More than 500 Capital Region residents vowed Thursday to make a difference and make history while Making Strides Against Breast Cancer this fall.
Under the annual theme of "A world with less cancer is a world with more birthdays," the personal stories of survivors were interwoven with updates about research and statistics about what money raised during fundraising walks does.
NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira introduced and read the story of Sherry DeCastro, a NYSUT employee and the first of nine survivors highlighted at the Colonie event. DeCastro's cancer battle started in 2003. Her story noted that her children and husband and a large dose of determination helped her get through the lumpectomy surgery, six rounds of chemotherapy and 42 radiation treatments.
A sense of humor was integral to getting over the trauma of losing her long hair. She chose not to tell anyone at her 20-year high school reunion, she had cancer. She sported a short little flip hairstyle, and a group of her classmates told her she was voted "best hair."
"Laughing, I walked to the picnic table my husband was at to relate their comment to him. Without missing a beat, my husband said 'Oh yeah, did you tell them they can take some home with them?'"
"I have celebrated seven birthdays since getting cancer," DeCastro said to applause from the capacity crowd.
"NYSUT has been a statewide flagship sponsor of the Strides walks for nine years," Neira said, noting that not only do about 13,000 members participate in the walk each year, but that volunteers donate countless hours all year long.
"Making Strides is part of our union fabric," Neira said. "Our members get there early and stay late to work booths at each of the walks across the state each fall. They hold bake sales or sell other items to raise funds all year long. They also volunteer countless hours through a number of American Cancer Society programs. Just one example is the ACS Road Warrior program, where a number of NYSUT retirees drive cancer patients to their appointments.."
Three years ago NYSUT, a flagship sponsor, was the first organization to raise $1 million in a single year and is still the only team to top that milestone mark according to the American Cancer Society.
"We pledge to work just as hard this year because it's more important than ever to raise every dollar we can toward research to eradicate the causes of cancer as well as developing better treatments for those fighting cancer," Neira said.
The non-competitive 5K Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walks will take place at numerous sites across the state Sept. 26 and throughout October. For more information about how to register as a walker and raise money online go to www.nysut.org/makingstrides. Information on forming teams of walkers is also available from NYSUT regional offices.