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45,000 strong: Jones Beach crowd walks to fight breast cancer

Thousands participated in the American Cancer Society's 28th

Thousands participated in the American Cancer Society's 28th annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk on Sunday at Jones Beach State Park. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

About 45,000 breast cancer survivors and their supporters came to Jones Beach State Park on Sunday to take part in the annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk to raise money and awareness of the disease.

Under a bright blue sky, participants proudly wore pink and chatted happily during the five-mile charity walk hosted by the American Cancer Society. Last year’s walk was changed to a drive-thru event due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Organizers said they were on track to raise about $1.7 million for cancer research, education and patient services.

The mood was upbeat with many participants wearing photos of their loved ones on T-shirts, including Rosevelie Marquez-Morales of Merrick.

Her aunt, Lourdes Marquez, died in 2016 at age 59 after battling breast cancer for over 15 years.

"She loved life," said Marquez-Morales, 44, as she stood with her 13-year-old daughter, Savannah, and 8-year-old daughter, Delilah. "We choose to remember her with happiness, being here together and celebrating her life.

Marquez-Morales said she talks about the importance of breast exams with her daughters, noting that her aunt was just 42 years old when she was diagnosed.

One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime, according to Katie Goepfrich Schafer, executive director of American Cancer Society Long Island.

Among U.S. women, breast cancer is the second-most common type of cancer, after skin cancer.

The group said an estimated 284,200 people will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2021 — 281,550 women and 2,650 men. That figure includes more than 17,000 in New York. It also is estimated that 44,130 people will die from breast cancer in 2021.

Medical experts point out many types of breast cancer are highly curable if caught early, highlighting the importance of mammograms.

"The American Cancer Society has $69 million currently invested in breast cancer research grants," Goepfrich Schafer said. "We need to continue to support that work and continue to be part of that fight, just so we can make sure those one-in-eight women have hope and are able to get the best resources that they can and the best cures that they can get."

After 25 years, this is the last time Lidia Pallisco, 76, of Floral Park will participate in the walk to honor her daughter, Lorena Abbelle, who died of breast cancer in 2012.

"I do this in memory of my daughter and to find a cure for breast cancer," she said.

The event has turned into a family tradition, with a large crowd returning to Pallisco’s home for lunch after the walk.

"It’s very important that I did this for 25 years but I’m getting older and I want the young people to take over," she said.

Lorena’s son, Robert Abbelle, described his late mother as someone who brought the family together.

"On a day like this, we see the importance of family," said Abbelle, 29, of Garden City.

Laura Douglas-Robinson of Freeport spoke with people at the Avon tent, one of the main sponsors of the walk. Her grandmother was a breast cancer survivor.

A retired NYPD sergeant, Douglas-Robinson said she works at Avon because of its commitment to funding cancer research and providing health education to women.

"I make sure that I get my mammograms and I do early detection and self-checks every month," said Douglas-Robinson, who has had benign lumps removed from her breasts. "We have to make sure we take care of ourselves."

Breast cancer survivor Christine Restani of Farmingdale said she is celebrating her 13th year in remission.

"We walk together, so no one has to face the diagnosis alone," said Restani, 57, who works in community relations at PSEG Long Island, another sponsor of the walk. "Having other people to support you and knowing that the community supports you and that your friends and family support you. … It's very uplifting when some of us are facing dark times."