Published by: Yorktown Yorktown Heights Magazine
Written by: Barbara Cervoni
In 2011, Lauren Novotny gathered a group of friends and family to join her at the annual Support-A-Walk, which is held each year by Support Connection, a Yorktown-based organization that provides free support services to people affected by breast and ovarian cancer. Lauren wanted to walk to give back to the organization that had helped her cope with her treatment and recovery from breast cancer. One of Lauren’s Walk teammates that year was her friend Ginny Allison. Ginny was happy to participate. Little did she know that only a few weeks later, she herself would be diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
This year, Lauren and Ginny were selected to be Ambassadors for the 19th Annual Support-A-Walk which will take place on Sunday, Oct. 6th at FDR State Park in Yorktown Heights. They feel it’s the least they can do for a program that has done so much for them and other women living with breast and ovarian cancer.
The Support-A-Walk was the brainchild of Yorktown residents Nancy Heller and Rich Adamski. Nancy is a breast cancer survivor and Rich lost his wife to the disease. After attending a breast cancer walk in NYC to honor Rich’s wife, they decided to plan a walk in their own community. They were sure that others in the area would welcome the opportunity to come together for this common cause. At their first walk in 1995, they hoped to have 50 people but were astonished when more than 800 showed up. They knew they were on to something. The Support-A-Walk has continued to grow ever since, succeeding in its mission to bring attention to the needs of people affected by breast and ovarian cancer.
Every year, people from across the Hudson Valley and beyond gather at FDR Park to take part in this inspiring and uplifting community event. In 2012, there were more than 9,000 participants, with registrants from more than 113 different towns or cities and 12 different states.
Participants of all ages complete a 3-mile walk, often in honor of loved ones – a celebration of life and a tribute to those who are affected by breast and ovarian cancer. Families, friends, co-workers and teams of walkers walk together. Individuals are also welcome to participate. There is a Survivor’s Welcome Area where volunteers greet and welcome cancer survivors. Support Connection staff are present to share information about the organization’s free programs and services.
Volunteers are a key component of the Support-A-Walk, adding to the warm, grassroots feel. Local community groups help with setup, parking and other logistical needs. Bands, cheerleaders and dancers from area schools provide entertainment, lining the walk path to encourage and cheer the walkers on. Youth service groups like Girl Scouts and the Leo Club participate – distributing water and refreshments, leading children’s activities like face painting, and helping wherever they’re needed. Students can get involved through the “Students for Support Connection” campaign, which encourages students of all ages to volunteer and raise funds. About 200 volunteers altogether take part each year.
Local radio and TV personalities are also on hand, acting as MCs and Honorary Chairpersons. Kacey Morabito Grean of 100.7 WHUD Radio’s “Mike and Kacey in the Morning” has been involved since the Walk’s inception and is a loyal spokesperson for the mission. Her voice can be heard in promos for the Walk every year. Matt Sampson of News12 Westchester came on board in 2007. He proudly represents the “Not For Women Only” campaign which encourages men of all ages to become involved, to salute and support the courageous women in their lives.
Following the success of their first Walk, the event’s founders were inspired to go further. Using the funds they’d raised, they decided to establish an organization to meet the emotional, social and educational needs of people affected by breast and ovarian cancer. And so, in July of 1996, Support Connection, Inc. was born. It is a 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit organization that offers a wide range of year-round breast and ovarian cancer support services and programs. Services (all free of charge) include individual counseling, support groups, wellness and educational programs, referral and information services, and a toll-free cancer information and support hotline (800-532-4290.)
The Support-A-Walk is Support Connection’s most important fundraiser each year, with 89¢ of every dollar raised directly funding their free services. Support Connection does not receive funds from any national cancer organizations including Relay for Life, Susan G. Komen, the Avon Walk or Making Strides.
Thanks to the Support-A-Walk, Support Connection’s support services have helped thousands of people since the organization was founded in 1996, including women like Lauren and Ginny.
Lauren was only 31 when she discovered a lump in her breast. Remarkably, a close friend the same age had also been diagnosed with breast cancer just months earlier. The two friends were there for each other through treatment and recovery. Nevertheless, Lauren felt the need for additional guidance and support: “Sometimes it’s hard to talk with the people who love you – they’re so worried about you.” So, just prior to her double mastectomy in 2010, Lauren contacted Support Connection. She immediately connected with a Peer Counselor on Support Connection’s staff and found the help she needed. “My counselor provides that extra outlet I need when I can’t talk to family or friends. She knows what it’s like, how emotional and stressful it is. She understands.”
Ginny was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in October 2011 after noticing changes in her body she couldn’t explain: bloating, clothes that no longer fit correctly, increasing abdominal discomfort. She was admitted to the hospital for testing and was diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer. By December, Ginny was speaking regularly with a Peer Counselor on Support Connection’s staff. She calls her counselor “my angel” and says “Support Connection is like having someone carry you on their back. I know there’s always someone I can call; it’s like calling a friend.”
The Peer Counselors who helped Lauren and Ginny are exactly what the Support-A-Walk founders had in mind when they created Support Connection 17 years ago. They knew women and families confronted with breast and ovarian cancer needed a place to turn, to find understanding and support from someone who’d been in their shoes.
The Peer Counselors on Support Connection’s staff are cancer survivors themselves. They offer information, resources and an opportunity for women to talk about their concerns. They listen without judgment, every step of the way from diagnosis, throughout treatment and recovery, and beyond.
Each person’s journey is different, making this personalized approach critical. A Peer Counselor says: “Every day we speak with incredible women who’ve had the rug pulled out from under them and been placed in a totally uncontrollable situation. They feel powerless and uninformed. They call our office looking for answers. We guide them to find their own answers, and encourage them to see the strength they truly have.”
The Support-A-Walk also funds the other free services Support Connection offers. Because of the wide array of programs, women can choose what works for them. At a monthly support group, a woman can share her emotions with a group of other women who’ve also heard the words “you have cancer.” At a weekly yoga class, a woman can recharge and renew her spirit and well-being in a room filled with other women who’ve been diagnosed. At educational lectures and workshops, women can quench their thirst for knowledge about cancer and learn new ways to enhance their health. Many women take advantage of multiple services.
Lauren and Ginny are delighted to be Ambassadors for this year’s Support-A-Walk. Ginny says: “If there’s one person I can inspire to ask for help, I want to do that. It’s hard to ask for help. I want people to know there’s someplace they can go. Support Connection gives help to the people who need it; it gives women a place to turn.” Lauren agrees: “I want to let people know about Support Connection, especially younger women who are diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer. I want them to know there’s a program to help you that’s really personal.” She also adds: “People should support the Walk because you know where your money is going; it’s going directly to help the women in need, the women living with cancer.”