When Galway resident Rosemary Wisniewski received word from her doctor that she had breast cancer in September of 2002, it was a bittersweet comfort to know she would not be fighting the disease alone. A year earlier, her younger sister, Janice Murphy, had received that same diagnosis. The year before that, the youngest sister in the family, Kathy Carney, began her battle with breast cancer.
The sisters helped each other to weather the hardships of treatment and also banded together to contribute to the community.
“After having been diagnosed, we all decided we needed to give something back,” Wisniewski, 73, said.
The three women have each pursued a variety of volunteer opportunities, but they all come together for the Susan G. Komen Northeastern New York Race for the Cure, which will take place Saturday at the Empire State Plaza.
Susan G. Komen for the Cure is a grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists who work to fight the disease.
Now all in remission, the three sisters have volunteered with the organization and walked in the family walk portion of the race for 11 years. This year, they received Volunteer of the Year awards from Komen for the Cure.
“They’re just kind, compassionate people, and help out a lot, and they’re just always there,” said Lynette Stark, executive director of the Northeastern New York affiliate.
Sixty-four-year-old Kathy Carney of Rotterdam, the youngest of the sisters, was the first of the three to participate in the race. She walked in the event with a friend in 2000, not long before she received her breast cancer diagnosis.
“I never gave it a thought that I would have breast cancer,” the Rotterdam resident admitted.
She recalled how amazing it was to see so many women at that race wearing pink “survivor” T-shirts, who had mustered up the courage and the strength to participate.
“It was very inspiring, and then lo and behold, the next year, I was wearing a pink shirt,” she said.
Once Carney was diagnosed, her sisters began to walk in the event with her. They formed a team called Gennaro’s Gems, named after their father, and also began helping to organize the annual event.
Being involved with Komen for the Cure and participating in the race has been an inspiration for the women.
“I think it’s so uplifting, and we hear the stories every year of people, what they’ve accomplished and overcome. We leave crying, just because it’s so happy to hear. Sometimes it’s tears of joy and sometimes, tears of sadness, because people do not make it,” said middle sister Janice Murphy, 67, of Glenville.
Wisniewski agreed: “When you’re there for that race and you see those people coming in and everybody’s there applauding them, it’s the most wonderful feeling that a person can ever have.”
The race not only serves as a source of inspiration, but of education as well, noted Stark.
“We want to use it not only to raise money, but to raise awareness, and then from awareness, to action. ‘What should I do if I’m 20 or 30 or 40 or 50 about my breast health? What are the recommendations about screening and clinical breast exams?’ That awareness and action is a very big part of what we try to do through the Race for the Cure,” she said.