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The woman in the mural: May warrior in PFAS battle rest more peacefully

A mural by Be Sargent alongside the former Harvard Square Theater on Church Street in Cambridge honors the advocacy of the Women's Community Cancer Project.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

I saw the article “State sues companies over PFAS: Healey alleges firms knew about toxic ‘forever chemicals’ ” (Metro, May 27) and thought of my late friend Margo Simon Golden. PFAS are a toxic chemical found in multiple items, including fire-retardant foam. The runoff from these “forever chemicals” leaches into groundwater, leading to a host of health problems including breast cancer.

Margo was always upbeat and one of the healthiest people I knew, exercising and eating a healthy diet. It was a surprise to us all when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in her late 30s.

When the cancer was in remission, she researched the data on the disease. She told me that there was a higher incidence of breast cancer in Andover, where she grew up. She threw herself into volunteering, most notably with the Women’s Community Cancer Project and the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition, where she was elected board president.

The MBCC and its spinoff the Silent Spring Institute focus on chemicals in the environment that are linked to breast cancer and other illnesses to women. I got to join Margo briefly in the fight. We went to the State House to talk to members of the House and Senate about the abnormally high rates of breast cancer in Massachusetts, especially on the Cape. We were trying to bring attention to PFAs in the local water.


Eventually the cancer returned to Margo’s body. I remember her telling me how the doctors had said to her that trying to remove it at that point would be like trying to take raisins from raisin bread. There wouldn’t be much bread left intact. She kept on fighting.

On Jan. 21, 2021, she lost her personal battle, surrounded by her family. The lawsuit that state Attorney General Maura Healey filed last month is a leap forward in protecting Massachusetts residents. I hope Margo is resting more peacefully knowing that.


A detail from Be Sargent's mural in Harvard Square.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

She and her fight have been immortalized in Harvard Square. On Church Street, there is a mural by Be Sargent on the exterior wall of the old movie theater honoring the work of the Women’s Community Cancer Project. Halfway down on the right is a woman handing out leaflets. Margo didn’t care what the job was, she just wanted to get the word out.

Paula Tusler