Very few of us will have the opportunity to be a hero—that person who runs into a burning building to save a life.
But we all can be little heroes by practicing acts of help and compassion on a smaller scale that go a long way in making life less difficult for others.
In my 35 years as the public relations consultant to the Adelphi NY Statewide Breast Cancer Hotline & Support Program I have met many people I think of as little heroes. Here are three women I admire for all that they do. None has had breast cancer but each has been motivated to go way beyond writing a check.
Lisa Linares Wolf
If you’ve ever been to in Connetquot River State Park Preserve in October you might have seen lots of horses decked out in pink—all participating in the Breast Cancer Benefit Ride and Hike. “Horse owners from all over Long Island and even upstate New York and New Jersey come to this event,” said organizer Lisa Linares Wolf of Islip Terrace, a member of the horse club New York Natural Equestrians.
It started six years ago when Lisa’s childhood and closest friend Trish, who had been diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer, heard about a breast cancer/horse riding event in New Hampshire. She suggested that Lisa bring her horse Colby up there and participate. “Why don’t I do something similar here,” countered Lisa, “and give it to whatever charity you want.”
Lisa said that although she didn’t know anything about running such an event, she persevered and that first year raised $8,000. In total the Breast Cancer Benefit Ride and Hike (yes, you can walk the trail if you don’t have a horse) has raised $55,000. All the money—from entrance fees, raffles and contributions—benefits the Adelphi Program. Trish chose Adelphi because of all the support the hotline volunteers had given to her as she coped with her breast cancer.
Every year, when the event is over, the exhausted Lisa declares she’s not going to do it again and have her life taken up with all the planning and her house overrun with gift baskets. But she knows those are just words and this is something she is compelled to continue, not just for Trish but for her sense of herself. “I would feel so disappointed in myself if I didn’t do this,” she said. In 2013 when her father passed away, people suggested that Lisa take the year off. “He would kick me right in the ass if I used his death as an excuse. He was so proud of this event.”
Lisa feels good about the money raised going to the program that provides emotional support. Supporting local charities such as this is just as important as supporting big research, she said. “We must have research and treatment options- we should advocate for that. In the meantime we need to help the patients that are struggling now.”
This year the equestrian event was held on Oct. 10.
In 2008 two of Dale Flashner’s friends were diagnosed with breast cancer and each had a double mastectomy. This was a first for the Adelphi art professor who up until then didn’t know anyone who had gone through breast cancer. “It was scary and it was personal,” she said, “and I wanted to do something.”
The opportunity came that same year when a former student told her about a fundraiser she had heard about in which people took ordinary bras and turned them into works of art to be sold to raise money for breast cancer charities.
Dale knew that the New York Statewide Breast Cancer Hotline was housed just a couple of buildings from her office at the Adelphi School of Social Work; several years previously, one of her students had designed the logo for the program. Dale presented the idea to Hillary Rutter, the director of the breast cancer program, and the next year was the first “Creative Cups,” with 247 original works of art auctioned in March. It was a great success as both a fundraising event and an art exhibition. Every other March, with Dale at the helm, there has been a Creative Cups, with new bras and hundreds of participants, raising thousands of dollars for the program.
Creative Cups has become something that is now part of who Dale is and what she does in the world. Like Lisa Wolf with her Breast Cancer Benefit Ride and Hike, Dale, too, would say she didn’t think she had the energy to do it again but then, each year, there she is devoting countless volunteer hours making sure Creative Cups would succeed. This year, the auction raised $70,000.
“This has been an incredible journey,” said Dale, “one that I couldn’t have imagined. As long as people want to do this, I will be a part of it.”
The next Creative Cups will be in March of 2017.
Cousins Susan Shulman of Westbury and Joan Beder of Old Westbury like to joke that although Joan was the one diagnosed with breast cancer, it was Susan who became the activist. Susan is the volunteer administrator in the communications department of LI2Day, a charity that raises money primarily through a fundraising walk held every June. In 2005. Susan and Joan participated in the walk. She and Joan joined with staff and volunteers from the Adelphi Breast Cancer Program who were doing the walk and formed the Adelphi Team.
But Susan wanted to do more than walk once a year. She approached Ginny Salerno, the founder of the walk (and another little hero), asking if she could use some help. Yes, she was told. The person handling communication with the walkers had gone back to school and Susan was asked to handle the job until they found someone else. That was six years ago. Her job is to answer emails and calls about the walk and to respond to people who have heard about LI2Day and need help. She refers those callers to one of the 18 beneficiary organizations, all on Long Island, that she thinks can best handle their concerns.
LI2Day has raised nearly $6 million for breast cancer programs on Long Island. What Susan finds especially appealing is that all the money raised stays on Long Island and that most of the beneficiary organizations are involved in helping breast cancer patients. Research is important she said, but “we have people who need help yesterday.”
Susan said that LI2Day has enabled a whole lot of strangers to work together for the same goal. Doing the walk she has met the people who LI2Day has helped. “It’s helping our friends, our neighbors and our families,” she said, “As an individual I couldn’t do the kind of help but with all of us working together, we can make a difference.”
The next LI2Day walk is scheduled for June 11, 2016.