year, is estimated at $90 million.

That’s a powerful incentive to overlook the excesses, the petty and serious crimes, the injuries, the overall nastiness and disrespect, and the cheapening of the community’s reputation and its desirability as a place for families with children.

What price will a community pay for its soul? That’s the question many have had to face in the past, or are facing now in this age of service economies and economic viability tied mainly to tourism and throwing big parties — Mardi Gras, Super Bowls, The Olympics, Spring Break, Freaknik.

Spring break in Florida and Atlanta’s old Freaknik, however, with the possible exception of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, seem to be in a category of their own.

The anything-goes attitude — with open drinking and drugging, sexual taunting and assaults, nudity, brazen defiance of local laws, and vulgar public displays, such as urinating on lawns in residential areas — appears to be the order of the day.

The tendency, so often, is for those tasked with enforcing the rules and regulations to look the other way, because strict enforcement will tick off those who have come to expect lax enforcement. The fear is they will pick up their beers and their wallets, and do their partying and spending somewhere else.

This season in Panama City Beach has been especially disturbing, however. In Mid-March, a 19-year-old, unconscious woman was allegedly gang raped on the beach — in broad daylight — while hundreds of other partyers watched, took cellphone pictures and video — or simply ignored it. Not one of them did anything to stop it. No one called the police.

The horrific incident would have escaped authorities’ notice, if police in Alabama — while investigating a shooting — hadn’t run across a cellphone video that showed the alleged crime in progress, and turned it over to police in Panama City Beach.

According to media reports, the woman who was the alleged victim of the assault told authorities she believes she was drugged before the incident, and that she didn’t report it because she couldn’t remember it clearly enough to do so.

Three men have been arrested in the case, so far, and charged with sexual battery, multiple perpetrators. Police say there may be other arrests. Two of the three in custody are students at Troy University, in Alabama, according to media reports, and the third is a student at Middle Tennessee State University. News reports say the Troy University students have been suspended by the school.

Even though the alleged sexual assault took place about two weeks before a shooting that injured seven people during a spring-break house party, it did not come to authorities’ attention until after that incident. A suspect is being sought in the shooting, too.

And it’s not just these particular incidents that have many residents riled up. According to reports, spring-break events have led to more than 1,100 arrests this year; the number of reported sexual assaults has doubled over last year, from  six to eleven, and the number of cases involving suspects considered armed and dangerous went up six-fold, from three last year, to 18 this year.

Those are staggering numbers for a community of just 12, 000 residents. But the city’s spring-break population swells to between 250,000 and 300,000, and the event seems to get bigger every year.

That was typical of the Freaknik spring-break “celebration” that grew to rule the city of Atlanta, after modest beginnings as a small picnic among college students who were mostly from the Washington, D.C. area, but attended colleges in Atlanta in the early 1980’s.

At its height in the mid-90’s, the event drew upwards of 250,000 revelers from around the country; and as its numbers swelled, the event became more and more raucous, and more disruptive to the lives of residents and the operations of the city.

There were times when city streets and interstate highways were shut down by thousands of parked cars, while their partying inhabitants were out preening, dancing, socializing, taking photos and videos of the goings-on and the massive disruption they were causing — as if that was the way things were supposed to be.

There many reports of wedding parties trapped and not able to make it to the church on time; of ambulances with emergency patients on board stuck in impossible traffic, trying desperately to get to hospitals.

There were many arrests for drunkenness, drug use, sexual assaults and other crimes. I know, because I was an editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the time, and for a while, was the editor in charge of Freaknik coverage.

Those of us at the paper dreaded it each year. The moving, no-holes-barred, and often X-rated, feast was a nightmare to cover — to try and figure out how to deploy our troops; where the kids would congregate; how law enforcement might react; and how those assigned to cover it could move freely amid the chaos. We even had to consider if we could guarantee our reporters’ safety.

The same attitude that was at work at Freaknik — until the big party was basically shut down by city officials beginning in 1996 (when Atlanta was preparing to host an even a bigger party — the ’96 Olympics,) is that students will flock to it because it allows them the kind of freedom they can experience no where else, in no other part of their daily lives.

They can be their worst selves; they are anonymous travelers, partygoers in a strange land, where the only people who know them and their families are the comrades they bring with them.  That anonymity knocks down all the barriers. They can become simply one among a faceless crowd (mob really,) free to act however they want, free to satisfy long-pent-up desires and wishes, free to be hooligans, boors, Bacchanalia lovers — all under the banner of The Foolishness of Youth.

For too soon, they will have to clean up their acts, put on their business suits and go to work, taking care of families, and trying to make a mark on the world.

Students attend these events and act the way they do, because they can. They know anything is permitted, that officials will turn their heads because of the revenue generated by these monster parties. If officials crack down on the gatherings, strictly enforcing the rules, then the partyers will move on to another venue, where city leaders welcome their money — if not their debauchery.

City leaders in Atlanta, under then-Mayor Bill Campbell, eventually had enough of Freaknik. The city refused to grant permits for venues requested by those who wanted to hold events for the crowds. Police cracked down with strict enforcement, and the crowds faded. The revelers soon moved on to Daytona Beach, Fla., for awhile. I don’t know if Freaknik is still a “happening”; don’t hear any rumblings about it anymore.

