October 16, 2017

MAKING STRIDES: Unionists across the state walk the walk to fight breast cancer

Author: Liza Frenette
making strides
Caption: NYSUT First Vice President J. Philippe Abraham, Mohonasen Teachers Association President Maria Pacheco and NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene T. DiBrango take the stage in Washington Park to fire up the crowd for the Making Strides event in Albany. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

Sunday was a day of celebration and hope, with spirits lifted by pink balloons and feet carried forward in pink sneakers. Sunday, thousands upon thousands of people walked in at least 13 different Making Strides fund-raising events across the state for the American Cancer Society.

Sun-dappled walkways and early autumn foliage provided even more sparkle for most of those events.

Bus drivers, substitute teachers, teachers aides and assistants, teachers and school health care professionals formed teams and joined family members, friends and neighbors to walk and raise money for a cure, research, support services, and access to medical care.

“We had a great day at Strides yesterday,” said Lori Mollo, who has been leading the White Plains Teachers Association Making Strides walks for the past 15 years. She was among the walkers yesterday in Purchase and her story is similar to many women, and some men, who live with the shadow of breast cancer as a possibility — and whose stories exemplify the importance of regular mammograms and access to care.

“I have had to have six biopsies through the years and consider myself extremely blessed that I have never heard that ‘C’ word,” said Mollo. “I’m thankful to my doctor who believes that cancer knows no age limits and sent me for an early mammogram. I see my breast surgeon every six months and my yearly mammograms have kept me aware of changes that required an extra look through additional mammograms, ultra sounds, MRIs or biopsies.” A close childhood friend of Mollo’s is a survivor after extensive treatments and a double mastectomy.

In the capital city of Albany, NYSUT officers Andy Pallotta, Jolene DiBrango and Philippe Abraham donned pink shirts, walked and danced in the group warm-up dances. DiBrango spoke to the crowd on behalf of NYSUT, a flagship sponsor of Making Strides since 2002. The officers sported #TeamSonia on their gear in honor of former Penfield teacher and NYSUT staffer Sonia Basko, who led the union’s Making Strides campaign before she died from cancer last year.

Many local unions raise money for the American Cancer Society, not only through Making Strides but at supplementary events too. Fundraising for the White Plains TA includes “dress in pink days,” selling pink ribbons for display and hosting a variety of other activities.

“My first experience with breast cancer was with a student’s mother who informed me during a parent/teacher conference that she was battling breast cancer,” Mollo said. “She passed away within the next year. It was incredibly sad. I will never forget going to that wake and looking at all the faces of those who loved her. Since then, I have had other mothers tell me of their struggles; they are all survivors!”

At the walk, survivors are celebrated; those who have died are honored. “We proudly wear our union-made Making Strides shirts showing off the White Plains Teachers’ Association name on the back. We have walked in all kinds of weather – rain, sun and very cold!” she said.

Mollo walks for her childhood friend, and for as many others as there are steps in the annual walk. “I walk every year for that friend and other friends, my children’s baby sitter, my students’ parents, my colleagues, my high school teacher’s wife and more.

“AND I walk for my daughter, my sisters, my nieces and other women all of whom I hope never ever have to hear the words ‘You have breast cancer.’ Making Strides is the hope that we will end the fight and find a cure for breast cancer in our lifetime!”

Men are also vulnerable to breast cancer. Retired Colonie teacher Michael Koravik, who was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer when it reoccurred five years later, is a voice and advocate for treatment of male breast cancer. He just got back from Washington, D.C., where he participated in a Metavivor's Stage IV Stampede.

“We marched, had a die-in and met with staff from our senators and other Congress people. Amazing gathering,” Koravik said. “My health is good. A CT scan last March showed some progression, and I am now on a chemo drug of monthly shots. Latest CT scan showed shrinkage in my lungs, healing in my rib bones and stable in lymph nodes. Very happy with that.”

On Oct. 22 walks are taking place at Jamestown Community College and Suffolk County Community College Eastern Campus. The final walk this year is Oct. 29 at the Glens Falls Civic Center. Many walkers create teams and power the pavement in groups.