Susan Mae Marangi, who waged a nearly three-decade battle against breast cancer with a combination of courage, hope and humor, succumbed to the disease Thursday at Gilchrist Hospice Care.
The Parkville resident was 62.
The daughter of a career Marine Corps officer and a homemaker, Ms. Marangi was born in Seattle and raised in Bremerton, Wash.
After graduating from West High School in Bremerton, she enlisted in the Air Force and served in intelligence until being discharged in 1969.
"She came to Baltimore in 1977 because she had friends in Annapolis and loved the area," said Linda Dickerson, a close friend of 23 years.
Ms. Marangi eventually settled in Parkville and went to work in the 1980s in industrial sales and marketing for W.W. Grainger Inc., an international supplier of electric supplies, industrial machinery and equipment. She later became the company's first female district sales manager.
She also studied at Anne Arundel Community College.
In the late 1990s, she worked in sales and later in management for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and Potomac Edison Power Co.
Ms. Marangi was in sales for two years with Cutco knives until retiring because of failing health in 2008.
Ms. Marangi was 36 years old when she was diagnosed in 1984 with the breast cancer that would claim her life.
Ms. Marangi, who had two mastectomies, was cancer-free from 1995 to 2006, when she was told that she was in Stage IV and that the cancer had spread to her hip.
In 2006, she enrolled in Johns Hopkins Hospital oncologist Dr. Leisha Emens' first clinical trial of an experimental breast cancer vaccine she had developed.
In 2008, Baltimore Sun reporter Stephanie Desmon and photographer Chiaki Kawajiri spent six months chronicling the story of women who were enrolled in the clinical trials.
Ms. Desmon's and Ms. Kawajiri's articles and photos were published in a six-part series in The Baltimore Sun in October 2008, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
When another woman in the clinical trials died, Ms. Marangi and the other survivors were "forced to confront their own mortality, plunged into grief and filled with panic about what death means for their own chances of survival," wrote Ms. Desmon.
"If this thing isn't working, tell me so I can go out and find something else," she told the newspaper reporter. "I won't get angry, but I need to find something else that will."
Ms. Marangi became the unofficial leader of the women who were in the trial.
"The gregarious and straight-shooting Marangi, a former sales and marketing executive, became the unofficial leader and cheerleader of 'Leisha's Girls,' as one women dubbed their small group," reported The Baltimore Sun.
"She organized a dinner … with half a dozen of the women. She sends out messages, while others share stories of new research and possibilities for what else might keep them cancer-free, especially if this vaccine turns out not to be the answer," reported the newspaper.
But Ms. Marangi was always a realist about her medical situation and prognosis, wrote Ms. Desmon.
"She knows breast cancer will kill her, probably not this month or this year, but someday. She is getting her affairs in order. She has planned every detail of her funeral — down to burning the CD disco music to be played," reported Ms. Desmon. "She has picked the spot off Cape Cod where she wants her ashes scattered after her friends toast her at a favorite bar. Her only regret is she will miss the bash."
For the past couple of years, Ms. Marangi's oncologist has been Dr. Katherine H. Tkaczuk, who is director of the Breast Evaluation and Treatment Program at the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center.
"She was a fighter and had battled the disease for years. She also cared greatly about her quality of life," Dr. Tkaczuk said.
"She wanted to remain active, and her goal was to be out there as long as she could. She's been through a lot," she said. "Sue was a wonderful, gentle and a very nice person. She was never a complainer."
Ms. Marangi was also very active in helping women who had recently been diagnosed and were being treated for breast cancer, said Dr. Tkaczuk.
She said she had noticed a change in Ms. Marangi in recent weeks.
"She was ready to go. When I spoke to her, she was quite clear about entering hospice to pass away. She had come to terms with the end of her life, and she told me she was ready to go," said Dr. Tkaczuk. "She was a very courageous woman."
Ms. Dickerson said that her friend had "lived her life to the fullest to the very end" despite enduring "several grueling clinical trials."
"Sue's pragmatism let her take control of her life and her health care very early on in the diagnosis. She was undaunted in her belief that a cure for breast cancer would be found, just not in her lifetime," said Ms. Dickerson.
"We've lost an irreplaceable foot soldier in that fight," she said.
"Though cancer was a significant part of her life, she never let it be her life," said Earleen Vickery "Sam" Lozes, a friend for 34 years.
Ms. Marangi was an accomplished horsewoman. She also liked handling problems around her home that required electrical, plumbing and carpentry skills.
She was a member of Jobs Daughters.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Oct. 30 at the Evans Funeral Home, 8800 Harford Road, Parkville.
Surviving are a son, Jon Sisk of West Virginia; a brother, Gregory Marangi of Bremerton; a sister, Janice Addis of Oregon; and two grandsons. Her marriage ended in divorce.