What do Mary Ball Washington, Rachel Carson, and myself have in common?  The answer is of course breast cancer.

What started as a simple blog about Mary Washington’s death from breast cancer, and to honor her with a wreath during breast cancer’s “Industry Month” has evolved into complicated and diverse topics that would jumble any writer’s mind.


Mary Ball Washington, the mother of George Washington, was an independent, gutsy woman who had a hard life from beginning to end.  (1708-1789)  Mary was a quintessential survivor whose parent’s death made her an orphan and whose husband’s death when she was 35 years old, left her with six young children.

Her son George, the eldest child, was only 11 when her husband Augustine Washington died.  Augustine was considered landed gentry.  Mary chose to remain a single parent so that the Ferry Farm planation and her husband’s  other land holdings would be passed on to her children instead of a new husband.  It is hard to comprehend that women could not own property in the 18th century.

Her whole life was devoted to her family’s well being.   One can instantly see how strong minded and independent she was, and this did not bode well for the history writers in years to come.  Of course she and her eldest son George did not always see eye to eye.  They were both very strong willed people.  She prevented him from joining the navy, and the rest is history.

George did not see his mother for 10 years during the Revolutionary War era. However, Mary prayed for him every day at Meditation Rock.  That is inscribed on the plaque.



George, during this time,  wanted her to move to the city of Fredericksburg to be nearer to his sister, and son-in-law, Betty and Fielding Lewis. He bought the land and the house was built. He was worried that something might happen to her if this area were overrun by British.  And she resisted as long as she could, but finally took residence in the city of Fredericksburg for the last 17 years of her life.

It is at this point that breast cancer invaded her life.  From studying her history, I am speculating that she had breast cancer the entire time she lived in Fredericksburg.  All cancer has doubling time from when it first starts.  Her doubling time was probably slow since she was older when she got breast cancer.  Even now the doctors say to that it can take a tumor 8-10 years to become palpable, which means it is able to be felt.

Breast cancer treated or untreated is a cruel death.  It has a propensity to go to bone, lungs, and liver.  When she was diagnosed, her family did consult with Dr. Benjamin Rush in Philadelphia, and with her advanced case he recommended comfort measures.  It was inoperable.  Genevieve Bugay was interviewed by Jim Hall of The Free Lance Star and he wrote this on the 223th anniversary of her death in August:  Dr. Rush advised comfort measures.  Apply poultices of opium and camphor,  and wash the infected breast with a solution of red clover, and give her cocktails of wine and bark.  Mrs. Washington’s breast was apparently swollen and discolored, and the tumor may have broken through the surface of the skin.  She was probably in pain.  The fact that she lived to be 81 is quite miraculous.  But she would have suffered greatly.

Contemplating Mary Washington’s breast cancer in the context of medical history revealed a much deeper and important question of causation.  Cause is a question mostly survivors ask when diagnosed.  And 240 years later there are still no answers.  If anyone looks up breast cancer on any major medical website, the only thing that is talked about is risk factors.  Well, the only risk factor Mary had was older age at diagnosis.  She had her children fairly young, breast fed all of them I would imagine, got plenty of exercise, sunshine, radiation machines did not exist and she was not involved with pesticides.   So what caused her breast cancer?

Well, I can only speculate on this and the only clues are environmental.  In 18th century America it was not an easy life.  All heating was done with burning and that left everyone breathing a lot of smoke.  Now, Mary might have smoked herself since she grew tobacco.  She also would be given calomel for ailments from doctors which is mercury (a heavy metal that is stored and damaging to the body)  She would have been exposed to a lot of lead even in her china.  They used pewter a lot–more heavy metal and also tin.  If someone had cancer brewing certainly all that extra iron in the cooking pots did not help her either.

