NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Pink ribbons here, pink bows there - the unmistakable symbols of Breast Cancer Awareness Month are all around during October.

It's also a time when City Councilman Glen Fleming's thoughts inevitably turn to a loved one he lost to breast cancer.

Fleming's sister-in-law, Sharon Smith, died after a fight with cancer in 2004.

Sign Up for New Brunswick Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

He said she put up a fight, going back and forth to the hospital after it was diagnosed. After treatment, he said she was cancer-free.

"Everybody was celebrating," Fleming recalled, "but, she had caught a cold and she was coughing, stuff like that. So, she went back to the doctor and they tested the fluid in her lungs. The cancer had returned. It was a very aggressive form of cancer. It went from her lungs to all of her organs. It hit all of her organs. Within a couple of months, she was gone."

Fleming remembers getting a call from his wife at the hospital at about 5  a.m. She was calling to tell him Sharon was gone.

The Flemings had a newborn at home, but they decided to adopt Smith's 11-year-old son.

One in eight women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her life. This year, an estimated 268,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in this country, along with 62,930 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer,  according to,

When it hits, Fleming said, it doesn't just take away a beautiful life. It also leaves a hole in the hearts of her family and friends.

"Stuff just wasn't the same," he said. "There was just a void, a real void. And I think it's just like men with prostate cancer, you're afraid to go get tested. A lot of times, it's stigmatized to go get tested. I think if people would go get that test early, we would know. I'm not saying she didn't, but a lot of times people don't think, 'OK, I have to go get a mammogram because I'm so young. I've got time.'"

As an educator, Fleming said October's National Domestic Violence Awareness Month is also an important time.

Fleming, who has taught in the Hamilton Township public school system for 15 years after teaching at Essex Catholic for seven years, sometimes hears his students joke about carrying out violence against girls and women.

"I tell them, 'You don't want to even kid around about that. It's never appropriate.'" Fleming said.