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Pandemic forces Jones Beach breast cancer walk to be held virtually

On Thursday, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and the American Cancer Society announced "a reimagining" of the annual Making Strides for Breast Cancer Walk at Jones Beach. The Oct. 18 event will be a "drive through experience," with attendees encouraged to decorate their cars with pink.  Credit: Newsday / Chris Ware

The annual Long Island Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk at Jones Beach, which normally attracts some 65,000 people, making it the largest such walk in the nation, had to pivot to virtual events, car parades and other activities this month as the American Cancer Society continues to raise awareness about the disease.

"This year we know we're not able to get 65,000 people at Jones Beach and at our eastern Long Island walk at the end of the month," said Katie Goepfrich Schafer, senior manager of community development for the American Cancer Society of Long Island and Queens. COVID-19 made that impossible.

"So what we're doing, we're making options for people to make strides together. Whether it's using our step app so they can walk together virtually, a scavenger hunt, which is something fun to do with your family, and also we have a drive-through experience that's going to be taking place at Jones Beach," Schafer said in an interview.

For example, the virtual "Pink Forward Step Challenge" will be ongoing from Oct. 1 through Oct. 11, Schafer said. The drive-through at Jones Beach State Park's Parking Field 5, scheduled for Oct. 18, will involve "some lively music and messages from great people." The car parade through Riverhead is set for Oct. 24. To reserve a time slot for the drive-through at Jones Beach and Riverhead, go to www.makingstrideswalk.org/Long Island, where more information on events and fundraising can be found.

COVID-19 has also dealt a severe financial blow to the American Cancer Society, Schafer said, with money for cancer research down by 50%.

Schafer was among those Nassau County Executive Laura Curran brought together to recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which began Thursday.

"This October, raising awareness of breast cancer prevention is even more critical. Because of COVID-19 ... a lot of people are foregoing routine screenings for things like breast cancer," Curran said. "We want to make sure that people aren't avoiding the doctor's office and the screening because of fear of COVID. The last thing we want is for people to get a late diagnosis, which might not have a good outcome."

In recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the county plans to light the dome pink atop the Theodore Roosevelt Executive Building in Mineola on Oct. 5.

Geri Barish, a breast cancer survivor who founded 1 in 9 The Long Island Breast Cancer Action Coalition and is now executive director of Hewlett House, a community learning center for all cancer concerns, urged people not to "let fear take over" because of COVID-19.

"You need to stay healthy," Barish said. "Wear those masks. Get your check-ups. Go for those screenings."

Adina Perullo of Levittown said she was diagnosed with breast cancer 16 months ago at an age before screenings are recommended, after feeling a lump during a self-examination. "I was 35 years and two days old," she said.

"I did not let COVID get in the way of taking preventative measures for my own health," Perullo said. "I've stayed on top of my scans, blood work and getting surgery rescheduled just as soon as it was safe to do so. I urge you all to please do the same. ... Do not push off your appointments for physicals, mammograms and other screenings until COVID is gone."

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