Okay, so now fast forward to the 20th century.  My father and Rachel Carson were born the same year, 1907.  During their lifetimes, cancer rates were increasing dramatically and there are no answers as to why.  Then came a scientist, Rachel Carson, who suspects environmental causes of cancer.  She wrote Silent Spring 50 years ago.  She was not against all pesticides, but she said back then that their use should be controlled or plants would grow resistant to them.  The chemical companies went crazy.   DDT was sprayed on everything back then, in and outside of homes.  My friend’s mother had to spray for bed bugs because they lived in the country.  Her mother died of ovarian cancer 58 years ago.  It was used everywhere but extensively on Long Island one of the foremost breast cancer cluster areas.

From the writing and You Tube video The Fracking of Rachel Carson, Sandra Steingraber writes a graphic depiction of what Rachel Carson went through to not only write her book but fight the chemical companies, the press, and the politicians backing the chemical companies. http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/7005

Silent Spring predated the nation’s cancer registry program, which came into being under Richard Nixon and mandated that all states track cancer incidence within their populations. Without registry data—and the information about the changing rates of cancer they provide—Carson was left with only case studies and mortality data to work with. She also lacked sophisticated geographic information systems (GIS) and computer mapping programs that can generate visually compelling pictures of potential cancer clusters and other spatial patterns for statistical analysis. In 1960, there were no right-to-know laws, pesticide registries, or Toxics Release Inventories. There were no statewide women’s breast cancer groups that monitor public and academic research. Carson painstakingly pieced together the evidence available to her—reports of farmers with bone marrow degeneration, sheep with nasal tumors, spray-gun-toting housewives with leukemia—and concluded that cancer was striking the general population with increasing frequency. She believed that she was seeing the early signs of an epidemic in slow motion. She was especially concerned with the apparent rise in cancers among children. And she was right.

Unfortunately for Rachel, she, too got breast cancer.  It was diagnosed in April 1960 but she didn’t find out until the next December when it had spread everywhere.  Medicine wasn’t into full disclosure in those days.  She kept her disease hidden especially because the chemical companies would use anything against her they could.

From the Orion article:  In the later portraits, Carson was dying of breast cancer. It was a diagnosis she hid out of fear that her enemies in industry would use her medical situation to attack her scientific objectivity and, most especially, her carefully constructed argument about the role that petrochemicals (especially pesticides) played in the story of human cancer. But behind her unflappable public composure, Carson’s private writings reveal how much physical anguish she endured. Bone metastases. Radiation burns. Angina. Knowing this, you can imagine her patience running out during the interminable photo shoots. The wretched wig hot and itchy under the lights. The stabbing pains (cervical vertebrae splintered with tumors) that would not, would not relent.

She was faithful to the end trying to get America to wake up to the coming tumult.  Cancer is now the second leading cause of death in America and is swiftly heading toward first place.  My father lived longer than Rachel, but he too died of stomach cancer in 1976.

So now let us look at me.  I was living a life I loved with my husband and children who were then in college, I was absolutely blindsided by that breast cancer diagnosis in 1996.  The first question out of my mouth to the oncologist was “what caused my breast cancer?  “Don’t worry about that,” he said.  That little cause question became my mantra.  I wanted right from the beginning to get to causation because medicine sure wasn’t interested in it.  And how do you prevent something when you don’t know cause?

Unlike Mary Washington, I had a lot of risk factors.  I had my children fairly old at 30 and 31.  I did not breast feed.  I did not eat a pristine diet being a sugar addict.  I foolishly consented to 20 years of mammograms on premenopausal breasts another hidden risk factor.  And what about the environment?  I used pesticides big time; I hand picked fleas off my dog and felt sick for 3 days because I didn’t wear gloves.  Also the house was sprayed indoors.  They said, “it was safe.” I also did not pay attention to the unknown risks of estrogen mimickers in the plastic all around the house.  Nor did I pay attention to the additives and food coloring in everything plus all that benzene in all that stuff to make the house smell better.  And what about personal care products and cleaning products?  I didn’t give them a thought.  After I started learning things, I felt I was lucky I didn’t get breast cancer sooner and it was caught at the stage it was.

Environmental concerns went to top priority in my home since 1996 with food and every personal and household product.

