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Raising funds to fight breast cancer, step by step

If your New Year's resolutions include getting some exercise, you might try walking -- an activity encouraged by the medical profession as healthy and doable at almost any age. And to double the healthful effect, you might think about walking to raise money toward fighting a disease.

Thousands of Long Islanders (and this writer), for instance, have participated in the Avon Foundation for Women's 39.3-mile, two-day breast cancer walkathon. Not only is this annual event the longest fundraising walk in the New York metro area, it also has the highest minimum fundraising requirement -- $1,800 for each walker.

Despite the demanding requirements, many walkers take part because they have special reasons for doing it.

Take Jackie Rabinowitz, 48, of Old Bethpage, whose maternal grandmother died of breast cancer. Rabinowitz has raised $7,600 during the three years she's participated in the Avon Walk. "I have to," she said. "I do it because there needs to be a cure one day."

Rabinowitz was determined to take part in the walk again this year despite tough moments last year when she was near Mile 24 heading north on Second Avenue in Manhattan. She felt so much pain in her foot that she had to stop. Fortunately, she was in front of a frozen dessert shop.

"A man came out with a quart [container] of ice cream to put on my foot," said Rabinowitz, a second-grade teacher in East New York. With her pain somewhat numbed, she pulled herself up and walked two more miles until she reached the one-night "city" set up by Avon on Randalls Island in the East River.

There, Rabinowitz and 4,500 fellow walkers found portable showers and toilets, and tents for sleeping, meals, massage and yoga. The next day, she trudged the remaining 13.1 miles in the rain through Manhattan to the event's Hudson River destination.

Two decades of fundraising
For more than two decades, breast cancer fundraising events here and across the country have amassed hundreds of millions of dollars for organizations such as

NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center and Cancer Care, which provides financial assistance to low-income breast cancer patients. (See box.)

There is no lack of need for the money: This year, more than 250,000 women and nearly 2,000 men in this country will be diagnosed with breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. As for the walkers, event organizers say that 20 to 33 percent are typically older than 50, and another 20 to 30 percent are in their 40s.

Many walkers are inspired to take part because they know people who have had breast cancer - or have had it themselves. "I was very fortunate. I had great doctors," said Sandra Kenny, 48, a stay-at-home mom in Commack who has survived two bouts of cancer. "Now it's my time to show support to people that are going through it - to give back."

Kenny has done the annual five-mile Cancer Society walk at Jones Beach ever since her first diagnosis, in 1999. This year, she had hoped to add Avon's walkathon "just because it was a challenge." Unfortunately, emergency hernia surgery benched her at the last minute. Before her surgery, Kenny was working out every day and taking 10-mile training walks in Sunken Meadow State Park.

The challenge of walking 39.3 miles and the entrance "fee" are exactly what make the Avon Walk stand out:

"When I first signed up [in 2007], I was terrified. No way I could get $1,800. No way I could walk 39 miles," said Louise Goldman, 57, of Port Washington, whose mother had breast cancer.

 Challenge and discipline
Goldman had a good start on the physical demands of the event. For years, she had been exercise-walking up to five miles several mornings a week. "I started stretching it, seven miles, 14 miles," she said.

If walking 39.3 miles seems daunting, how about soliciting $1,800? Year after year? And in a recession?

Gerald Goldstein, a 69-year-old lawyer from Plainview who was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer six years ago, has raised more than $35,000 over six walks just by contacting the same list of friends, relatives, colleagues, former colleagues, people from his gym and a few longtime clients.

For her part, Kenny sent letters to relatives and put an announcement on her Facebook page.

After dialing friends for dollars for two years, Goldman branched out this year. At her husband's cardiology office, where she works, and at the Port Washington marina where she lives on a houseboat, she now sells pink-ribbon socks and bracelets that she ordered from a breast cancer Web site, and custom-made T-shirts. So far, she's raised more than $15,500.

Similarly, Rabinowitz peddles cookies, brownies and lollipops in front of local restaurants and supermarkets and at the beach to raise money. "When you send a check, you send what you can afford," Rabinowitz said. "But when you have to raise the funds, it's like going above and beyond."

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