April 29th, 2011
02:00 PM ET
Cancer has always been part of Marshall Moneymaker’s life (yes, that’s his name).
It touched his father (non-Hodgkin lymphoma) and four of his sisters (breast and ovarian cancers).
The firefighter from Montgomery County, Maryland sports a bright pink firefighter suit and often cheers and hugs breast cancer patients and their families during cancer events. He also wears a bright pink t-shirt with the pictures of his three sisters – Valessa, Vicky and Penny. All of them died of breast cancer in a span of two years. His eldest sister, Vicky, died in 2008 at age 60. The other older sisters, Penny, 57 and Valessa, 54 died in 2010. He blogs and shares his perspective on for3sister.com. The deaths left him "broken mentally."
Moneymaker spoke about dealing with grief, his family and how it has encouraged him to get screened too.
Q: When did you become involved with breast cancer issues?
It started the early spring of 2010. I have three sisters, who passed away from breast cancer.
Q: How has cancer affected other members of your family?
My father had cancer. It was in remission, he had it a couple of years and passed away for other issues. My other sister just finished battling colon cancer.
Q: Do you ever wonder why it has affected so many members of your family?
A lot of it is probably environmental.
My father was in Korea, they had hygiene issues with lice and they used to douse themselves in DDT.
My sisters all smoked, and were born and raised in a coal town to a certain age.
I am getting tested to see if I have a gene for breast cancer- the BRCA gene, to see if I carry it. I haven’t made the appointment yet. I’m going to get checked.
Of course, the concern being a firefighter is that I’m more likely to get cancer because of my environment.
We have other histories of colon cancer, prostate cancer in my family. I don’t know if we’re just unlucky or what’s going on. I tend to lean a lot toward environmental.
Q: Do you ever feel like cancer has haunted your family?
I never considered it haunting us. I never considered them (his sisters) dying of cancer. I considered it fighting against cancer.
I want to find a cure, a cure for breast cancer, then we can find a cure for all the cancers.
I have my moments of anger, sadness. Like I said, the healing process is learning to deal with this. I had a lot of humbling lessons I had to learn. I got over the anger, sadness. I’ll take a tragedy and turn it into something positive. I could take my story and try to reach other people.
One of the things I talk about a lot is early detection - get checked early. If they had been checked sooner, the outcome, their lives would’ve been longer.
Q: How did your sisters deal with cancer?
They dealt with it on their own terms. Valessa didn’t want to know. She wanted to live her life and did what she could.
Penny wanted to fight it to the end.
Q: What was your relationship like with your sisters?
I was the baby in the family.
One of the reasons I was so close to Penny, she basically raised me. She raised me from when I was a baby and all the way up. She was there a lot, as we got older. There’s the holidays, Sunday dinners. We ran into each other’s lives, but we weren’t around each other 24-7.
Q: What kind of effect did it have on you – having so many sisters pass away from cancer?
At first, it didn’t register with me. Being a firefighter, you’re so active.
I was the baby brother. I didn’t think it affected me.
I was broken mentally.
When the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure did a pit stop at the station, I offered my services. I met some incredibly wonderful women and people. I realized that I was broken. I had pent-up frustration, anger, sadness and all that, that has led me down this path.
I want to be an advocate for breast cancer. I want to be a motivator for someone doing a walk, a run for the cure, or help people find local resources for wigs and different treatments, and free programs for people who can’t afford it.
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