So now it is 2014 and what breast cancer activists view to be “Breast Cancer Industry Month.”  Breast Cancer Action has a great slogan which reads “think before you pink”  http://bcaction.org   Pink is everywhere and women are hopping and skipping and walking and jumping for breast cancer awareness, when everyone is already very much aware of the horror of breast cancer.  But the environmental links for breast cancer are not getting the press they deserve.

On top of that, Rachel Carlson is being beat into the ground yet again by the chemical companies and right wing fanatics and even some errant scientists.  They will defend the overuse of pesticides to the death all because of money and greed.

I wonder if they have a conscience at all or have ever had anyone die of breast cancer or any other cancer for that matter.  I guess it doesn’t matter to them.  But I hate to tell the big business chemical companies and those that run them In case you don’t realize it,  you can’t take your money with you when you or your loved ones die of cancer.

There are so many environmental concerns now all tied to chemicals.  The bees are dying.  The birds are dying yet again.  “Ever hear about the canary in the coal mines.” We are the canaries.  Our children and grandchildren are at more risk than ever before in our history.  Here is a few things that stand out:

  • Now they have put pesticides right into the DNA of our food.  So this makes GMO labeling ever so important if you don’t want you or your children having altered DNA and RNA from genetic modified foods. http://www.youtube.com/watch?  v=Njd0RugGjAg&feature=player_embedded#!
  • Fracking which is currently being promoted is a possible environmental disaster.  While difficult to comprehend, I reiterate my recommendation of this website and You Tube presentation on The Fracking of Rachel Carson.  It made me want to start yelling to everyone in Pennsylvania to think about drinking filtered water.   Your contamination will have no end.  What is big business thinking? Have they no respect for Mother Earth?
  • Fish are more polluted than ever before and it would behoove everyone to look at the list of the most contaminated fish: http://www.edf.org/sites/default/files/7534_Health_Alerts_seafood.pdf
  • Estrogen disrupters are everywhere still. http://www.nrdc.org/health/effects/qendoc.asp Another disaster is flame retardants in furniture and clothes.  Oh, I have a story about that from several years ago when I was poisoned by a leather chair.  The company took it back.  The formaldehyde in that chair was causing me to have all kinds of symptoms. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/20/opinion/sunday/kristof-are-you-safe-on-that-sofa.html

Spraying is done everywhere.  Now I call ahead and do not allow spraying and scents of any kind in hotel/motels where I stay.  All my chemical exposure have induced multiple chemical sensitivities.

So you see that studying Mary Washington has led to the biggest challenge in all of cancer:  addressing the area of cause when there are no genetic risks.   And I haven’t even gotten into the subject of treatment involving the introduction of more carcinogens of chemo and radiation.  Seems like a vicious circle doesn’t it?  And it won’t end until the day when Americans stick their head out their proverbial window and say “I am mad as hell, and I won’t take this anymore.”

At least in California a big vote in 2012 came up for GMO labeling.  Who would not want to know what is in their food.  IT FAILED!  Millions of dollars flooded the state to prevent GMO labeling.  Oregon defeated GMO labeling just last week.  Who knows what lies the companies and lobbyists for those companies tell the public to get them to vote against knowing which foods are GMO!

For goodness sake, they won’t allow this stuff in France and Russia with the horrific  pictures of the rats fed GMO corn studded with tumors.  And it is not just about eating corn on the cob.  High fructose corn syrup is put into everything  and is bad for everyone, but especially children.

But back to the beginning with Mary Washington. The placement of a wreath at her memorial has taken on new import and urgency.


The autumn wreath, itself, at her memorial is a facsimile of plants that she might have grown in her garden and on her plantations. The organic plants in her time would have been harvested in the fall and are a multitude of fall colors, shapes and sizes and they are NOT PINK.  Even the gourd on the wreath would have been made into bird homes for the winter.