The point is, yes, such events help fill a city’s coffers; create jobs, and can breathe new life into the financial health of a community. But at what cost? That’s the question Atlanta had to face, and is the question now before Panama City Beach’s leaders.

Eventually, a community must choose. How long do you continue to hold your  breath and hope that nothing much worse will happen? Is the chaos and carnage worth it?

What price your soul?

How many pieces of silver?








Order In The Court: a little kindness, please

The 53-year-old man standing before the judge in an Indiana courtroom, recently, might as well have been holding up a sign that says: “Will go to jail for food.”

At a time when we are continually being told that the Great Recession of 2008 is behind us, that unemployment is down, that companies large and small are hiring again, and consumer confidence is on the rise, what David Potchen told Lake County Judge Clarence Murray wasn’t what the judge was expecting to hear.

As reported by the Post-Tribune and, Potchen, who was before the judge because he was accused of having robbed a local bank, told Judge Murray he would plead guilty to the charges — if he could be assured that Murray would give him the maximum sentence of eight years in prison.

The judge, to say the least, was, at first, intrigued, and by the time Potchen finished his story, the man behind the bench was deeply moved.

“I hope to God someone reads about this and offers some help to you,” Murray said, according to press reports. “You’re not a throwaway, Mr. Potchen. You have value, sir. I’m always optimistic and hopeful that there are still good people out there who believe freedom is important.”

Potchen’s story:  The former welder, who had served two-and-a-half years in prison for a robbery in 2000, said he walked into the bank with a shotgun, this time, gave the teller a note demanding money, took about S1,600, walked outside, sat on the cub, and waited for police to arrive.

He was a desperate man and didn’t know where else to turn. He had been laid off from his $11-an-hour job at a rail car company, then lost the room where he was living in a local motel.

“I begged the guy don’t lay me off,” he said,  according to published reports. He said he would forfeit his health benefits and not seek a raise, if that would save his job.

It didn’t.

Things got so bad, he said, that he tried living out in the woods for a while, but just couldn’t take it anymore. “I couldn’t bear the thought of losing everything again.”

Now, there have been other cases, in other cities, of homeless people wanting to escape the frigid blows of winter, or mentally challenged street people seeking a safe place to crash for awhile, to get away from predators and others who hassle them. But in those cases, generally, such people might commit petty crimes hoping to land in jail temporarily, until they can figure out a better option.

But Potchen was insisting on the maximum sentence, because — being a convicted felon — he knew it would be difficult, if not impossible, for him to find (to his mind) a better long-term solution.

He had told the judge that, in his predicament, he felt like a throwaway.

His defense lawyer, Stephen Scheele, argued that his client just wants to work. “You have a fellow who is charged with doing something very serious,” he said, “but his motive by all appearances was not to rob this bank to enrich himself, but rather to put a roof over his head.”

Scheele said in a later newspaper interview that if a Post -Tribune reporter had not been in the courtroom that day, nobody would have heard about Potchen’s story. But as the paper, itself, reported, people all around the region did hear about it, and some of them wanted to come to Potchen’s aid.

Job offers started coming in from as far away as New Jersey, the paper reported. A shift supervisor for a company in Goshen, Ind., that manufactures frames for RVs, told the paper the company is always looking for good welders. “If they could arrange some kind of housing for him, I could carpool him in,” he said.

When asked why he would offer to help a man in Potchen’s situation, the shift supervisor said, “There’s a lot of ex-convicts in the world, sir. I had some legal trouble myself. But we’re always looking for people who want to work. We’ll see. We’ve got things to do if he wants to work.”

Offers of housing and donations of clothing followed. And after a considerable amount of complicated legal steps, including appeals to the parole board to release a hold on him, Potchen walked out of the Lake County Jail a few days ago.

We don’t know what kind of “end” this story will have, but, at least, there’s a happy “now.”

Apparently, Judge Murray’s optimism, belief in God, and his faith in the generosity of people who know a good cause when they see one, paid off.

Lake County obviously has a wise man on the bench. And the power of the press is not completely gone.






Harper Lee’s Big Secret, uh, Sequel

Go Set a Watchman, the To Kill a Mockingbird sequel that

is also a prequel, has the literary world on pens and needles

What is being called an historic literary and cultural event set tongues wagging across the globe when it was announced recently that literary icon and beloved author, Harper Lee, would be publishing a “new book” this July.

And no wonder, the stunning news came in the wake of the author, now 88 years old, soberly declaring just a few years ago that she would not be releasing another book. At the time, she bolstered that declaration, saying, ” … all I have to say” was said with the publication of her then one — and only — novel,  To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960.

That book, which according to industry reports has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide, is a classic, on par with the best literature America has to offer, and it’s Pulitzer Price-winning pedigree helped spawn a classic, 1962 movie of the same title, and was also a driving force behind Lee being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007.

