The president of Lucia’s Angels and vice president of the Coalition for Women’s Cancers at Southampton Hospital discusses efforts to fight breast cancer and a new initiative, “Give Where You Live,” which aims to encourage donations to local charities of all types.
By Stephen J. Kotz
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. What are some of the things your organizations are doing to mark the month?
Our list of events for October is very, very long and continues to grow. Every other day we have local businesses contacting us, wanting to do some kind of fundraiser for us so we’ve unofficially extended Breast Cancer Awareness Month into November too. Some of our biggest events are: The San Gennaro Feast of the Hamptons; The Shelter Island 5K; “Bye, Bye Birdie: the 10th Annual and Last Birdhouse Auction” and Gurney’s Montauk Girls Night Out.
There is immense support for the fight against breast cancer (Even the NFL has gotten into the act). What does this groundswell of support mean in the long run for the effort to reduce, if not eradicate, this disease?
I think it’s great that the NFL and other big corporations “Put on Their Pink” for the month of October. On a national level, this brings awareness to the prevalence of this disease and is a reminder to women everywhere to get the annual mammograms. Early detection is the key to the cure. On the other hand, quite often these big companies use Breast Cancer Awareness Month more to promote themselves than to actually help with funding for research or to help the individuals that currently have breast cancer. The general public is not usually aware of how the big companies are supporting the cause and where the money is going. That’s part of the reason Susie Roden and I decided to start our “Give Where You Live” campaign.
What are your hopes with this effort?
One of our biggest struggles as a local not-for-profit is getting people to realize that even though we live in the Hamptons, the majority of our year-round community is not the affluent and wealthy. We are your restaurant workers, teachers, landscapers and retailers. When in need, our local family, friends and neighbors depend on our not-for-profits. And we find, especially in the month of October a lot of local businesses want to do their part to “support the cause.” Most people automatically choose one of the national not-for-profits to donate to—like the Breast Cancer Research Foundation or the American Cancer Society. While these organizations do terrific work, the monies donated get distributed nationally. For instance, we had a local “Relay for Life” team that raised over $100,000 for the American Cancer Society. Locally, the ACS provided funds for transportation to and from treatment for cancer patients. The allotment is $75 per patient, per year. Our goal with this “Give Where You Live” campaign is to create awareness about the need for support to our East End charitable organizations and for donors to be aware where their monies are being spent.
How did you get involved?
A little more than 12 years ago, my best friend Lucia and I were breastfeeding our newborn babies. “Do you think this is a blocked milk duct?” she asked while pointing out a large lump on her breast. It wasn’t sore so I told her to get it checked out immediately. By the time she was diagnosed the quickly spreading cancer had grown to the size of a lemon. She was stage 4.
Lucia put forth her best effort battling the disease and even got involved with our local breast cancer coalition (formerly the South Fork Breast Health Coalition, which is now the CWC) and Ellen’s Run. She was in charge of collecting donations in the Town of Southampton for the Ellen’s Run auction. When she was too sick to do so, she asked me to do the collections and said, “Tell them I’m dying so they better give big this year.” It was a record year for donations.
Since Lucia was such a caring and loving individual, she had so many close friends and family surrounding her in her final days. Even though it was hard to watch her waste away, we had many beautiful moments with her. It was Lucia’s wish that other women with breast cancer have the same kind of love and care that she did in her final days. Thus, the idea for Lucia’s Angels was born.
Breast cancer gets the most media attention because it is the most common form of cancer afflicting women, but it not the most deadly, with that dubious distinction belonging to lung cancer. Do you think enough is being done to fight other forms of cancer affecting women and if not, what can be done?
Breast cancer does get a lot of attention, especially here on Long Island where we have the highest rates in the country. We feel other cancers deserve support and attention too. That’s part of the reason our CWC and Lucia’s Angels have expanded their missions to now include not just breast but other gynecological cancers as well (ovarian, cervical, and uterine.) Of course we wish our local coalitions could support all kinds of cancers for men and women. But, we are not that big or well-funded… yet. Maybe our “GIve Where You Live” campaign can help us with that.