Breast cancer strikes mostly women but men too all over the world.  Breast cancer does not discriminate and the ages of the BC victims are getting younger and younger.  The young ones as I call them have a much more aggressive disease.  Any one who has watched a loved one die of breast cancer, or any cancer knows  just what a horrendous disease this is.   But until medicine addresses the environment and epigenetics, which is the way genes interact with the environment,  this scourge on humanity will just continue to grow.

At this moment The American Cancer Society is funding a 30 year study to “attempt to identify the genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors that lead to cancer.”  Does anyone else but me see how ludicrous this study is?  Imagine how many billions of dollars the cancer machine can rake in before this study is completed.  People are suffering and dying now from the diagnosis and barbaric treatments.

Just recently I heard of a stage four 26 year old with breast cancer.  She needs genetic tests and targeted therapy which is so expensive that her insurance won’t cover it.

And the efficacy of these newer treatments is not known long term. The bees, canaries and all of us don’t have another minute let alone 30 more years of study what we already know.  Because of good old fashioned greed, we live in a toxic soup that is limitless.

Newborn babies are born with over 200-300 chemicals in their body. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=newborn-babies-chemicals-exposure-bpa


From Mary Washington, to Rachel Carlson, to all of us, history’s echo of the suffering from cancer calls us to action.

The future is now.  As Abraham Lincoln once said, These dead shall not have died in vain.  Our new birth of freedom must include our protection from toxic chemicals. The babies and everyone else deserve no less. Here is what is written on the Wreath:

This October wreath is placed in memory and honor of Mary Ball Washington who suffered and died from Breast cancer. This spunky independent mother of George Washington  deserves this honor for a life well lived.  She “fought the good fight and kept the faith”. This wreath has also been placed to honor all those who have lost their lives to breast cancer.  And, most especially, this wreath is dedicated to those who are now struggling with metastatic breast cancer for which there still is no cure and no definitive cause 240 years later.  And, lastly, this wreath honors all survivors who struggle with the lasting effects of having had breast cancer, and are so very grateful for their lives every day.

My life has been intertwined with the name Mary Washington for many years.  I am proud to say I spent 5 years part time for an undergraduate degree and 4 years part time for a graduate degree at Mary Washington College now The University of Mary Washington, http://www.umw.edu

“Today the university is the only public, coeducational college in the United States named after a secular woman.”

Mary Washington Hospital http://www.marywashingtonhealthcare.com/locations/mary-washington-hospital is where my husband delivered babies and did OB-GYN surgery for 44 years.  Both my children were born there, and my breast cancer surgery and adjuvant surgery were done there.

If you are inclined to do so, you can join The newly formed Preservation Virginia in Fredericksburg to support Mary’s  house and 2 other historic Fredericksburg properties.  http://preservationvirginia.org/visit/historic-properties/mary-washington-house

http://www.kenmore.org is The George Washington Foundation maintaining Ferry Farm and Kenmore, the house of Fielding and Betty Washington Lewis.

The City of Fredericksburg, Virginia lovingly maintains The Mary Washington Monument, Lodge and property.  The Monument in memory of Mary Washington was the first monument in the country conceived, bought, and paid for by women.  http://www.kenmore.org/genealogy/washington/monument.htm


The Memorials Advisory Commission in Fredericksburg with the former leadership of Jim Paytes and current leadership of Nancy Moore is involved in safe guarding this property. http://www.fredericksburgva.gov/Departments/boards/index.aspx?id=140  My husband started this commission with the suggestion of the mayor of Fredericksburg after he retired from city council.  He served for 18 years.  After his death, I became a member of this commission.

Peter D’Adamo ND for information on genetic diets and epigenetics.  My doctor who has been a Godsend http://dadamo.com Breast Cancer Study and Support List on Yahoo groups–

http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/bcStudyandSupport/   “Our focus is on the exploration and use of alternative therapies to help all breast cancer patients.”

The Annie Appleseed Project started by Ann Fonfa which  “provides information, education, advocacy, and awareness for people with cancer and their family and friends” http://www.annieappleseedproject.org