Breast cancer survivor Valerie Cartwright of Port Jefferson Station was one of many with a story at the annual Making Strides walk at Jones Beach. NewsdayTV's Steve Langford reports. Credit: Newsday/Kendall Rodriguez

Amid the throngs of people participating in Sunday's breast cancer walk at Jones Beach, Joanne Ameruoso showed off a blanket with an image of herself as a child and her mother — two lives touched by one of the most common cancers among women in the United States.

Her late mother, MaryJean Ameruoso, only told the family that she had found a lump when it was too late. She was 73 in 2013 when breast cancer took her life. Joanne Ameruoso later learned she was predisposed to a genetic mutation that could cause the cancer. She underwent a double mastectomy as a preventive measure.

The Merrick resident had a clear message at the 30th annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer of Long Island: Prevention and early detection are key.

"When somebody is diagnosed with breast cancer, it does not mean it's a death sentence," said Ameruoso, 55, author of a memoir, "Faith Over Fear: How My Mom's Fear of Breast Cancer Became My Fight."

"And they have a community of help and resources and networks for them, she added. "They're not alone."

Pink-accented crowd

The event at Jones Beach struck a tone of unity and support on a brisk Sunday. An estimated 65,000 people took part — a pink-accented crowd that included children in strollers, students, breast cancer survivors and loved ones of those lost to the disease.

Organizers hoped to raise $2.3 million Sunday through donations.

"I think the biggest thing that people can take away from this is that we have so much more to do in this battle against breast cancer," said Katie Goepfrich Schafer, an executive director with the American Cancer Society in Northeast region.

The effort includes conducting more research, getting more people screened, and connecting more people with breast cancer to transportation and other services, Goepfrich Schafer said.

Breast cancer represents roughly 30% of new female cancers diagnosed each year, according to the American Cancer Society. Although it is a leading cause of cancer death among U.S. women, the overall mortality rate from breast cancer actually decreased from 1999 to 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said.

At Sunday's walk, survivors hugged. Thousands of attendees strolled along the boardwalk, others in large groups or alone.

Remembering loved ones

Some walkers wore shirts or held signs dedicated to their friends or loved ones taken by breast cancer.

Shaquilah Simmonds of Elmont is comforted at the Jones Beach breast cancer...

Shaquilah Simmonds of Elmont is comforted at the Jones Beach breast cancer walk on Sunday. Credit: James Carbone

"It's the absolute least that I can do for someone else to see that there are survivors, to see that people … in the past were loved and were appreciated," said Shaquilah Simmonds, 28, of Elmont, who attended the walk with members of her church, several of whom have had breast cancer.

Rancine Harris, 53, carried a sign for a friend who had overcome breast cancer.

"It was rough, you know, when you love somebody, and then you find out they have cancer," said the Amityville resident. "It not only affects them, it affects the people that love them."

Rori Zura, 36, gave a speech during the event, talking about her journey from cancer to fitness. The Commack resident started finding lumps on her body at a young age, but they always tended to be cysts.

Despite having a family history of breast cancer, Zura said, she had been denied a preventive mastectomy because it was categorized as cosmetic.

"And at that point in my life, I didn't really push for it; I didn't know any better," she said of the surgery. "I just, you know, thought that was the end all be all."

Exercise breakthrough

During the pandemic, she noticed a lump in her left breast while showering and later was diagnosed with a more aggressive form of breast cancer. On top of that, Zura had recently lost her job helping with marketing and graphic design for a commercial real estate company. Her mother, first diagnosed with lymphoma when Zura was a teenager, saw the cancer return.

Zura would soon find inspiration through exercise, which her doctor told her could help her as she went through chemotherapy.

She became a cancer exercise specialist and started a company, Foobs and Fitness, which specializes in physical fitness and education for cancer patients.

She has no evidence of the disease and finished active treatment in November of 2021, Zura said.

One idea that took hold during her journey was that "Life is truly amazing."

"We're given this chance to not waste it," she said.

LI's MS-13 cliques more 'Americanized' … NYC gridlock warning … HS football recap Credit: Newsday

Updated 35 minutes ago Ex-LI teacher gets probation ... LI's MS-13 cliques more 'Americanized' ... Israel, Hamas extend truce ... Handmade bags

LI's MS-13 cliques more 'Americanized' … NYC gridlock warning … HS football recap Credit: Newsday

Updated 35 minutes ago Ex-LI teacher gets probation ... LI's MS-13 cliques more 'Americanized' ... Israel, Hamas extend truce ... Handmade bags

Latest videos

Newsday LogoYour Island. Your Community. Your News.Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months