Florence Conlon wore a UFT Strides T-shirt over her pink sweater, and a pink bandanna was wrapped around her neck — wise choices for a chilly overcast day at Orchard Beach in the Bronx. But the most important accessory Conlon wore was the sash with one word printed on it: "Survivor."
Conlon, a retired secretary at PS 96 in Norwood, was among the thousands of UFT members who participated in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walks on Oct. 20 in all five boroughs and on Long Island to raise funds for breast cancer research, advocacy and patient services. The American Cancer Society sponsors the walk, and the UFT, along with its state affiliate, NYSUT, is among the top fundraisers.
“For years I walked to support others, never thinking I’d be in the survivor category one day,” said Conlon, who had surgery in March. She said she made it her mission to tell her colleagues about her diagnosis and to urge them not to postpone their annual mammograms.
The Strides walk is also a chance to pay tribute to those who have succumbed to the disease. In Brooklyn, students and staff from PS 212 in Gravesend marched in memory of Kim McMahon, a teacher who died of breast cancer in 2016.
PS 212 Chapter Leader Maria Kouiad-Belkadi said Team Kim has participated since 2015 and has raised more than $1,000 each year. “Kim’s personality was always upbeat,” Kouiad-Belkadi said. “You never would have known what she was going through. Kim was about positivity.”
Carmen Tieso, a social worker at Millennium Art Academy in Castle Hill, Bronx, walked two years ago to support a cousin. Now, like Conlon, she was there as a survivor. Tieso was surrounded on the walk by about 30 colleagues and students. “When I was diagnosed in January, I was in shock,” she said. “After speaking to my husband, I went back to work. They kept me together.”
That togetherness continues. Several members of the school’s volleyball team were at the walk, and they took advantage of the wide open spaces on the beach.
“I brought equipment,” Tieso said, “and we played volleyball until it started to rain.”