Breast cancer survivors join local officials to raise awareness at an event in Hauppuage. NewsdayTV's Steve Langford reports.  Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Lexy Mealing credits a mammogram she got last year with saving her life. The Westbury woman was diagnosed with breast cancer early enough so that today she is cancer-free.

“I feel so awesome,” Mealing, 51, said. “I’m healthy and back on the road to recovery.”

Mealing gathered with American Cancer Society and political leaders at Suffolk County offices in Hauppauge Friday to promote early breast cancer screening and kick off Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which begins Saturday.

“Breast cancer screening saves lives,” said Valerie Burger, a certified oncology nurse with Northwell Health who heads the Long Island Board of Advisers of the cancer society.

A study published in the journal Cancer in May 2020 found that women who had mammography screenings were 41% less likely to die of breast cancer within 10 years than women who did not.

Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. Gregson Pigott said many women did not get screened in 2020 because of COVID-19, and that screening rates haven’t yet returned to pre-pandemic levels, especially among Black and Latina women.

“It’s very important that we regain our momentum,” he said.

Black women are 41% more likely to die of breast cancer than white women, according to the cancer society.

About 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, and nearly 288,000 women are expected to be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2002, the cancer society says. More than 43,000 are expected to die.

“This could be anyone’s mother, grandmother, daughter, father, grandfather, friend, coworker,” said Suffolk Deputy County Executive Vanessa Baird-Streeter.

The H. Lee Dennison building, where Friday’s kickoff was held, will be lit in pink throughout October in commemoration of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, she said.

Mealing’s 2021 mammogram led to a March 2021 diagnosis of stage 1 breast cancer.

“If I didn’t go for my mammogram in 2021, I don’t know how far along it could have gone,” she said.

Even though the cancer was stage 1, she needed a mastectomy, because the less extensive lumpectomy procedure would not have removed all the cancer, Mealing said.

She’s had regular checkups since then – with no sign of cancer.

The cancer society recommends annual screenings for women ages 45 to 54 with average risk of breast cancer. Annual screenings are optional for women 40 to 44, and women 55 and older can get screenings either every year or every other year, the society says.

But some women, including those with a strong family history of breast cancer or women who carry genetic mutations such as the BRCA mutation, should get screened earlier, typically at age 30, the society says.

Suffolk County Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) held back tears as she talked about how her husband’s cousin, an Ashkenazi Jew, died of breast cancer at 36. Ashkenazi Jews are at higher risk of breast cancer at a younger age because they’re more likely to carry the BRCA mutation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About half of women with a BRCA mutation will get breast cancer by age 70, according to the CDC.

“It’s very important to talk to your doctor, to know your family history, to know your risk,” Hahn said.

Friday’s event also was to promote the fundraising Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walks this month.

The first walk begins at 10 a.m. Saturday, rain or shine, at Grangabel Park in Riverhead. A larger walk is scheduled for Oct. 16 at Field 5 in Jones Beach, with rolling starts between 7 and 10:30 a.m.

The Jones Beach event is the largest Making Strides walk in the country, with pre-pandemic attendance of about 60,000 people, said Katie Goepfrich Schafer, executive director of the American Cancer Society’s Long Island market. The event is on track to raise at least $2 million for breast cancer research and programs, she said.

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