This group played pickleball in Long Beach for a good cause


Each year in the United States, roughly 240,000 women, and more than 2,000 men, are diagnosed with breast cancer. The disease has hit one local woman hard, and she is doing something about it.

Joanne Ameruoso wants to bring more awareness to the disease, and raise money for research. To do so, she hosted a special night in Long Beach last week, bringing people together with paddles and pickleballs.

Last Friday, Ameruoso, 56, of Merrick, hosted Pickleball for a Cause at the Long Beach Tennis Center, on Monroe Boulevard, where she once played tennis, inviting participants to grab a pickleball paddle and play, for fun and to support a good cause. There was a $40 entrance fee, and the friendly competition was sold out, with about 40 people, ranging from teens to seniors, packing the courts.

“Everybody had a great time, we really did,” she said. “We had food at the end, we had the raffles and fun, you know, we had a couple of big winners win a couple prizes.”

Ameruoso, an author, motivational speaker and health and wellness coach, was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Valley Stream before settling in Merrick with her family. There is a history of more than one form of cancer on both sides of her family, including breast cancer. But the BRCA gene, which increases a woman’s risk of developing the disease, was not found in her genetic makeup.

Her mother, Mary Jean, died of breast cancer in 2014, at age 73. Reflecting on her loss, Joanne realized that much of her own health history mimicked her mother’s.

She opted to undergo a preventive double mastectomy at 48 — and learned that she had Lynch syndrome, an inherited genetic disorder that increases the risk of several cancers, including stomach, colon, liver, brain, skin and endometrial cancer.

“Losing my mom in a very traumatic way, I became proactive for myself to take preventative measures to avoid breast cancer,” Ameruoso said, “and in doing so tried to find something in my genetics that was streaming down my family, because there was nobody BRCA-positive in my family. So I had genetic testing done to find out that I was predisposed to Lynch syndrome, and, being proactive, I had my mastectomy.”

She loved to play tennis, but now she has a slight case of lymphedema in her wrist from her surgeries, which can be caused by cancer and cancer treatment. Her doctor told her she shouldn’t play tennis anymore, so she took up pickleball — and decided to share the sport, which is easy to learn, with others, and use it to bring awareness to cancer while having fun.

“We had no injuries!” she said. “It was just fun. When you get on the court, we play all ages and all levels. The advanced players will all be on one side of the court. Sometimes someone you’re playing could be a little slower, and then other times you go, ‘Oh, hey, I better watch out!’”

All of the money raised last Friday will go to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s center for cancer research, whose current project, M.J.’s Research, is focusing on Lynch syndrome and is named in honor of Ameruoso’s mother.

Ameruoso said she hoped to host more fundraising events across Long Island. They may not involve pickleball, but she does want to mix advocacy with fun.

“What I’m trying to do is explain to women, and men — men are not excluded from this — your genetics,” she said. I think we focus so much on BRCA, but no, it’s your genetics. That’s what I’m truly reaching for, and to just be a constant advocate for yourself. Don’t ignore this, because it’s real.”

She said she couldn’t have pulled off the Long Beach event without the support of the tennis center, and sponsors that included the World of Pink Foundation, headquartered in Melville; the Bethpage-based nonprofit First Company Pink; Sunset Printing, in Lynbrook; and the restaurants La Pianna, in Merrick, and Pastosa, in Oceanside.

Ameruoso has been traveling as a motivational speaker on the subject, and spoke at a women’s forum at the United Nations last March, representing the American Cancer Society. The forum focused on increasing the knowledge migrant women have about health care options. She has also appeared on the Catholic Faith Network, and wrote a memoir, “Faith Over Fear: How my mom’s fear of breast cancer became my fight,” detailing her experience.