Last summer Fatima Barnett was undergoing a rigorous regimen of chemotherapy. While she was losing her hair, she never lost hope.
"I thank God for so many things that got me through last summer and fall," said Barnett, a fifth-grade teacher in the Port Chester schools who, on May 8, passed the one-year anniversary of a mastectomy.
Among those factors that contributed to her recovery: Her daughter Jennifer, a pre-K teacher in Washington, D.C., quit her job to help her mother recover; her friends and colleagues at the King Street School who brought laughter, food and comfort for many months; and the knowledge that her local, state and national union are behind the American Cancer Society's efforts to fight breast cancer, especially at Making Strides walks each fall.
"My last chemo treatment was Sept. 27 and I was so weak, but I knew I wanted to walk," said Barnett who made it, with her daughter's help, to the Westchester County walk three weeks later.
"I was tired. I was weak. I took one step at a time," she said, "but I made it."
Barnett was one of more than 10,000 NYSUT members, their families and friends who walked in 2007. Her local union, the Port Chester Teachers Association led by Linda O'Connor, has long been involved in the ACS Strides efforts. Mike DeVito coordinates the union's committee for ACS Strides.
"It's a real team effort here among all six buildings to get people together for the walk, as well as support people all year long," he said.
A flagship sponsor in New York, NYSUT was the first organization to exceed the $1 million milestone in single-year contributions. The American Cancer Society honored NYSUT's historic contribution at the union's annual convention in April.
NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira, who oversees the union's efforts in walks throughout the state, noted that donations help fund research and advocacy to provide screening opportunities for all people, as well as helping spread breast cancer awareness.
That was the case for Barnett.
"I knew once I found the lump, I had to go to the doctor," she said. "I had to fight for an appointment, but I knew I had to get it taken care of right away."
One of the messages ACS works to get out is the importance of early detection. The New England Journal of Medicine reported in 2005 that mammography has significantly helped reduce mortality from breast cancer because most breast cancers cause no symptoms in the early stages.
For Barnett, the most important message Making Strides conveys is one of attitude. "To face cancer, to beat cancer, to live with cancer all require the right kind of attitude - be it fierce, accepting or any other way a woman chooses to accept it," she said. "To those participants who were 'survivors,' their message was screaming loud and clear: The best way to celebrate being a survivor is with a pink sparkly hat. Cancer with pink attitude."
For more information on breast cancer risk and early detection go to www.cancer.org or call (800) 227-2345.
- Betsy Sandberg