NYSUT takes a stand against breast cancer


his October, thousands of NYSUT members across the Northeast stood strong against breast cancer.

Margaret Ward, a retired paraprofessional at PS 146 in Brooklyn and member of the United Federation of Teachers, has participated in Making Strides of Brooklyn for six years — long before her daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer this past February.

“I was doing it all the time, supporting the cause, never knowing breast cancer would hit so close to home,” said Ward.

NYSUT has been a flagship sponsor for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer for 21 years and, during that time, members have raised $16.6 million to support groundbreaking breast cancer research, ensure greater access to quality care, influence public policy and provide critical patient support.

“NYSUT is proud to support Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. To all of our members who are facing down this diagnosis, we want to say, ‘We are here for you,’ and to all our members who have loved ones battling this disease, we want to say, ‘We know what you are going through,’” said J. Philippe Abraham, NYSUT secretary-treasurer, whose office coordinates the statewide union’s social justice initiatives and who lost one of his sisters to the disease.

First-grade teacher Tara Pfohl holding a 3+ years survivor poster


First-grade teacher Tara Pfohl, Starpoint TA, learned of her stage 4 metastatic breast cancer diagnosis in 2021. She raised more than $11,000 for breast cancer research this year.

Ward flew to Florida to be with her daughter during the surgery and recovery. Her colleagues at PS 146 rooted for her throughout the diagnosis and treatment. Each year, her school puts out a donation box in the office and hosts two bake sales to raise money for breast cancer research. Ward, who is an avid baker, always makes treats for the events, and her cupcakes move fast. Last year, they raised $1,300 for Making Strides.

This year, although Ward is retired, she is still participating, noting that the event is now more personal than ever. “You have to continuously support breast cancer awareness, because you never know when someone you love will be affected.”

Overall, the average risk of a woman in the United States developing breast cancer sometime in her life is about 13 percent — that is equivalent to a 1 in 8 chance.

Tara Pfohl, a first-grade teacher at Fricano Primary School and member of Starpoint TA, is all too familiar with those odds. After watching her mother and two aunts battle breast cancer, Pfohl decided to start her mammograms early. “I had my very first mammogram in 2013 when I was 34 years old, and that is when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, stage 3A,” she said.

After a bilateral mastectomy, four months of chemotherapy, seven weeks of radiation and several reconstructive surgeries, Pfohl’s doctor declared her cancer was in remission.

Then, in May of 2021, her breast cancer returned. It had spread to her spine and pleural lung space, and she was diagnosed with stage 4, metastatic breast cancer. While there is no cure, thanks to advances in research and technology, there are medications that help patients like Pfohl manage it.

“I’m living with cancer, but I’m really living with it. I’m thriving. I’m still teaching first graders full time. I travel. I see family,” she said.

“For me, I really try to promote screening, and I also try to do a lot of fundraising for research,” she said. Pfohl is the top individual fundraiser on the NYSUT team for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer of Buffalo, raising $11,275 to date.

Marni Hogne, seventh-grade special education teacher at Pearl River Middle School and member of the Pearl River TA said that when she goes around requesting donations for Making Strides, it’s hard to find someone who hasn’t been personally affected by the disease.

Hogne has been involved with Making Strides of Hudson Valley in Central Valley since 2018, the same year she was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. “For me, it became personal,” Hogne said. Following her diagnosis, she had two surgeries, and months of chemotherapy and radiation. “Research saved my life, and I want to make sure that other people facing this diagnosis get the same level of care I got,” she said.

Hogne, another top fundraiser, netted about $6,700 this year. “As soon as it rolls around, I begin talking to people and telling them my story,” she said. Her students organized an annual bowl-a-thon to raise money for the cause, and her colleagues stood beside her every step of the way.

“My building was with me throughout this journey, and they saw how I fought back,” she said. “I am so lucky to be part of a community that’s so supportive of me, and really loves me.”

Educators at PS 146 group photo


Educators at PS 146 in Brooklyn host two annual bake sales to raise money for breast cancer research.