October 12, 2023

NYSUT takes a stand against breast cancer

Author: Molly Belmont
Source:  NYSUT Communications
making strides
Caption: Margaret Ward (standing at left in head wrap), a retired paraprofessional at PS 146 in Brooklyn and member of the United Federation of Teachers, started participating in Making Strides of Brooklyn six years ago – long before her daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer this past February. “You have to continuously support breast cancer awareness, because you never know when someone you love will be affected.” Photo provided.

This October, thousands of NYSUT members across the northeast are standing strong against breast cancer.

Margaret Ward, a retired paraprofessional at PS 146 in Brooklyn and member of the United Federation of Teachers, started participating in Making Strides of Brooklyn six years ago – long before her daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer this past February.

“I was doing it all the time, supporting the cause, never knowing breast cancer would hit so close to home,” said Ward.

NYSUT has been a flagship sponsor for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer for 21 years, and during that time, our members have raised $16.6 million to support groundbreaking breast cancer research, ensure greater access to quality care, influence public policy and provide critical patient support.

“NYSUT is proud to support Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. To all of our members who are facing down this diagnosis, we want to say, ‘We are here for you,’ and to all our members who have loved ones battling this disease, we want to say, ‘We know what you are going through,’” said J. Philippe Abraham, NYSUT secretary-treasurer, whose office coordinates the statewide union’s social justice initiatives and who lost one of his sisters to the disease.

Ward’s daughter, Taimar Branch, 45, discovered a tumor during her mammogram in February 2023. “It was devastating,” Ward said. Branch opted for a bilateral mastectomy. “She said, ‘Mom, we have to do it.’ She only had it on the one side, but she said it was best to do both sides, so it doesn’t come back.’”

Ward flew to Florida to be with her daughter during the surgery and recovery. Her colleagues at PS 146 rooted for her throughout the diagnosis and treatment. Each year, her school puts out a donation box in the office and hosts two bake sales to raise money for breast cancer research. Ward, who is an avid baker, always makes treats for the events, and her cupcakes move fast. Last year, they raised $1,300 for Making Strides.

This year, although Ward is retired, she is still participating, noting that the event is now more personal than ever. “You have to continuously support breast cancer awareness, because you never know when someone you love will be affected.”

Overall, the average risk of a woman in the United States developing breast cancer sometime in her life is about 13 percent – that is equivalent to a 1 in 8 chance.

Tara Pfohl, a first-grade teacher at Fricano Primary School and member of Starpoint TA, is all too familiar with those odds. After watching her mother and two aunts battle breast cancer, Pfohl decided to start her mammograms early. “I had my very first mammogram in 2013 when I was 34 years old, and that is when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, stage 3A,” she said.

making strides
Tara Pfohl, Starpoint Teachers Association. Photo provided.

After a bilateral mastectomy, four months of chemotherapy, seven weeks of radiation and several reconstructive surgeries, Pfohl’s doctor declared her cancer was in remission.

Then, in May of 2021, her breast cancer returned. It had spread to her spine and pleural lung space, and she was diagnosed with stage 4, metastatic breast cancer. While there is no cure, thanks to advances in research and technology, there are medications that help patients like Pfohl manage it.

“I’m living with cancer, but I’m really living with it. I’m thriving. I’m still teaching first graders full time. I travel. I see family,” she said.

“My school family is essential,” Pfohl said. She also finds fortitude in the health benefits negotiated on her behalf by the union. “The negotiating of our contract by the local union has been huge for me and other members who are experiencing serious illness,” she said. “I can focus on my health instead of how I am going to pay my medical bills.”

“For me, I really try to promote screening, and I also try to do a lot of fundraising for research,” she said. Pfohl is the top individual fundraiser on the NYSUT team for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer of Buffalo, raising $11,275 to date.

“Making Strides gives everyone an opportunity to come together and support one another, celebrate the wins, see all the people – survivors and thrivers – together and know that there are other people out there who have experienced the same thing as you,” she said.

Marni Hogne, seventh grade special education teacher at Pearl River Middle School and member of the Pearl River TA said that when she goes around requesting donations for Making Strides, it’s hard to find someone who hasn’t been personally affected by the disease.

making strides
Marni Hogne, Pearl River Teachers Association, with her husband Christer. Photo provided.

Hogne has been involved with Making Strides of Hudson Valley in Central Valley since 2018, the same year she was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. “For me, it became personal,” Hogne said. Following her diagnosis, she had two surgeries, and months of chemotherapy and radiation. “Research saved my life, and I wanted to make sure that other people facing this diagnosis got the same level of care I got,” she said.

Hogne has already raised $6,700 for the event, which is scheduled to take place this weekend. She is one of NYSUT’s top fundraisers for this cause. “As soon as it rolls around, I begin talking to people and telling them my story,” she said. Her students organized an annual bowl-a-thon to raise money for the cause, and her colleagues stood beside her every step of the way. “My building was with me throughout this journey, and they saw how I fought back,” she said. “I am so lucky to be part of a community that’s so supportive of me, and really loves me.”


Visit the Team NYSUT page at nysut.org/JoinMakingStrides for more info about walks across the state and to join a team in your area!


Sept. 30

  • Grangabel Park, Riverhead, Suffolk County

Oct. 14

  • Wilkeson Pointe Park, Buffalo

Oct. 15

  • Washington Park, Albany;
  • Recreation Park, Binghamton;
  • Woodbury Common Outlets, Hudson Valley;
  • Central Park, Manhattan;
  • Jones Beach State Park, Nassau County;
  • Manhattanville College, Purchase;
  • Flushing Meadows, Queens;
  • Clinton Square, Syracuse

Oct. 21

  • Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds, Watertown

Oct. 22

  • Bay Plaza, Bronx;
  • Coney Island Boardwalk, Brooklyn;
  • Glens Falls City Park, Glens Falls;
  • Frontier Field, Rochester;
  • Midland Beach, Staten Island;
  • Mohawk Valley Community College, Utica

How to Join a NYSUT Team

  1. Go to the NYSUT Making Strides page at the ACS site.
  2. Click "Join Us".
  3. Enter your zip code.
  4. Sign up for a NYSUT team at a Making Strides walk near you.

Are you starting a NYSUT team?

If you choose to "Start a team" as a Team Captain, be sure to select NYSUT - New York State United Teachers from the drop-down of National Team corporations, and incorporate "NYSUT - New York State United Teachers" into your team name.

Or, just search for any existing NYSUT team to become a team member!