Community support lifts spirits, aiding journey from breast cancer patient to survivor

Stepney Elementary School second grade teacher, Lisa Martinsky, center, holding a bouquet, is surrounded by supporters at the Think Pink Palooza, held at the Town Gazebo Thursday. She is a breast cancer survivor.

MONROE, CT — Lisa Martinsky, a second grade teacher at Stepney Elementary School, is a breast cancer survivor. Aside from the medical treatment from her doctors and a fierce determination to overcome her condition, while relishing everything life has to offer, she says the strong support of her children, family, friends and the community spurred her recovery.

Martinsky, who was the keynote speaker at Think Pink Monroe’s annual Think Pink Palooza, held at the Town Gazebo Thursday night, remembers the optimism expressed by her four children, meals dropped off at her home, the fundraisers, and the friends and students who lifted her spirits.

Jason Maur welcomes the crowd to the Think Pink Palooza on the Town Green Thursday.

She held a microphone in front of the gazebo, which was decorated with pink ribbons, while addressing the crowd of over 50 people, who gathered on the green on the chilly evening.

“Life is short and it has allowed me to see that I am not on this journey alone,” she said. “My heart and soul are filled with gratitude to be with you tonight, supporting others on their difficult journeys. With each new day, I will run towards life with the peace of knowing you, Monroe, my community, my students, my friends, my family and my children will be by my side.”

Bonnie Maur, a longtime educator in town who is now a 16-year survivor of breast cancer, also spoke of how others helped her through difficult times. Her journey inspired her to team up with Hartford HeathCare and St. Vincent’s Swim Across the Sound, when she started Think Pink Monroe three years ago.

During that time, Maur said over 36 town families received roughly $70,000 worth of assistance, helping with everything from rent, mortgage payments, taxes and car payments to rides for treatments.

“Anything people need. That’s what we are here for,” Maur said, “and that also means emotional support. I want to emphasize, the money we raise goes directly back to Monroe. Nothing goes elsewhere. It goes back to help Monroe residents.”

But Maur said the primary goal of Think Pink Monroe and its committee members is to spread awareness and critical information about breast cancer. She recalled how a woman, who walked up to her at the Monroe Farmers’ Market recently, told her Think Pink Monroe encouraged her to get her first mammogram in 10 years.

Matthew Hirsch, who lost his mother to breast cancer, said the most powerful thing to inspire adults to schedule a mammogram is a reminder from their children.

He jokingly encouraged members of Masuk High School’s band and chorus to nag their parents about it, whenever they’re nagged about their homework. Hirsch also reminded the crowd that men can get breast cancer too.

Masuk’s band, strings and chorus performed at the Think Pink Palooza, Think Pink Monroe Committee member Patti Kallas shared a poem and Masuk senior Faith Walker ended the event by singing Andra Day’s song, “Rise Up.” Jason Maur, a Town Councilman and Bonnie Maur’s son, served as the master of ceremonies.

T-shirts were sold on the green to raise money for donations and Bonnie Maur credited Masuk Principal Steve Swensen with encouraging Think Pink to appeal to students for help online, leading to $500 in sales.

Monroe’s schools step up

Local youth are rising to the occasion by fundraising and spreading awareness about breast cancer.

Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza said Monroe’s public schools have a history of raising awareness for breast cancer and all other cancers during the month of October.

This month, he said students at all schools are selling Think Pink T-shirts and have designated days to wear those shirts to school throughout the month.

Stepney Elementary School is accepting donations from staff and families for Pink Day.

Monroe Elementary School’s entire staff is wearing pink this Friday and giving pay day donations to Think Pink Monroe.

Fawn Hollow Elementary School is doing a Coin War later in the month and students will send letters and pictures to cancer patients.

Jockey Hollow Middle School is having a Pink Day during Red Ribbon Week at the end of the month.

Masuk High School’s band, strings and chorus performed at the Think Pink Palooza Thursday.

In addition to activities going on at Masuk, Kobza said the Athletic Department is hosting games that will raise awareness and funds for Think Pink Monroe.

On Oct. 11, the field hockey team will host its eight annual Cancer Awareness game. The volleyball team will host Think Pink Night on Oct. 14 and sell T-shirts during the game. The football team will have its Crucial Catch game on Oct. 15.

“I’m very proud of the Monroe public schools and all we’ve done,” Kobza said. “I know over the years, in addition to the awareness, they’ve raised literally thousands of dollars for the American Cancer Society and this organization. We’re just really proud that we’re able to continue to participate in these activities.”

Maur said Think Pink Monroe will have a luminary night on Oct. 15, when the Crucial Catch game is played.

Some good news

Masuk senior Faith Walker sings Andra Day’s song, “Rise Up.”

First Selectman Ken Kellogg shared statistics from the American Cancer Society, which estimates about 280,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. He said it is still the number one form of cancer diagnosed in women. The risk of a woman being diagnosed with breast cancer is about one in eight in our lifetime, he added.

“But that is not the whole story,” Kellogg said. “There is really good, encouraging news as well. The survival rate, if you look at the trends, has grown significantly.”

According to the American Cancer Society, the survival rate for breast cancer has grown from about 75 percent in the 1970s to over 90 percent today, Kellogg said, adding that is due to an increase in prevention, earlier detection and treatment.

Kellogg said the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed efforts for preventive care and the impacts are not yet known.

“That’s why today is so important,” he said. “We’re here to emphasize the need for individual action. Yes, we’re here to support those that have been impacted by this disease, but we’re also here to come together to encourage others.”

“We want to remind everyone of the importance of self exams, not skipping that mammogram and getting regular checkups,” Kellogg said. “Do it for yourself, but also do it for someone else. Whether it’s a friend or it’s a family member, help them to not forget either, because by doing so you may just save their life.”

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