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Breast cancer survivors, supporters march at Jones Beach

Left to right: Robert Paolotti, his wife, cancer

Left to right: Robert Paolotti, his wife, cancer survivior, Trisha, Laurajean Peranio, all of Bayside, and Frank Raffa, of Delaware, cheer while walking during the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk held at Jones Beach State Park, Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

The Atlantic Ocean's calm blue waters were no match for the sea of pink created by tens of thousands of breast cancer survivors and supporters who marched along the shoreline Sunday morning at Jones Beach.

Clad in different hues of the signature breast cancer awareness color, participants who raised money for the American Cancer Society's 21st annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer on Long Island gathered at the seaside state park to start a 5-mile walk around 7 a.m.

Women in pink, black and white outfits led a Zumba routine on a Town of Hempstead bandstand as others chowed down on bagels and pastries supplied by various groups and businesses. Pink hair extensions were available -- at $10 each -- with proceeds also going to the cancer fund.

About 5,000 more people participated in this year's event than last year, topping out at about 65,000 walkers Sunday. The event -- sponsored by Melville-based MSC Industrial Supply Co., which donated $15,000 -- raised $3.15 million, the same amount as last year, organizers said.

Among the crowd was Aaron Collins, 42, a tanker driver from North Amityville who said he lost his first wife to liver cancer. Collins, a second assistant chief with the North Amityville Fire Department, wore his full firefighter's gear while he walked with his second wife, Margaret Collins, 43, a nurse at the Suffolk County jail who was diagnosed with breast cancer in April.

At 6-foot-8 and 399 pounds, Collins said the extra weight from the protective suit and helmet symbolically added about another 60 pounds.

"It's a big load to carry, it's a heavy burden not only for the one fighting it, but for their family, too," Collins said. "I wanted people to see how much of a struggle it is for everyone affected by cancer."

Collins was one of two firefighters wearing his gear. They walked with about 40 others associated with their fire department who dubbed themselves Pink Fire and wore sweatshirts with the names of 22 people who have died or are battling the disease.

Dr. Randall S. Feingold, one of four plastic surgeons doing reconstruction surgery with breast cancer patients at Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, in Great Neck, said he began coming to the event 14 years ago, bringing six patients with him. Now, he said the group brings about 1,000 patients and their family members and friends, and raises about $100,000 annually to donate to the cause.

"We understand it takes more than an operation to help a woman beat cancer," said Feingold, who is on the board of directors at the American Cancer Society Eastern Division. "I think it's critical, sometimes overlooked or underestimated in medicine, that we're treating their physical problems but also their state of mind. This event empowers them and gives them a peace of mind."

Proceeds from the walk will go toward breast cancer research and supportive services for those diagnosed. This year, 232,670 women in the United States are expected to be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, the second-leading cause of cancer death in women nationwide, behind only lung cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

Emily Ketsoglou, of Jericho, was with a group of eight women wearing light pink sweatshirts adorned with a painted-on black high heel. The "Well Healed Girls" were there in support of all affected by the cancer and raised about $1,000.

"I think it's a very humbling experience," Ketsoglou said of the event. "So many women and men, it's unbelievable how many on Long Island are being diagnosed with breast cancer. It's just too many and we need to find a cure."

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