By Stephanie Banat
Editor’s note: Banat first wrote this piece as part of her internship at Herald Community Newspapers. To read the original, click here.
When Wantagh resident Lauren Baron was in fifth grade, she received difficult news: Her mother, Lisa Baron, had been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at age 37.
Though she was too young to fully understand the severity of cancer — as were her twin sister, Megan, and their older sister, Kaitlin — Lauren said she understood the importance of finding a cure.
“Our mom was very brave, raising all three of us young girls as a single mother while also battling breast cancer for nine years,” Lauren, 25, said. “She passed in 2015.”
Every year since then, the Baron sisters have joined the American Cancer Society’s annual Making Strides Against Cancer Walk at Jones Beach State Park to honor their mother. The October date is significant, Lauren said: Her mother died on Oct. 15, which is always close to the date of the walk.
“We’re celebrating our mom’s extraordinary courage, but also fighting for us and all those impacted by breast cancer on Long Island,” Lauren said.
This year, the walk will return Oct. 17. The Barons, along with many Wantagh and Seaford residents and others, will don pink ribbons, pink outfits and all manner of pink accessories to raise awareness of breast cancer as they trek from Jones Beach’s Field 5 to Field 1. The event will have a rolling start, from 7 to 11 a.m.
“The walk is a moment where people can celebrate their loved ones and fight for the society to continue making a difference,” Katherine Goepfrich Schafer, the American Cancer Society’s national executive director, said in an interview last week. “That includes families fighting now, and those who have lost loved ones and want to celebrate those lives. It’s a beautiful tribute.”
Participants can register for the walk until the day of, though they are encouraged to do so in advance. Online registration is free, and open to individuals, teams, families and groups. Walkers can also register by downloading the American Cancer Society FUNdraising app.
The event is non-competitive, Schafer explained, and participants need not walk the full five-mile distance. “If people are able to walk the entire distance, that’s amazing,” she said, “but we encourage people to walk however much they feel comfortable with. Some might be going through treatment now. Some may only walk a few hundred feet, and that’s enough to make them feel like they’re part of it.”
This will be the 28th annual Breast Cancer Walk on Long Island. Last October; at the height of the pandemic, the society held a socially distanced drive-through car parade at a parking field at Jones Beach, and over 700 drivers participated.
This year’s walk is particularly important to the Baron family, Lauren said, because the Friday before it will be the sixth anniversary of their mother’s death and around the first anniversary of their grandfather Frank Palazzolo’s death. Palazzolo, who housed Lauren and her sisters after they lost their mother, died of leukemia the day after the drive-through parade.
“When our mom was diagnosed, medical treatments were not as advanced,” Lauren said. “Now there’s greater technology to run cancer tests, and treatments have come a very long way. That’s why ACS and these walks are so important: We need to keep generating money and research for this cause.”
The walk was originally held at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, but the crowd outgrew that venue after a few years, Schafer said. “The movement instantly gained tremendous support,” she said. “News spread by word of mouth, and the whole Island rallied around this cause … families, schools, churches, friend groups, companies, caretakers and more all joined together.”
Long Island’s is the largest breast cancer walk in the country. Roughly 65,000 people turned out at Jones Beach in 2019.
ACS volunteer Elizabeth Flagler, a spokeswoman for event co-sponsor PSEG Long Island, said she looked forward to this year’s walk after it had to be scaled back last year. PSEG Long Island, she said, has raised thousands of dollars for the cause over the past seven years.
“Last year, we decorated our cars and joined the car parade, which was wonderful,” Flagler said, “… but it’s nothing like meeting in person with survivors, families and caretakers. The walk is a wonderful day. It is so hopeful and rewarding.”
Schafer recalled some of what she has shared with walk participants in the past. “We see families who have gone through the entire process,” she said. “I had one young boy come with his piggy bank and say, ‘These are all the coins I raised to save my mom.’ Things like that … remind you why we’re doing this.”
Lauren Baron said it’s bittersweet to see how many people on Long Island have been impacted, she said, “but we find comfort in the fact that we are not alone.”
To register online, go to www.makingstrideswalk.org/longisland.