The news of the new novel, however, was a seismic tremor. Fans and others who followed the “very private” author’s life, as much as is possible from a distance, were suddenly concerned that the elderly writer — who was reportedly suffering from hearing loss and macular degeneration, and had also suffered a stroke a few years earlier — might be incapable of handling her own affairs, and could be the victim of selfish “handlers” bent on exploiting her fame for their own gain.

Still others fretted that the new book might not be up to Lee’s high standards, which might be why it wasn’t published previously, and that it’s publication now would taint Lee’s reputation. These fans also believed that Lee — if she were truly in control — would not allow the publication of this book.

I have to admit I had some concerns, too, even though I was hoping, big time, that Lee was still in control of her faculties and publication of the book was what she wanted. This is such a rare occurrence — in my lifetime anyway. According to reports, Go Set a Watchman was written in the 1950’s, before To Kill a Mockingbird. The book includes many of the same characters who appear in the other book, but is set about 20 years later in time, when Scout, the young-girl narrator of To Kill a Mockingbird, is a working woman, who comes back to her small, Alabama hometown to visit her father and friends.

Lee’s editor at the time supposedly convinced her to shelve Go Set a Watchman and try to tell the story through the eyes of the young girl, Scout, which Lee did, to much praise, accolades and honors.

The earlier, unpublished book was then lost among other papers for decades, and only found late last year. Lee, herself, reportedly thought the manuscript was a goner. Concerns surrounding the elderly writer’s health and the mysterious circumstances connected with the discovery of the long-lost novel, led Alabama state officials to conduct an investigation to determine if Lee were physically and mentally capable of deciding how she wanted to handle her affairs.

That investigation concluded that she is — and as her literary agent has said — she is as quick-witted as ever. That is comforting and exciting news for those of us who appreciate her super-sized talent, her humanity and concern for others — evident in her work — and her determination to live her life in her small town and not be blinded by the bright lights of the big city, fame, fortune and the unrealistic demands of those who expect to virtually live in the back pocket of those they admire and literally claim for themselves.

She decided she didn’t want to be worshiped by fans, hounded by the media, or have to answer to others’ expectations of how she should live and what she ought to “give to the world.”

Too many other celebrities: great writers, singers, painters, dancers, etc., succumb — and fall down that rat hole she so carefully avoided. And, as her literary agent said: Although others painted her as a recluse, because they couldn’t get close to her, she was not a recluse — just private. And bully for her.

The day after Go Set a Watchman’s July 14 publication was announced, the book was already No. 1 with a bullet on Amazon.

Hooray for a woman who apparently lived her life in proper perspective.


The Man Upstairs, Religious Freedom

From “The Sayings of Money Back,” the oldest, living rapper…

I know y’all didn’t ask, but I got a lot of pet peeves. Folks always asking me, “Money Back, why you talk about religion so much?”

Folks don’t listen. I don’t talk about religion. Other folks talk about religion.

I talk about God — And Us.

How we act and how we oughta act, how we livin’ and how we oughta be livin’. Including me. Yeah, me, too. My foot slips on the path sometime — I ain’t gon’ lie.

God ain’t religion, though.  He’s God. He’s Life. Big diff’rence.

Religion is whatever folks wanna make it. Then, they can’t wait to argue with somebody about it.

But another thing been bugging the hell out of me lately is all these people talking about “The Man Upstairs, The Man Upstairs.”

And they be saying it, you know, talking about God. I don’t even believe they know it, but they dissing God.

They oughta read J.I. Packer’s book, “Knowing God.” He’ll set ’em straight. I read it clean through, and I’m a slow reader. Especially when there ain’t no pictures.

Pay attention to “Chapter Four,” and I betcha that little light in they head’ll come on bright as them fluorescents in Walmart.

The man upstairs? That ain’t God. That’s Jake, The Supa — and y’all know you can’t count on him for nothing.

Heavens knows, if your sink happen to back up — and even if you got water all over the floor, leaking down on them poor folks below you — Lord ‘amercy, don’t call Jake.

It might be a week later ‘fore that scoundrel show up. Then, you got to grease his palm to git him to do something.

Worse yet, you got to grease his palm just to git him to take your calls in the first place.

And he got that big, nice apartment upstairs — and don’t have to pay no rent!

Hell, I git religious just thinking ’bout that crook!

Another thing … and I know a lot of y’all git antsy when I talk about these things,  but …

I read online a few weeks ago (Yeah, I got me a computer and one of them smart telephones. Some folks say it’s smarter than me.) where a Islamic Court in Saudi Arabia sentenced a 20-year-old man to death, ’cause, the court said, he renounced his Muslim faith.

Whew! According to the online report taken from the Saudi Gazette, the young fella posted a video online that showed him tearing up a copy of the Koran, and hitting it with a shoe. A shoe?  Beats me, but …

Saudi Arabia follows Sharia Law, this report said, and under that, what they called “apostasy” demands the death penalty.

Over here, you can rip up just about anything you want, stomp on it, pee on it, set it on fire. And then just walk off without even cleaning up the mess.

And yet, a lot of folks here — in Indiana, Arkansas, Georgia and other places — arguing and fighting like crows over a thirty-pound June bug about what they say is religious freedom.

I may not be the teacher’s pet, but, did I miss something?