Ashlyn Ford came to the annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk at Jones Beach State Park early Sunday morning with a mission.
“I want people to know my mom,” said Ford, 21, a Nassau Community College student from Elmont. “This is our first year without her.”
Ford clutched a poster-sized photo of her mother, Marilyn Monica Thomas-Ford, looking radiant in a blue gown after completing the walk with her 11-year-old sister, Angelina, and other family and friends.
They joined a crowd organizers estimated at 65,000 people who took part in the American Cancer Society's event to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research and patient programs.
Organizers said Sunday’s crowd was the largest since before the start of COVID-19 pandemic and they expected to raise about $2.1 million. Another key goal of the day is to remind people to get screened for breast cancer because early detection is key to better outcomes for patients.
Female breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer worldwide, passing lung cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. The advocacy group said one in eight women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime and estimate 118,830 women will be newly diagnosed with cancer this year in New York.
“Today is about hope,” said Katie Goepfrich Schafer, executive director of the American Cancer Society Long Island. “We need to make a difference in this fight and we are going to do that by showing up and showing how passionate we are about this cause that touches all of us.”
Thomas-Ford was only 50 when she died of breast cancer, which her daughter said had metastasized to her spine, liver and bones.
“She always supported Making Strides,” Ford said. “She’s not here physically but she’s here in spirit.”
And now Thomas-Ford's mother, Ford’s grandmother, has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Her prognosis is good because the cancer was caught early, Ford said.
“Be resilient, be strong, keep going, don’t stop,” was Ashlyn’s advice to people diagnosed with the disease.
Members of the lively crowd walked the 5-mile route dressed festively in pink, the color associated with breast cancer awareness. Some named their groups after a loved one who battled breast cancer, proudly wearing T-shirts and sweatshirts with their images.
Nancy Wohlberg, 64, and her daughter, Stephanie, 36, both of Holbrook, walked the route with their pups Toto and Petey, in honor of friends and family members who had breast cancer.
"Get checked which I just did last week," Nancy urged everyone.
The members of Jody Pinnavaia's "Pinnavaia's Posse" came from all over the country to show support for the 50-year-old event planner from Holbrook, who was first diagnosed earlier this year.
Many of the women in Pinnavaia’s family have battled breast cancer including her aunt, mother and grandmother. But she said the news was still overwhelming at first. Since then, she has maintained an optimistic outlook.
“I just had my last chemo treatment a week ago," she said. "We are here celebrating myself and my family.”
Pinnavaia said her group raised close to $20,000. She once again did the walk with her aunt, 73-year-old Pattie Venti of East Meadow, who was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1988.
“I had chemo twice, I had radiation twice,” Venti said. “I’m just happy I’m still here and would like to be here a little longer.”
Thynisha Alves of Amityville led a group of friends and supporters who dubbed themselves “Blessed in Pink.”
“I’m blessed and I love pink,” said the 47-year-old, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020 and “feels wonderful” now after a tough battle with the disease.
She said people should trust their instincts and get screened for breast cancer.
“If something don’t look right, if something don’t feel right, don’t hesitate,” Alves said. “It’s not a joke. I want everybody to get themselves checked out.”