The 14th annual Lustgarten Foundation's Pancreatic Cancer Research Walk at Jones Beach in Wantagh yesterday morning attracted more than 8,000 people -- including survivors, those battling the illness and others walking in memory of loved ones lost.
Participants, many with children in strollers in tow, danced across the start line beginning at 9:30 a.m. to a beat of a remake of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" as they began either a one- or three-mile route along the beach's boardwalk.
Kelly O'Boyle, 37, of Massapequa Park donned a purple T-shirt with a smiling photograph of her mother, Mimi Tracy, who died at age 61 in March from the disease, which has a 6 percent survival rate. About 39,000 people in the United States are expected to succumb to the cancer this year, according to the foundation.
"It's a very sentimental day. I just wish she was here with us," O'Boyle said of her mother. "But just seeing how many people are here, it's very comforting."
O'Boyle's team raised about $4,000 for the walk, contributing to the $1 million raised up to the day before the race, a first in the Long Island walk's history, said Kerri Kaplan, executive director of the Bethpage-based not-for-profit.
Kaplan said she expected to see the amount rise to $1.3 million, but a final figure won't be available until later in the week.
"We've never hit a million before the race even started, before people's feet even hit the ground," Kaplan said. "We've just seen the movement grow. You see people here who have walked every year since the first event 14 years ago and others who are here for the first time today."
About 500 more people participated this year compared to last year, when the foundation went into the event with $870,000 and ended the day at $1.2 million, officials said.
Susan Petersen Lubow, 60, of Locust Valley and a physical education professor at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, was one of many walkers undergoing chemotherapy to fight the disease. It is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, according to the foundation. She was diagnosed in May and began treatment in June.
"I had a full physical in March, and they didn't catch it," she said. "In April, I started not to feel too good. By that time, it had metastasized to my liver."
Pancreatic cancer is often labeled "The Silent Disease" because symptoms can go unnoticed until it is advanced, limiting chances for survival. Kaplan said one of the foundation's main research goals is to continue searching for an early detection tool, such as a routine blood test that would be administered during regular checkups to look for the mutation often found in pancreatic cancer patients.
"Cancer rates have declined in general over the years because it's caught early. You can get a mammogram, a colonoscopy, but there's no routine screening for pancreatic cancer," Kaplan said. "We're working to improve that test."
Cablevision Systems Corp., of Bethpage, pays administrative costs for the Lustgarten Foundation, so that 100 percent of every dollar raised goes directly to research for pancreatic cancer, officials said. Newsday is owned by Cablevision.