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As you may have heard, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. While there are times when I cringe at some of the marketing excesses of that month (such as this pink colored fracking drill bit that has raised the ire of both environmentalists and breast cancer activists), I have to admit that having a month like that have helped to reduce any stigmatism surrounding that illness.

I’ve recently read a wonderful well-written article on Pulsefeedz by the son of one of my cousins where he explains what it’s like to take part in the annual Race For the Cure that’s held in Hunt Valley, Maryland and why he did this with his mother, aunts, and younger sister.

He mentioned how he did it on behalf of the grandmother whom he never knew because she died of breast cancer before he was born. I was fortunate to have known his grandmother. She was my aunt and my mother’s older sister.

She was born in Baltimore and she attended Catholic school. When she was in high school she wanted to attend college because she had always dreamed of becoming a teacher. That ambition was permanently derailed when her father (and my grandfather) died while she was still a teenager and he was the main breadwinner of the family. Suddenly unable to afford college, she worked in a department store for a few years until she got married. She ultimately had four daughters. She and her husband moved to New Jersey for a few years but they eventually returned to Maryland and they ultimately settled in Gambrills. After her youngest daughter started school she began to earn extra money babysitting the infants and toddlers of her neighbors in her home during the weekday.

She was very active in her Catholic parish and she loved baking. At one point she even made extra money baking her chocolate swirl cheesecake for Kaufmann’s Tavern stemming from her friendship with the owner’s wife. She made a chocolate swirl cheesecake for the Kaufmann family and they loved that cheesecake so much that they wanted to sell it to their patrons. Until she was diagnosed with breast cancer in the early 1980’s, she would bake two or three chocolate swirl cheesecakes for Kaufmann’s each week for about $5 each and that restaurant charged its patrons around $2-3 per slice. (Kaufmann’s Tavern has since been closed and J. King’s Steak and Seafood Restaurant is now in that location.)

She was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was in her early 40’s. She went through a mastectomy and her cancer was in remission for a few years. But then it came back with a vengeance around the same time that she had become a grandmother for the first time. She met only her first-born grandchild in her lifetime while that grandchild was still an infant.

My aunt was 48 when she died. At the time she had one daughter who had just given birth to her first child the year before and another daughter who was six months pregnant. (Her first born child would arrive three months after my aunt’s death.) A third daughter was making wedding plans while the youngest was still in college.

My aunt ultimately had 10 grandchildren, none of whom she would ever see grow up. It was pretty heartfelt reading my cousin’s son describing how breast cancer had robbed him of the chance to get to know his grandmother first-hand.

The Divynls were an Australian band whose biggest hit was this ode to masturbation, "I Touch Myself."

Reading about the death of former Divynls lead singer Chrissy Amplett game me a reason to pause. Right now my mother is currently fighting multiple sclerosis. Her older sister (my aunt) died at the age of 48 from breast cancer. Chrissy Amplett was unfortunate enough to get both multiple sclerosis AND breast cancer at the same time. She couldn’t undergo conventional radiation treatment for breast cancer because it would’ve interferred with her treatment for multicple sclerosis. Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place! It’s pretty sad and tragic that she had to die at 53 because of it.

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