Dressed in pink, Freeporters gathered in front of Village Hall on Tuesday for a candlelight vigil in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness, and looked up at the building’s steeple. Mayor Robert Kennedy flipped a switch, and the steeple lit up in pink for the first time since 1928.
The breast cancer death rate has dropped because of heightened awareness and better treatments over the last 30 years, but many women still do not have access to mammograms, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
Determined to raise awareness in the village, Freeporters Barbara Sims and Ladona Taylor met with Kennedy in early October to suggest an event that would spark conversations and send a message of support to women who are suffering from the disease.
Taylor said that even though she has not had to deal with breast cancer firsthand, and she does not know anyone who has been diagnosed with the disease, she still makes an effort to raise awareness about getting an annual mammogram after age 40 to detect the cancer early.
Hempstead kindergarten teacher Electra Nicholson shared a poem with attendees that focused on the importance of women getting annual mammograms, but also addressed breast cancer in men. Although less than 1 percent of all breast cancer develops in men, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, one in 1,000 men will be diagnosed.
“Come on ladies and gents, I’m trying to get your attention,” Nicholson read. “Gents you focus on luxurious cars or the greatest sports stars/it’s time to prevent operating scars;/ that bag, those shoes, girl you’re fierce,/ but if you don’t take care of your body, you will be scarce.”
Village employee and native Freeporter Kim Weltner said that when she was going through treatment, the community rallied around her in support. Seeing the bright pink steeple was a symbol of her new cancer-free life for almost a year, she said.
“It makes me feel good to see the village come together to raise awareness,” Weltner said. “This whole year has been emotional; chemotherapy will do that to you, and this moment is very touching...”
The event’s honored guest was a five-time cancer survivor Geri Barish, of Baldwin. Barish was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1986 and since then has been determined to be a voice in the community, not just to advocate for herself, but also to share resources, experiences, education and awareness with others.
“We need to get people screened early,” Barish said. “We need to get to the people who can’t get to — or can’t afford it — to a doctor. This type of [gesture] has been very much needed.”