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Jamaica survivors parade to raise cancer awareness

The Queens chapter of the Mahogany Sisters Network, a breast cancer survivors group, is planning its first march Saturday to celebrate those who are fighting any form of the disease and to raise awareness of the benefits of early detection and prevention, said Margie Bhola, the chapter's president.

"This was something I wanted to do five years ago, but we didn't have the manpower," said Bhola, a breast cancer survivor who founded the chapter seven years ago.

State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans), one of the parade sponsors, was slated to be grand marshal of the parade.

"This parade is a celebration of life and a symbol of survival in the wake of this disease that has affected so many in our community," Smith said. "Breast cancer is an insidious disease whose incidence has dramatically increased among African- American women in recent years. By working to inform and educate its members about this cancer, the Mahogany Sisters Network is providing an invaluable and life-saving service."

A host of community groups was expected to join the parade, including a number of sororities, August Martin High School students, the Emerald Pipe and Drum Corps, the Federation of Black Cowboys, the Rosedale Little League and more, Bhola said. Karen Jackson, founder of the Mahogany Sisters Network, was also scheduled to attend.

Bhola is also hoping to collect donations from paradegoers to cover the non-medical costs of some of the chapter's members, she said. One woman, who has two children, is so ill she cannot even answer the door, she said.

"With whatever money comes in we will be able to help our sisters and brothers who fall by the wayside," Bhola said. "What happens to these people if they don't have family or anyone to take care of them? She needs help."

The Mahogany Sisters Network is a support and outreach group, primarily for black women, Bhola said. The group meets to discuss members' circumstances and hands out information on breast and other cancers at community centers, events and other locations, she said.

"Being a cancer survivor, it's hard," said Megan Primo, a Springfield Gardens woman who lost both her ovaries to cancer 19 years ago. "No one can know unless they are a survivor too."

But the organization urges members to talk about their cases so they will realize they are not alone, Bhola said.

"It's only when you start talking about it that you find out how many people are affected by this," she said. "Nobody's alone in this thing."

And once the parade steps off, the group will start focusing on its next ambition - finding a new location. The network has been operating out of Bhola's den since its inception in 1996, she said.

"The next goal for our organization is to find a home," said Hazel Warren, president of the group's board of directors. "We have to start raising funds for that."

The parade was scheduled to start at 10 a.m. Saturday at the corner of Baisley and Merrick boulevards. Marchers will head north on Merrick Boulevard, west on Liberty Avenue, north on Guy R. Brewer Boulevard and stop at York College. The 2.3-mile parade will culminate in a reception featuring health information at the college, Bhola said.

For more information, call the Mahogany Sisters Network at 718-252-4313.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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