Survivors spread hope at Queens breast cancer walk

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Thousands of borough residents joined cancer survivors Sunday to turn Queens Boulevard pink not only to raise awareness for breast cancer but also to celebrate life.

The American Cancer Society teamed up with Borough President Helen Marshall and other organizations for its annual breast cancer walk from Borough Hall to 67th Avenue.

The 3.5-mile walk drew more than 9,000 participants and raised tens of thousands of dollars for research to fight the disease.

Lenise ´╗┐Plenty, a group therapist from Jamaica who has beaten breast cancer, said the walk helped women like her regain their sense of hope.

“You have to have a positive outlook,” said Plenty, who came with her fellow therapists from the New York Psychotherapy and Counseling Center. “Seeing other people shows a lot of support.”

Several volunteers from organizations and schools, such as St. John’s University, pitched in for the day’s activities that kicked off with a celebration at Borough Hall. Sarah D’Amato, 22, of Flushing, said she was taking part in the walk to help after hearing about it at St. John’s.

The pharmacy major said a show of force goes a long way for those who suffer from the disease.

“If I were a survivor and I saw how many people were here, I would feel so great,” she said.

Cancer research experts said strong support is half of the battle against the disease.

In 2009, more than 192,000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer, according to the ACS. Although awareness has increased among the populace over the years, there are still women who do not get mammograms, according to Marshall.

“Women are the caregivers of the world. You must get your mammogram,” she said.

In addition, the economic downturn has reduced spending for medical research, which has halted ´╗┐progress on fighting the disease, but the borough president said that events like this helped to fill the gap. Since its inception in 1993, the Queens charity event has raised $400 million and this year $810,000´╗┐ was donated by participants.

Sonia Osorio, an assistant principal from Cambria Heights who walked, said the march helps to open the eyes of people who are reluctant to donate their time or money.

“It makes the U.S. government give us more funding. They see how many people are affected,” she said.

One participant went a long way to get the word out.

Kevin Spellman of Whitestone made a bet with his employees at Pay-o-Matic check cashing that he would take part in the walk wearing a dress if they raised $150,000. The 51-year-old said he had no regrets when he came to the event in a pink flowered dress he bought from Rainbow clothing store.

“I’m a man of my word,” he said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4546.

Updated 6:25 pm, October 10, 2011
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