Alan Kaufman, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma in 2017,...

Alan Kaufman, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma in 2017, speaks Saturday at Northwell Health's annual Cancer Survivor’s Day celebration at the R.J. Zuckerberg Cancer Center in Lake Success. Credit: /Joseph Sperber

Alan Kaufman ran the 26.2 miles of the New York City Marathon two dozen times, but then in 2017 he was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic melanoma.

Doctors discovered tumors in Kaufman's brain and a large lesion in his left lung, which required surgeries. It left him unable to run.

So, as he bounced back from treatment, he walked the marathon with ski poles in each hand to help his balance. And he did it again and again. He has now completed the marathon 30 times and is training for his 31st — his seventh post-diagnosis. 

"I get up every morning, and I say it out loud: 'Every new day is a gift,' " said Kaufman, 66, of Forest Hills, who has been in remissions since 2020. "I've gotten over the idea that I'm not going to run it, but walking it is kind of glorious, too."

More than 1,000 cancer survivors and loved ones come together...

More than 1,000 cancer survivors and loved ones come together for the annual Cancer Survivor’s Day celebration in a tent outside the R.J. Zuckerberg Cancer Center in Lake Success. Credit: Joseph Sperber/Joseph Sperber

Kaufman was one of the keynote speakers Saturday afternoon outside Northwell Health's R.J. Zuckerberg Cancer Center in Lake Success for Cancer Survivors Day, an annual event that brings together patients and celebrates their perseverance. More than 1,000 people attended this year's program. 

"As someone who's taken care of cancer patients for over 36 years, I find today the most inspirational day of the year," said Dr. Richard Barakat, the physician-in-chief and executive director of the Northwell Health Cancer Institute. 

Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the United States, behind heart disease. The American Cancer Society projected cancer will kill over 611,000 people in the country in 2024. For the first time, new cancer diagnoses are expected to surpass 2 million this year, the organization said. 

Dr. Craig Devoe, Northwell Health Cancer Institute's chief of medical oncology, was part of the team that treated Kaufman and asked him to share his story. Devoe believes cases of success help inspire others at the start of their cancer battle, which levies a heavy burden on patients and their support systems.

"He's not a survivor, he's a thriver," Devoe said of Kaufman. "He's adapted and he's found a new way forward, and I think that needs to be celebrated."

Survivors at Saturday's event wrote motivational messages on colorful paper leaves that they stuck on a poster board tree just outside the tent where the event was held. "You can do it," "Don't give up" and "1 day at a time" were among the dozens of handwritten notes. 

Ethan Zohn, of New Hampshire, a former professional soccer player and winner of the television show “Survivor: Africa,” was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer — CD20 positive Hodgkin's lymphoma — after dealing with a persistent itch and discovering a swollen lymph node while training for the New York City Marathon.

Dr. Richard Barakat and cancer survivor Ethan Zohn on Saturday...

Dr. Richard Barakat and cancer survivor Ethan Zohn on Saturday at the annual Cancer Survivors Day celebration. Credit: /Joseph Sperber

He endured multiple rounds of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant, only for the cancer to return. Zohn, now 50, was the recipient of a then-experimental drug called Adcetris that has since become a first-line treatment for some lymphoma patients. 

Now 12 years in remission, Zohn credits cancer research and those who came before him and took part in it as catalysts affecting change for patients. He now aims to pay that forward and has become a global ambassador for numerous organizations, including StandUp2Cancer and the Lymphoma Research Foundation. 

"I firmly believe that for cancer survivors sharing your story is one of the most effective tools we can have to create change," Zohn said. "The more people know what cancer is really like and what cancer survivors go through, I think the more change that can happen."

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