Breast cancer survivors, researchers and others came together Thursday to hear about the progress made in research on the disease and plans for the American Cancer Society's Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walks in October.
It was the first in-person launch of the Long Island walks for breast cancer — with officials noting that female breast cancer was the most commonly diagnosed cancer worldwide — since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
The society's kickoff breakfast attracted about 500 people to the Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury, and a plethora of corporate sponsors. The fundraising walks will take place at Grangabel Park in Riverhead on Oct. 1 and at Jones Beach State Park in Wantagh on Oct. 16. Information about the walks is available by calling 800-227-2345.
The Making Strides events on Long Island, the society's largest in the country, typically attract tens of thousands of participants. In 2019, about 65,000 attended the Jones Beach walk, raising about $2.6 million for research. The 2020 walk became a drive-through event because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which officials said at the time reduced fundraising by about 50%. The traditional walk returned in 2021, attracting about 45,000 and raising nearly $2 million.
Stacey Sager, a WABC-TV journalist, two-time cancer survivor — breast and ovarian — and kickoff host, said the American Cancer Society was the largest nongovernmental entity to finance cancer research in the United States.
Dr. Alpa Patel, the society's senior vice president for population science, told attendees that "the American Cancer Society, because of the dollars you raise and the work that we do, we are the only not-for-profit that does research, in addition to funding it."
Patel said the society had run population studies for decades and had recruited some 300,000 people across the country, collecting tissue samples from them "as a foundation of our research" into trying to understand cancer risks, treatment and survival.
"Through the tissue that we collect, we're … better able to understand that breast cancer is not just one disease. It's actually many different types of diseases," Patel said.
Several breast cancer survivors, with their doctors alongside them, told their stories at the breakfast.
Lexy Mealing, 51, of Westbury, said she had "no signs" or symptoms of breast cancer when she learned on March 30, 2021, that she had stage 1 breast cancer. In May of that year she underwent a double mastectomy. She said later in an interview that "my life turned upside down … I didn't want to even think about ever having it ever again," explaining her reason for having the unaffected breast removed as well.
Michele Savino, of Staten Island, who received a stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis in 2017 — a "devastating turn of events" — two years after first being diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. But she has pressed ahead with pursuing her life goals, earning a bachelor's degree this year at age 50, with plans to start nursing school in the fall.
After coping with fear and depression, she said in an interview, "I decided I had to do something to get my mind off of it and why not do something I wanted to do since I was in high school … I'm going to be a nurse … I have goals that I'm going to live and be in remission for many years."