Race Survivor Chair
This year, Lisa Vernale Fusco is serving as Survivor Chair of the 2012 Komen Greater NYC Race for the Cure®. Fusco – a 29-year-old Survivor, Adelphi University health educator and adjunct professor, and breast health activist – was honored as Komen Greater NYC Survivor of the Year at the 2011 Race (along with her father, Michael Vernale who was named Co-Survivor of the Year).
“I am really honored to be this year’s Race Survivor Chair,” said Fusco. “It is really important for me to be able to share my story and raise breast cancer awareness for young people. I was diagnosed at a young age, and I’m happy to do anything I can to help save lives.”
Hers is a remarkable story of determination, survival and commitment.
Fusco was no stranger to breast cancer. Her mother was diagnosed when Lisa was 15. But little did she imagine that the best year of her life – the year she got married to the love of her life, went to Rome on her honeymoon, and started an amazing teaching job – would be marred by a breast cancer diagnosis. Fusco was only 26.
Her husband found the lump. Fusco was unconcerned – thinking women her age didn’t get breast cancer. But her husband and mother insisted she get tested.
Several weeks later, with her mother at her side, Fusco had a sonogram, biopsy and mammogram. She was still unfazed. After all, she was 26. That 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. Lisa 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 the shock.
“I had cancer, I was losing my breasts, I was losing my hair, and I was also possibly losing the ability to have children,” Fusco 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, she underwent four major surgeries, fertility treatments and four months of chemotherapy. She got through the ordeal thanks to the love and support of her amazing husband, family and friends. Fusco used her mother as a role model, trying to emulate her positivity during her own cancer experience.
Today, Fusco is feeling “great.” She just passed her two-year anniversary of survivorship.
When she was 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 the Vernale family’s Pink Party Race team. This year’s event at Belmont Race Track was attended by 175 people and raised $5,000 for the team.
“Race Day is very important to me and my family,” explained Fusco. “When Komen Greater NYC approached me to join the Race Committee and be Survivor Chair, I said yes to both.”
As Survivor Chair, Fusco’s name appears on eblasts to Race team captains and survivors, encouraging them to not only participate in the Race,, but also help Komen Greater NYC surpass previous fundraising. She is also interacting with team captains to help brainstorm ideas to help raise more money.
After being named the 2011 Survivor of the Year, Fusco did a lot of media interviews and speaking engagements. “I really loved it,” she said. “Since the 2011 Race, I’ve met so many amazing women – and men.
“I am thrilled to be this year’s Survivor Chair,” she repeated. “Whatever Komen Greater NYC needs from me, I’ll do. Its such a wonderful organization!”