“I was out walking the dogs and I just had the idea: What
about walking around the U.K.?” Carter says.
mother allowed her to get a window box,
and she enjoyed growing and nurturing
plants and flowers.
She studied agricultural economics at
Aberystwyth University in West Wales,
where she spent a year working on a
sheep farm before moving to Malawi.
There, she began a globe-trotting
romance with Carter, and when he got
a job on St. Helena, a tropical island in
the South Atlantic Ocean where Napoleon was exiled, Melitta decided to join
him. He proposed in a restaurant on the
island in January 1989, and she said yes.
;eir first child, Emily, was born on St.
Helena. ;e family moved to Botswana
before settling in Swaziland, where their
son, Nic, was born. ;rough the years,
the Carters met many Americans working for the Peace Corps or USAID, and
they thought it might be interesting to
“see what they’re like in their own country,” as Melitta put it. So when Carter
got a job o;er in 1993 from the International Finance Corp., the private sector
arm of the World Bank, they packed
their bags again.
After years of wanderlust, Bethesda
became home. ;ey moved into a house
in Wildwood Manor, and daughter
Georgie arrived in 1996. “Sometimes in
life you’re really lucky,” Carter says. “We
were really lucky to live on this street
where there were four families all with
kids about the same age. …It was a paradise for the kids and the parents, as well.”
Melitta didn’t work, but she had a
frenetic schedule. She founded a book
club. She took courses on photography.
She volunteered at the National Zoo,
where she educated visitors about issues
threatening the Amazon. A passionate
advocate for the environment, she started
a neighborhood cleanup on Earth Day, a
tradition that lives on to this day.
“She would call every plant and type
of bird by its Greek or Latin name,” says
Marta Moersen, a neighborhood friend.
“I can still hear her beautiful voice in her
proper British accent naming some of
my favorite flowers.”
Melitta always prioritized her family.
“She was the person I spent all my time
with,” says Georgie, now 22, who attends
graduate school in England. “We would
go to the mall together, I would go to
Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s with her.
She was an amazing cook. She had this
little recipe book that she started when
she was 12. It’s called People Enjoy
Melitta’s Finer Flavour.” Macaroni and
cheese was the kids’ favorite. Melitta’s
version included chopped onions and
bacon, along with her special ingredient:
mustard powder. She baked elaborate
birthday cakes, including a Powerpu;
Girls creation that had upside-down ice
cream cones for castle towers.
“We didn’t really have disagreements
or arguments, ever,” Georgie says. “I
guess you could say she was kind of like
my best friend.”
Which is perhaps why, when Melitta
told her one evening in October 2012
that her gynecologist had diagnosed her
with cervical cancer—the severity of
which was unknown at the time—Geor-
gie, then 16, wasn’t too worried. Her
mother seemed invincible.
“I had a physics test the next day I
was really stressed about, so I was in my
room studying,” Georgie recalls. “She sat
me down on the bed and told me what
was going on. I don’t think it registered.
She said she was having a hysterectomy
because they found a few cancer cells in
her lymph nodes, and they’re going to
take them out and it will be fine. So I
didn’t really think it was that big of a deal
at the time. I went back to studying for
my physics test.”
CERVICAL CANCER IS AT once a particularly preventable and particularly
deadly disease. It occurs most frequently
in women between the ages of 35 and
44, and as recently as the 1940s it was
a major cause of death among women
of childbearing age in the United States,
according to the National Institutes of
Health. However, with the introduction
in the 1950s of the Pap smear, incidences
declined drastically. Between 1955 and
1992, U.S. cervical cancer deaths fell by
more than 60 percent.
“;at’s how you cure this—by preventing it,” says Dr. Paul Thambi,
Melitta’s Bethesda-based oncologist.
;e human papillomavirus (HPV) is
the most common sexually transmitted
infection in the United States, according
to the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC). Seventy-nine mil-
lion Americans have HPV, but in most
cases it goes away on its own and does
not lead to any health problems. When
it doesn’t go away, it can cause several
kinds of cancers, including in the cervix.
Fortunately, there’s an HPV vaccine
that can be administered to boys and
girls before they’re sexually active (the
CDC recommends kids get it at age 11
or 12). It’s been widely used in Australia,