Nassau and Suffolk County doctors, nutritionists and legislators spokr about the importance of breast cancer awareness at the 2019 Long Island Breast Cancer Forum at Farmingdale State College on July 24.
“I want to get out there the importance of early detection for women who are otherwise healthy,” Hempstead Town Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney, whose district includes parts of Seaford and Wantagh, said at the beginning of the event. “Just get out there and get your annual mammogram, check it off the box. I just want people to not be so scared of it.”
The goal of the forum, which took place in the college’s Campus Center ballroom, was to raise awareness of the disease and to encourage early detection. King Sweeney served as host, along with Nassau County Legislator Siela Bynoe, State Sen. Monica Martinez and Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartwright. The lead sponsor of the event was Catholic Health Services of Long Island.
King Sweeney, 45, of Wantagh, said she was diagnosed with Stage One breast cancer in December 2018, having had no known risks for the disease. It was a bit scary to receive the diagnosis, she said, but she moved forward with the support of family, friends and doctors. “As my breast surgeon said to me, ‘You’re not dying from this,’” Sweeney recalled. “‘You’re dying from something, so you better start living,’ and I chose that day to start living.”
Martinez spoke about Shannon’s Law, a bill that passed the Senate and Assembly in June that requires insurance companies to cover annual mammograms for New Yorkers between 35 and 39, according to the State Senate Shannon’s Law bill summary and Martinez’s website.
The law is named for Shannon Saturno, a Babylon teacher who died at age 31 after being diagnosed with breast cancer while she was pregnant.
According to Martinez’s website, which gathered information from the National Cancer Institute, insurance companies are currently only required to cover annual mammogram screenings for women over age 40, but statistics show that 1 in 227 women in the U.S. between ages 30 and 40 are diagnosed with breast cancer.
At the forum, Martinez added, “Men get breast cancer, too. People don’t realize it, but it affects both genders.”
“It doesn’t matter where you come from,” said Geri Barish, executive director of Hewlett House, a community resource center for cancer patients and their families in Hewlett. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white, fat [or] skinny. You can do every single thing to reduce your risk, but you can still come down with breast cancer.”
Douglas Marks, a medical oncologist at New York University Winthrop Hospital, said that roughly 160,000 women in the U.S. are living with metastatic breast cancer, the most advanced form of the disease, according to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. “I’m privileged to take care of a number of women with metastatic breast cancer,” Marks said.
Obesity can be a risk factor, he said, and heavy drinking — one to two drinks a day — can also increase the risk.
Amy Juchatz, co-chair of the Suffolk County Department of Health’s Cancer Prevention and Health Promotion Coalition, explained that other risk factors include smoking and using oral contraceptives. There is also a window of vulnerability during breasts’ development, she said.
Theresa Marigliano, co-founder and managing director of Come Together Yoga Studio, in Rockville Centre, said, “With cancer, we find that there are a lot of stressors in our lives, and that’s really a lot of what’s behind getting all types of cancer,” she said. “Becoming aware of that, and being more mindful and learning tools to help you cope with stress in your life — any kind of stress — is really going to help, whether you have [cancer], or to minimize getting it.”
Dave Neubert, an emergency medical director for the Town of Hempstead and a night-shift worker at NYU Winthrop, noted the importance of exercise for overall health. “Physical activity will actually save lives and protect health,” he said. “One in 10 premature deaths can be prevented by getting enough physical activities,” he added, citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Katrina Hartog, a clinical nutrition manager at Lenox Hill Hospital, in Manhattan, said that maintaining a healthy weight is an important factor in reducing the risk of breast cancer and other chronic diseases. Referring to body mass index, the ratio of one’s weight to height, Hartog said, “Anything considered overweight, or obese, which is a BMI greater then 25, significantly increases your risk of developing breast cancer.”
She added that where the fat collects on the body is a higher risk factor than being overweight or obese, and that carrying body fat around the abdomen increases the breast cancer risk.
“We recommend that even a 10 percent weight reduction can significantly [lessen] your risk of developing breast cancer,” Hartog said.
“The reality is that 68 percent of people diagnosed with cancer today may be cured,” said Marta Kazandjian Ranaldo, director of the division of speech pathology and swallowing at New York Presbyterian Hospital.
Cartwright said that she and the other legislators at the event wanted to make sure that all the research about breast cancer is made publicly available. “It’s so important that we get the information out about detection [and] early prevention,” she said.