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Nonprofit takes to Citi Field to raise cancer awareness

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More than 600 people — many of whom were decked out in pink shirts, dresses or ties — gathered early in Caesars Club at Citi Field last week to raise spirits and cash for the American Cancer Society’s annual Queens Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk Oct. 17.

“You’re all able to help people get well, stay well and, of course, fight back,” said John Link, director of special events for the Queens chapter of the society.

The society has held a walk against breast cancer since 1984, and Queens has mounted a Making Strides walk for more than 15 years, said Pamela Warshavsky, a free-lance recruiter with the Queens office of the American Cancer Society.

In this event, teams raise money to sponsor their participation in a walk down Queens Boulevard beginning at Queens Borough Hall. The teams each have a leader, who organizes walkers and helps raise money for the team. The August kick-off breakfast, which the Queens chapter has held for years, is for team leaders, approximately 100 of whom were breast cancer survivors this year, said Greer Hansen Velazquez, emcee of the breakfast.

“It gives everyone their kits,” Warshavsky said. “It gives them two months their teams in order [and] start fund-raising.”

Warshavsky said most teams number about 10 people, but some can be as high as 100. This year the Queens chapter expects 8,000 participants in the Making Strides event. Last year the walk had 5,000 participants — the chapter expected 8,000, but a nor’easter the day of the event dampened participation.

Last year’s walk also raised a record amount of money. Velasquez said last year’s walk raised $740,000.

“Queens really rocked last year,” Warshavsky said.

Members of the Queens society and representatives of prominent sponsors of the event spoke, encouraging team leaders to raise record amounts of money for the walk. Some sponsors represented included Elmhurst Hospital Center, Queens Hospital Center, Jamaica Hospital, St. John University, JetBlue Airlines, Local 338 and Pathmark. One speaker, Art Jackson, board member for the Queens office, encouraged team leaders to be a part of Pacesetters, fund-raisers who raise more than $2,500.

“It is really heartwarming to look out here and see the people willing to join us,” Velasquez said.

Cancer survivor Duvalia Diaz also spoke at the breakfast. Diaz said she was a patient at the Queens Hospital Center and found the support of the staff and the American Cancer Society, which helped her pay for programs that provided her with a wig and transportation, was an enormous help to her. She also spoke about her struggles with juggling her first year of law school and trying to be a good, engaged mother to her son as well as dealing with her cancer treatments.

“To think I could have been deprived of such great support is devastating,” she said.

Chris Constantino, executive director of Elmhurst Medical Center, said in a video for the breakfast the incidents of breast cancer in Queens were higher than the New York City average.

Velasquez said 1,410 will be diagnosed with breast cancer in Queens this year, and 313 will die of cancer. She encouraged women to get mammograms and to remind their friends to get mammograms, saying 98 percent of patients survive when cancer is detected early.

“It should be a daily thing,” Velasquez said. “You shouldn’t think about it just in September and October.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

Updated 6:10 pm, October 10, 2011
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