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Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, widow of U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, at her campaign announcement Nov. 12. Rockeymoore Cummings said Monday she had a double mastectomy last week because of a family history of breast cancer.
Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, widow of U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, at her campaign announcement Nov. 12. Rockeymoore Cummings said Monday she had a double mastectomy last week because of a family history of breast cancer. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

After undergoing a double mastectomy last week, congressional candidate Maya Rockeymoore Cummings said she isn’t feeling much pain. Instead, she said, she’s feeling relief.

“I felt like I had two ticking time-bombs strapped to my chest,” Rockeymoore Cummings said in an interview Monday. “To be able to address something that I had such a huge concern about, it feels liberating, frankly. Making a move to address it has given me great relief.”

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Over the course of a month, Rockeymoore Cummings, 48, has experienced three life-altering events: the death of her husband, Rep. Elijah Cummings; the launch of her campaign succeed him in Maryland’s 7th Congressional District; and a preventative double mastectomy surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The surgery was scheduled before Elijah Cummings’ death. Cummings, who had cancer, died Oct. 17 after serving more than two decades in Congress. He left a record of fighting for the needy and battling the administration of Republican President Donald Trump.

Rockeymoore Cummings, the former chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party and a public policy consultant, said she and her late husband discussed her undergoing the procedure, and he had encouraged her to go through with it.

She said her mother, Hazel, died from breast cancer in 2015 at age 69, and her sister, Meredith, was diagnosed last year with the disease.

“My mother was very vigilant about her health,” Rockeymoore Cummings said. “Her death devastated me. It was last year when my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer that I realized this was an urgent, urgent matter.”

Since the surgery, Rockeymoore Cummings said she’s been working on her campaign from home, and plans to begin door-knocking and canvassing next month. She thanked her doctors at Hopkins, Dr. Mehrad Habibi and Dr. Gedge Rosson.

“I have not been in a lot of pain,” she said. “I just have to be careful about not moving my chest muscles or arm muscles. I’m in pretty good shape. I’ve been planning, strategizing and making calls. We’re full speed ahead. In two and a half weeks or so, I’ll be out knocking doors and in the streets. I don’t feel as though I’ve missed a beat as all."

She said she hopes her own experience will be a message to women to prioritize their health ― and it emboldened her plans to fight for women’s health issues in Congress.

“There were people, all of them men, who told me I should wait until after the campaign,” Rockeymoore Cummings said. “I’m glad I didn’t take that advice. There will always be other priorities. I chose to prioritize my health. African-American women are at a higher risk. It’s especially crucial for us to focus on our health."

She said she will focus on issues important to the late congressman, such as battling the opioid crisis and “fighting for the soul of our democracy” against the Trump administration, but also on her areas of expertise, which include health and education policy.

In addition to Rockeymoore Cummings, the congressional vacancy created by Cummings’ death has attracted nearly three-dozen candidates — including a former congressman, four state legislators and a law professor.

Twenty-four Democrats and eight Republicans filed before the Nov. 20 deadline to run in a special primary election in the 7th Congressional District.

The primary is scheduled for Feb. 4 with a general election April 28 to fill the rest of Cummings’ term.

Among the other Democrats running are former NAACP president Rep. Kweisi Mfume; state House Majority Whip Talmadge Branch; longtime Cummings staff member Harry Spikes; and Del. Terri L. Hill, a physician. Del. Jay Jalisi of Baltimore County was among the last-minute filers, smiling for pictures in the Maryland State Board of Elections office in Annapolis as he signed his paperwork Nov. 20.

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Spikes formally announced his candidacy last week at the Umar Boxing Gym on North Avenue in Baltimore. Appearing with Spikes in support were Cummings’ two daughters, Jennifer and Adia Cummings.

The Republican candidates include Kimberly Klacik, who runs a nonprofit and is a member of a Baltimore County Republican Central Committee and former 2nd Congressional candidate Liz Matory.

The district includes parts of Baltimore City and Baltimore and Howard counties, though candidates are not required to live in the district.

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