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Why we will defeat breast cancer

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Friday Night Sights at Saks

A special megaphone sits on the cheerleader stand in honor of breast cancer awareness month. Kirsten Fiscus/ The Anniston Star

October was Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

I was particularly aware of it this year, for in September I lost an old and dear friend to the disease.

On a more uplifting note, several other friends who are breast-cancer survivors continue to thrive.

Losses are hard to take. But the survivors show us that the fight continues and there are victories to celebrate.

When I think of the victorious, I think of Aunt Roscoe.

Now, I have told this story before, but in memory of those who are gone, and in celebration of those still with us, I am going to tell it again.

I never knew Aunt Roscoe. (I am not even sure that she was an aunt — my family tends to use “aunt” and “uncle” instead of “cousin” when talking about older relatives. It makes us closer by title than by blood and ties family ties tighter than they actually are.)

Aunt Roscoe lived with Uncle Leon and Aunt Geraldine — more cousins. She was Geraldine’s old-maid sister who was named after her daddy who was drowned trying to swim the Tombigbee River below Lock 1. (No one could figure out how it happened since Roscoe, the daddy, was such a good swimmer. But I digress.)

Aunt Roscoe was a breast-cancer survivor.

It was a long time ago — late 1940s or early 1950s, dates get fuzzy — before radiation or chemo and all that. Back then, when you had breast cancer, you either died or got it cut off.

Roscoe went the cut-off route. Radical mastectomy, which left her breast-less on one side (no one can remember which, not that it matters).

So she made herself a replacement, a “falsie,” padded in the shape of the real thing.

You see, Aunt Roscoe was a seamstress. A good one. Much in demand. And as soon after the operation as she could, Aunt Roscoe returned to sewing. It was therapy as well as income.

Almost immediately, Aunt Roscoe found that her “falsie” was an excellent place to stick pins when there were too many to hold in her mouth, which is where seamstresses hold extra pins, in case you didn’t know.

Always with her, always within easy reach, her falsie was a novel and convenient pin cushion.

However, the true value of this innovation did not come clear until a year or so later, well after its use became second nature to the user.

One day, Aunt Roscoe was hard at work pinning a pattern when there came a knock on the door. Pins in her mouth, she answered it and found a salesman, sample case in hand, ready to show her something that he knew she could not live without.

He began making his pitch.

She could not tell him “no” because of the pins in her mouth.

So while he talked, she absentmindedly began taking the pins, one by one, from between her lips and sticking them in the pin cushion.

Yep, that pin cushion.

Which the salesman thought was real.

(Work on it. Visuals are important.)

With each pin moving from mouth to cushion, mouth to cushion, the salesman’s concentration slipped, he kept losing his place in the spiel. He began stammering. And sweating.

Meanwhile, Aunt Roscoe, unaware of what she was doing and the effect it was having on the salesman, continued to take pins from her mouth and poke them firmly into “it.”

Finally, after the fourth or fifth pin, the salesman gave up.

“Please lady,” he said. “You can stop. I’m leaving. If you are tough enough to do that, there is no way I can sell you anything.”

And he left.

And apparently he told other folks in his profession.

For, according to family lore, that salesman was the last salesman ever to darken her door.

Aunt Roscoe lived to a ripe, old age and died — not from the cancer, they got that, but from one of the other things that gets us all in the end.

But were she alive today, I’m sure that she would have celebrated Breast Cancer Awareness Month with the survivors, wearing her pink T-shirt and doing her part so that one day in the not-too distant future, her personal pin cushion would be a thing of the past.

With women like her leading the way, breast cancer’s days are surely numbered.

Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and occasional OpEd and Features writer for The Star. Email: