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Long IslandNassau

Breast cancer 'walk' looks different, but carries same message

Participants of the Long Island Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event on Sunday drove through a decorated stretch of Jones Beach. This year, because of the coronavirus pandemic, the walk had become a drive-through to maintain social distance. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Toni Daley remembers her first breast cancer walk, just months after being diagnosed with the disease, and how she felt joining with others who had overcome it.

"I had not been a survivor yet for even one year," said Daley, of Baldwin, herself a pediatrician. "That first walk in 2011, I met people there who had been survivors for 10, 15, 20 years, so that gave me hope also."

On Sunday, Daley, now 60, celebrated an upcoming milestone of 10 years cancer-free by being part of the Making Strides against Breast Cancer walk at Jones Beach State Park.

This year, because of the coronavirus pandemic, the walk became a drive-through to maintain social distance. With pink decorations on cars, about 700 participants, those battling breast cancer and their supporters, arrived at Parking Field 5 in staggered half-hour periods to go through the 1/6-mile stretch that takes five minutes to drive around at 5 miles per hour.

"Because COVID-19 is here and we’re going through this pandemic, we also need to remember that cancer hasn’t stopped and that we all need to have that reminder …," said Katie Goepfrich Schafer, senior manager of community development for the American Cancer Society of Long Island and Queens.

The cancer society has raised $1.2 million this month from events marking Breast Cancer Awareness. There was no estimate yet of money raised from the drive-through but last year the walk raised $2.6 million, organizers said.

Motoring through the event, the word "HOPE" in large pink and white letters greeted participants in the colors used to symbolize the fight against breast cancer. Cars then passed a tribute garden of 2,000 pinwheels and finished the drive-through by going by a fence with names and photos of people fighting the disease.

The annual event, Goepfrich Schafer said, also included other fundraising across the island as families and friends participated in scavenger hunts, walks and a step challenge going on for the rest of October.

The American Cancer Society estimated in 2020 that 276,480 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 42,170 will die from it. In New York alone, the cancer society estimated 17,540 will get diagnosed and 2,430 will die of the disease.

Susan Marotta, of Medford, has participated to support her friend Kelly Sulima, 48, of Patchogue, who had breast cancer in 2013. When Marotta, 51, who works as a general agent in Hauppauge, got diagnosed in 2017, Sulima returned the favor and supported her.

"You still have to fight whether it’s a snowstorm or a pandemic or it’s sunny out," said Sulima, a librarian at Sachem Public Library, inside a car with Marotta. "You just have to go with it with full force and tell cancer that you haven’t won and we’re here to prove it and we’re happy to be here today."

Laura Parlatore, 49, of Huntington, arrived at the drive-thru with her husband, David Parlatore. A breast cancer survivor of nearly two years, who works for the New York City Department of Sanitation, she had pink boxing gloves, a gift given by her sister-in-law, displayed on the dashboard of the car.

"You’re going to fight and you’re going to beat it," Laura Parlatore remembered her sister-in-law telling her. "It was one of the best gifts that I received, aside from the family being by my side. It touched my heart very much."

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