Lisa Peghi and Judy Horowitz, educators and best friends, together made the 3-mile trek along a cold and blustery Staten Island boardwalk in Midland Beach on Oct. 21, with nearly 3,000 fellow UFT members, for the 25th annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk, which takes place in all five boroughs every year.
Like many of the day’s walkers, whose wind-whipped pink cheeks matched their shirts, scarves and banners, the two teachers’ lives have been touched by breast cancer.
“In February, my mom will be gone 17 years from breast cancer,” said Peghi, a kindergarten teacher at PS 54 in Willowbrook. “She was 51 when she passed away, and I was 25.”
Peghi has participated in the walk ever since. “I started walking on my own and when I joined PS 54 they made me the team leader,” she said. “Now we’re here every year.”
Her group included the school’s assistant principal, who is a survivor, and Horowitz, a 5th-grade special education teacher at PS 52 in Dongan Hills. “We grew up together so I was walking with her,” Horowitz said, nodding toward Peghi. “My mother was just diagnosed. She had surgery this week and she’s doing well, thank God. They got it nice and early.”
J.P. Fonollosa’s mother was lucky, too. “She’s in remission,” the math teacher at PS/IS 48 said of his mom. Fonollosa walked with about 45 people from his Grasmere school. “Many of our staff have been affected personally, and together we wanted to show support,” he said.
More than 20 Staten Island schools fielded groups, as did schools in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, Long Island and New Jersey, where walks were held simultaneously. The Manhattan event was held on Oct. 14.
“This profession is full of women,” said Servia Silva, the UFT’s Strides coordinator. “That the UFT has taken this on, that we’re willing to be a voice to educate, is so gratifying.”
Sarah Evens, a teacher at MS 172 in Floral Park, Queens, lost her mom in 2011. About five years ago, she began volunteering at the UFT booth before walking. “I do it in honor of my mom,” Evens said. “But it’s not the walking as much as being at the booth and meeting other teachers and UFT members, the survivors, the people who are battling it now, and being part of something so great.”
Women in the United States have a 1 in 8 lifetime risk of getting breast cancer. Each year, the UFT and its state affiliate, NYSUT, are among Strides’ top fundraisers, bringing in more than $1 million for the American Cancer Society to support research, advocacy and patient services.
Not all UFT members walked with schools. Kristen Sleight, a new teacher at the Pre-K Center in Richmondtown — and one of many walkers who brought canine companions — joined a group of 40 walking alongside her boyfriend’s mom, who recently had a double mastectomy.
“She was up and ready and she made it through the walk wearing her survivor banner,” Sleight said.
Sleight’s group wore pink-and-white shirts displaying a sentiment espoused by all the walkers: “In this family,” the shirts read, “no one fights alone.”