Men, women and children laced up their sneakers on Sunday, September 18th for the 21st annual Komen Greater NYC Race for the Cure®.
Komen Greater NYC celebrated survivors on Race Day with a host of special activities, including:
CBS 2 anchor and co-survivor Dana Tylerhosted the 2011 Survivor Program. Speakers included Komen for the Cure founder & CEO Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker, actress, Komen Ambassador and co-survivor Gabrielle Union, and survivor and Komen Greater NYC CEO, Dara Richardson-Heron, MD.
This year’s Survivor of the Yearwas Lisa Vernale Fusco, whose father was honored with the Co-Survivor of the Year Award. Dara Richardson-Heron presented the award.
Lisa Fusco was no stranger to breast cancer. Her mother, Barbara, was first diagnosed in 1998 when Lisa was 15, and, again, in 2006. Three years later, only 26 years old, she was diagnosed. The disease changed her life.
In 2009, Fusco finished her master’s degree, married the love of her life, went to Rome for her honeymoon, and starting teaching at an amazing school. “My life was truly a dream come true,” she remembered. It all changed in November when her husband felt a lump on her left breast. Unconcerned — women my age don’t get breast cancer, she thought —Lisa ultimately decided to have it checked out at her husband’s and mother’s urging.
Several weeks later, with her mother at her side, Fusco had a breast sonogram, biopsy and mammogram. She was still unfazed. After all, she was 26. In December, her doctor called and told her the news. She was filled with shock, horror, confusion, and absolute numbness. The next weeks were filled with finding the right doctors and having “tests, tests and more tests.”
The news got worse. Fusco had Triple Negative Breast Cancer — which occurs most frequently in younger women, women with BRCA1 mutations, and African-American and Hispanic women. Fusco and her mother are both BRCA 1+. The treatment plan was for a bi-lateral mastectomy and chemotherapy. She had only two-and-one-half weeks to absorb everything.
“I had cancer, I was losing my breasts, I was losing my hair, and I was also possibly losing the ability to have children,” she explained. She had a one-month fertility treatment as a back up plan. Lisa likes to say that she and her husband “…are now the proud parents of 17 embryos.”
Over six months, Fusco underwent four major surgeries, fertility treatments and four months of chemotherapy. “People ask me how I did it, and I can honestly say it was through the love and support of my family and friends,” she said. “Watching my mother undergo chemotherapy, I saw a strength and positivity that I tried to emulate during my cancer experience.
“I feel so blessed to have the most amazing husband. He has stuck by me and has truly been my rock, holding me up when I needed support, pushing me when things got rough and letting me know he was there and always would be. He has seen me at my worst and has never stopped telling me that I was beautiful.” Her two brothers also rallied by her side and kept her laughing throughout the ordeal.
A health teacher, Fusco’s job is to educate students on the importance of being proactive about their health. She taught high school health for five years and is now in her second year as a health educator at Adelphi University, where she also teaches.
In 1998, Fusco’s mother started raising money for Komen. Since then, the Vernale family has raised over $65,000 for the organization. While going through chemo, Fusco knew she wanted to give back, so she started “Lisa’s Pink Party,” an annual July event to raise money for Komen for the Cure and her Pink Party Race team. This year’s event had 200 attendees and raised over $12,000. As of Race Day, Lisa had raised over $15,000 for the Komen Greater NYC Race for the Cure.
National Sponsors of the Breast Cancer Survivor Recognition Program: