Philanthropist Marlene Greenebaum lived 28 years after first being diagnosed with stage four breast cancer in 1990.
Philanthropist Marlene Greenebaum lived 28 years after first being diagnosed with stage four breast cancer in 1990. (Michelle Gienow / 1997)

Marlene Greenebaum, a Baltimore-area philanthropist and cancer survivor who with her husband, Stewart, founded the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center, died in Pikesville on Dec. 23. She was 80.

Mrs. Greenebaum lived 28 years after first being diagnosed with stage four breast cancer in 1990. “She was kind of a walking miracle,” said her son, Michael Greenebaum of Pikesville.

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Born Marlene Goodman on Dec. 15, 1938, to Irvin Goodman and Esther Goodman Epstein, she married Stewart Greenebaum in 1960 after meeting him on a blind date. Shy and graceful, Mrs. Greenebaum seemed to balance out her more outgoing husband, who worked for his father’s clothing store.

“While my dad was the larger-than-life spotlight, my mom was the warmth of that light,” their son said.

Marlene Greenebaum co-founded the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1995.,
Marlene Greenebaum co-founded the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1995., (Undated handout)

After they married, Mr. Greenebaum went on to pursue a wildly successful career in real estate before he died Dec. 10, 2017, while Mrs. Greenebaum took care of their two children, Michael and Amy. It was a role she took pride in. "I'm from the old-fashioned school: a wife and a mother first," Mrs. Greenebaum told The Sun in 1997. "I never mind saying that I'm a housewife."

Mrs. Greenebaum loved to shop and typically carried a Louis Vuitton bag. Her husband ribbed her habits by naming his racehorses: “Shoe Freak Marlene,” “Marlene’s Not Cooking” and “Marlene’s at the Mall.”

The 1990 cancer diagnosis upended their lives. Mr. Greenebaum, then president of the real estate development firm Greenebaum & Rose, took notes and asked questions at every medical and surgical consultation. His support impressed his wife.

"Thank God for my husband," Mrs. Greenebaum told The Sun. "He became my ombudsman. He researched breast cancer. He did the homework I probably should have done."

The cancer went into remission. To celebrate, on the fifth anniversary of her diagnosis, Mr. Greenebaum informed his wife he would be donating a record $10 million to the University of Maryland’s cancer center, which was renamed in their honor.

University of Maryland cancer center gets top designation from federal research agency

Maryland cancer center gets top designation from federal research agency

For years afterward, Mrs. Greenebaum continued to volunteer at the hospital, doing paperwork and passing out small gifts to patients at the cancer center that bore her name. She was proud to break taboos around a disease that once was euphemistically referred to as the “Big C.”

“When I was growing up, if people had the ‘Big C,’ they didn’t talk about it,” she said.

After Mrs. Greenebaum’s own experience with breast cancer, it was important to both Greenebaums that everyone in Baltimore get top-notch cancer treatment, regardless of their wealth or ZIP code, said Dr. Kevin J. Cullen, director of the Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“They were not somebody who just wrote a check to get their name on the wall. They were a constant presence,” Dr. Cullen said. “It’s unlikely I’ll ever meet a couple like Marlene and Stewart again.”

Mrs. Greenebaum remained cancer-free until 2004, when doctors told her the disease had spread to her bones. She began taking aromatase inhibitors, drugs that had been recently developed by the University of Maryland’s Angela Brodie.

The Greenebaums “had no idea when they came to support the cancer center that the research there would save her life,” Dr. Cullen said.

Marlene Greenebaum and her husband, Stewart Greenebaum, sit in their living room in Owings Mills. “They were not somebody who just wrote a check to get their name on the wall. They were a constant presence," said Dr. Kevin J. Cullen, director of the cancer center.
Marlene Greenebaum and her husband, Stewart Greenebaum, sit in their living room in Owings Mills. “They were not somebody who just wrote a check to get their name on the wall. They were a constant presence," said Dr. Kevin J. Cullen, director of the cancer center. (Nanine Hartzenbusch / Baltimore Sun 2005)

In 1991, the couple funded establishment of the Children’s House at Johns Hopkins, an 18-bedroom facility that provided lodging for families of children being treated at Hopkins for non-life-threatening illnesses. Three years later they started the "Access to Medicine Fund," providing scholarships for University of Maryland School of Medicine students who are residents of Maryland.

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"Stewart and I really believe that — I don't want it to sound wrong — that if people of means don't do something like this," Mrs. Greenebaum told The Sun, "then who's going to do it? You just have to give something back."

“They didn’t come from much and they were very humble people,” said their son, Michael Greenebaum.

Together, the Greenebaums also founded the Marlene Greenebaum Multidisciplinary Breast Center at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem. Mrs. Greenebaum was president of Miriam Lodge, and belonged to Temple Oheb Shalom.

In addition to her children, Michael Greenebaum of Pikesville and Amy Burwen of Clarksville, she is survived by three grandchildren.

Services will be held at Temple Oheb Shalom at noon Wednesday.

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