In 2006, Port Washington physical education teacher Francine Clark raised her hand to be captain for her Making Strides middle school team, a group she’d been walking with for years to raise money for the American Cancer Society’s fight to defeat breast cancer. A week later she found out through a mammogram that she had breast cancer.
Nine years later, her longtime Making Strides walking partner — Port Washington art teacher Patricia Wright — was also diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I was operated on in October and I walked (in Making Strides) a week later, my arm held up against my body,” said Clark, who had a lumpectomy followed by radiation.
“A union is the most important thing you can have on your side,” she added, expressing appreciation for excellent union-negotiated health insurance. “The most I ever paid was $32 for parking. You only learn things when you go through them.”
Now retired after a 43-year career in teaching, including service as a Port Washington Teachers Association building representative and health and safety rep, Clark continues to walk in the annual ACS Making Strides walks. Money raised is earmarked for research, support services, and education, among other programs.
While the leaves are beginning to gush crimson, yellow and tangerine, the sidewalks will soon be colored pink from the sneaker soles of thousands and thousands of walkers striding against breast cancer throughout the month of October.
NYSUT has been a flagship sponsor of the American Cancer Society events since 2002, and its members have generated support, energy, awareness, volunteers and more than $12 million. The union has taken its support to the next level by joining the Making Strides National Partners Program.
Clark plans on walking again this year in the Long Island walk with her longtime sneaker mate Patricia Wright, who has her own breast cancer story as well.
“I got breast cancer after I retired,” Wright said. “At the time you’re just hoping to live. You’re hoping you can live – that’s all you think about.”
As an art teacher, Wright had students decorate luminary bags with watercolors and colored pencils for the all-night American Cancer Society Relay for Life. She also taught them how to create with recycled products, having students design clothing from recycled goods for Trashion Show.
Though Wright has struggled with a series of operations — including a bilateral mastectomy — and faces more surgery this fall, she still plans on walking this month with her colleague and friend at her side.
“We retired together,” Clark said. “We’re a unifying force. It’s a very bonding experience.”
Making Strides 2018
Are you ready to stride?
As a flagship sponsor of Making Strides, NYSUT and its members have raised more than $12 million over the years to support the fight against breast cancer.
Lace up your walking shoes, find an event near you and register online to be part of a NYSUT team this fall.
- Watertown, 10 a.m., Alex Duffy Fairgrounds
- Buffalo, 8:30 a.m., Canalside
- Jamestown, 8:30 a.m., Jamestown Community College
- Central Valley, 7:30 a.m., Woodbury Common Premium Outlets
- Manhattan, 9 a.m., Central Park 72nd Street Bandshell
- Syracuse, 10 a.m., SRC Arena at Onondaga Community College
- Rochester, 10 a.m., Frontier Field
- Albany, 10 a.m., Washington Park parade ground
- Binghamton, 8:30 a.m., Recreation Park
- Bronx, 10 a.m., Orchard Beach
- Brooklyn, 10 a.m., Coney Island Boardwalk, MCU Park
- Long Island, 7:30 a.m., Jones Beach State Park, Field 5
- Plattsburgh, 10 a.m., Melissa Penfield Park
- Queens, 10 a.m., Flushing Meadows Corona Park
- Staten Island, 10 a.m., Midland Beach
- Utica, 10 a.m., Masonic Campus
- Purchase, 9:30 a.m., Manhattanville College
- Glens Falls, noon, Cool Insuring Arena
- Riverhead, 7:30 a.m., Suffolk Community College Eastern Campus
Leading the way for the 2017 Making Strides event in Albany (at left) Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango and Secretary-Treasurer Philippe Abraham. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.