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Breast cancer survivors, advocates honored at NUMC for two decades of progress

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Breast cancer survivors, advocates and elected officials kicked off Breast Cancer Awareness Month at Nassau University Medical Center on Monday, roughly 20 years after former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D’Amato worked with two advocates to increase access to treatment.

“We’re living longer. We’re finding out so much more, and we’ve come so far,” said Geri Barish, a cancer survivor and the president and founder of 1 in 9: The Long Island Breast Cancer Action Coalition. But, she said, there is still work to be done.

Nassau County had one of the highest rates of breast cancer in New York state in the late 1990s, when survivors Lorraine Pace and Barish sought the help of D’Amato, who was then a member of the Senate. At the time, both women said, there were limited resources and access to treatment for those with breast cancer.

In 1998, D’Amato championed the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act, which granted insurance coverage to women seeking reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy. Four years later, Long Island saw its first mobile mammogram van, which brought breast cancer screening technology to those who might not otherwise have had the ability to access it.

County Executive Laura Curran announced at NUMC that the vehicle would be dedicated to Barish, who began advocating for breast cancer awareness after launching the coalition and its resource center, the Hewlett House, in 1990.

Based in Baldwin, 1 in 9 is a grass-roots advocacy organization made up of volunteers focusing on breast cancer awareness. Hewlett House, which opened in 2001 on East Rockaway Road, is a free, nonprofit community learning resource center that offers cancer patients and their families a welcoming place to network and learn more about the disease.

Curran also recognized Pace, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992 and discovered that 20 others in her West Islip community also had the disease. She created the Mapping Project to detail each case on Long Island by zip code, starting with her community.

On Monday, Barish lauded D’Amato, saying, “We needed a lot of help when we were diagnosed, and he was one person who was always there.” She added that so many people have survived breast cancer and were encouraged to seek treatment because of D’Amato’s legislation and the mammogram van.

The van has three-dimensional screening that detects cancer earlier, explained County Health Commissioner Lawrence Eisenstein. “People are more educated about breast cancer than they ever were,” he said.

Curran presented D’Amato with a lifetime Advocacy Award for his efforts, and he credited Barish, Pace and everyone else who fought breast cancer and promoted awareness of it. “We need, today, people to continue to come together to fight for health and welfare,” D’Amato said.