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Breast Cancer AwarenessPublished on The Huffington Post and

“Did you get your new crown yet?” My father-in-law, Steve, asked me when he came to visit last weekend. “You know, at the dentist?”

I knew which crown he meant, since I don’t (usually) wear one on my head. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for my mouth. I have so many crowns on my teeth that I’m like dental royalty. This one, my third, had taken a particularly long time to install, so to speak. The process started right before New Year’s and just ended in March.

“Yeah,” I said. I couldn’t imagine why he’d really care, although I was sort of touched that he remembered my dental woes.

“Is there anything special about your crown?” He asked, smiling.

“No…” I said. “It’s just regular.”

“Just regular, huh?” He asked, smiling wider.

So now I knew he was up to something. But what?

This was literally the first conversation we were having since he arrived in New York from Rhode Island to visit for the weekend. He and I were standing in my driveway. He had said hello to my husband, Brett, but he hadn’t taken his bag out of the car or even said hi to the kids. Steve clearly had a joke to tell me and he was really excited about it.

Let me back up. What you need to know is that he’s a bit of a jokester, my father-in-law. He likes to dress up as a pirate, for example. He recently took this pirate fetish of his to a new level, when he started carrying pirate flags around in his car to place on friends’ lawns, “claiming” their land as his own. He had one for us as well. Into the pachysandra it went.

Now back to the teeth.

“It’s porcelain,” I said. “Nothing special.”

“Let me see.”

I opened wide and showed off my very expensive but only mildly thrilling new crown. Bottom left. Back tooth.

“Awwww….” Steve said, seemingly disappointed. “It’s not like mine.”

“Oh, that’s right.” I said. “You got a new crown too.”

“Yeah. And it’s got something on it.” Steve said, opening wide for me to see. His was on the top right, second from the back.

A pink breast cancer ribbon was etched into the tooth.

I’m not kidding.

His crown is a breast cancer awareness crown.

I didn’t even know they made those.

“I didn’t even know they made those!” I said.

“They don’t,” he laughed. “The dental technician did it just for me. She has breast cancer, and her daughter recently died from the disease, and she knew about Linda and her story. So she called the guy who was making the tooth and asked if he could do it.”

Just to explain, my mother-in-law, Linda, died a year and a half ago from stage 4 breast cancer. My father-in-law has since embraced the pink ribbon and collects different items that make a distinct nod to the cause. He always wears a pink ribbon pin on his jacket lapel, and he has a dog tag hanging from his car’s rear view mirror that reads “courage,” in pink, white and grey army fatigues.

You get the idea. But this? This tooth thing? That’s kind of way beyond.

It’s not like anyone can see it, first of all, which is antithetical to the whole “awareness” principal of the ribbon. And, secondly, it wasn’t like a donation was made to the Susan G. Komen Foundation when Steve purchased his fancy tooth. Basically, Steve’s new crown doesn’t raise awareness or funding for breast cancer research.

So, what’s the point?

The point is that Steve knows it’s there. When he smiles, he thinks of my mother-in-law, Linda. When he brushes his teeth before bed, he thinks of her. When he enjoys an ice cream cone and it makes his mouth feel deliciously cold, he thinks of Linda.

It’s like hiding a tattoo for a loved one somewhere under your clothes. It’s personal, and unique, and not for everyone. “It’s never going to come off,” Steve said. And that’s what he likes about it.

In October, my father-in-law walks with pride in the breast cancer walk. The rest of the year? You can bet he’ll be talking the talk.