Wearing a pink tie-dyed sweatshirt over a T-shirt emblazoned with a pink ribbon and the UFT logo, retired teacher Jeanne Casanovas stood behind a table piled high with pink scarves and hats. They were all knitted and crocheted by fellow UFT retirees and given to breast cancer survivors at the Staten Island Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk on Oct. 16.
UFT members in all five boroughs and on Long Island participated in this year’s walks sponsored by the American Cancer Society on three separate weekends in October, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for breast cancer research, advocacy and patient services. The UFT, along with its state affiliate, NYSUT, is traditionally one of the walk’s top fundraisers.
“There wasn’t anything like this back then,” Casanovas said of the walks.
“Back then” was 1979, when her mother died of breast cancer at the age of 48.
“When my mother was diagnosed in the 1970s, there was no such thing as routine mammography, and look how advanced it is now,” Casanovas said. “Breast cancer isn’t a death sentence.”
Celebrating the strength of survivors was at the forefront of many walkers’ minds. Retired teacher Hazel Noble, who walked with friends and members of her church in Queens’ Flushing-Meadows Corona Park on Oct. 16, described herself as a “survivor and thriver.”
“I’ve been walking since I was diagnosed six years ago,” she said, “in solidarity with survivors and to support others.”
For some schools, forming a team of educators and families to walk together was a way to reconnect after the pandemic. Jaimie Lamanno, a school counselor and the chapter leader at PS 84, a brand-new school on Staten Island, walked with a diverse group that included the school’s principal, staff members, students, families and even two dogs (appropriately attired in pink bandanas, of course).
“We created a team because we as a staff work together to support each other, our families and our community,” Lamanno said. “The energy from the DJ, cheerleaders and dancers really pumped up everyone who was walking, and we enjoyed being part of it.”
Other schools reveled in their fundraising accomplishments. Sheriza Ganness, whose son attends P 721 in Elmhurst, Queens, walked alongside her son’s teacher and her own family — including her mother, who is a survivor. The 721Q Eagles, as the school’s team is known, raised more than $4,400.
“It feels exhilarating,” Ganness said.
At IS 93 in Ridgewood, Queens, Chapter Leader Ann Valentin and teacher Maria Trapasso raised hundreds of dollars by selling pink shirts that bore the school’s name on the back and the phrase “Your fight is our fight” — alongside a design of boxing gloves and the breast cancer ribbon — on the front. At the Queens walk, team members donned pink UFT visors as they set off on the course.
For Staten Island members, this year’s walk was tinged with grief: Longtime borough Strides coordinator Sherylyn Bailey, a breast cancer survivor, died suddenly on Sept. 10. Walkers wore special shirts and armbands in her memory.
For those whose lives have been touched by breast cancer, like Casanovas, the yearly walk is an encouraging reminder that advocacy makes a difference.
“I feel like I’m helping people,” Casanovas said. “Just like being in a union, when we fought for everything we have, you have to make noise.”