Thirty years ago yesterday my aunt passed away from breast cancer at the age of 48. I still remember her struggles with that illness like it was yesterday. She was around 42 or 43 when she noticed a lump in her breast. When she went to the doctor she found that not only did she have breast cancer but it had spread to her lymph nodes as well.

She underwent a mastectomy and went through many months of chemotherapy that literally made her sick. At one point she asked her doctor about smoking marijuana to help her deal with the side effects of the chemotherapy. Unfortunately medical marijuana was illegal in the state of Maryland at the time so the only way she could’ve obtained it was if she had been accepted in a clinical trial. I don’t know if her doctor refused to refer her to one of those clinical trials or if she got the referral but was rejected but, in either case, she had to fully endure the side effects of the chemotherapy.

She lost her hair so she started sporting turbans when she went out in public. Her cancer was in remission by the time I was married but she wore a turban at my wedding because her hair hadn’t grown back yet. One of the friends of my husband’s parents told my aunt how much she loved her turban during the reception. That friend thought my aunt was making a hip fashion statement. My aunt was elated by that friend’s praise.

Sadly the remission was short-lived because a couple of years later her cancer not only came back with a vengeance but it had spread to her liver. At the time of her death she became a grandmother for the first time just four months earlier and another daughter was pregnant with her second grandchild. (That child was born four months after her death.) As I’m typing this I realize that the oldest grandchild has just turned 30 while the second grandchild will soon turn 30. Time just seems to go too fast for me. It feels like yesterday when they were just babies.

In the years following her death my cousins would go on to have a combined total of eight other children. On top of it, one of my cousins has a stepson from her current marriage so if you were to count him in the mix, it would be a total of 11 grandchildren who would grow up without ever knowing my aunt as their grandmother because of breast cancer.

In her short life my aunt was a housewife who was very active in the Catholic church she attended. When her youngest child began elementary school she started a child care service where she watched some of the neighborhood kids during the weekday. Among those kids was a boy named Ben, whom my aunt started to watch when he was just a baby and he eventually started calling her “Mom Lipp.” (Lipp was my aunt’s last name.) Ben was the same person who took his own life earlier this year.

In a way it’s not fair that someone like her ended up living a short life while you have someone like Keith Richards, who has used and abused nearly every single drug known to mankind yet he is still alive and is currently living life to the fullest in his seventies. Sure his skin looks very leathery from age and all those years of hard living but he’s still alive and kicking nonetheless.

This is why cancer sucks.

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