Thirty-nine miles is a long way to walk in two days. But it’s not nearly as far as Stephanie Pepper of Marlboro has come in the last two years. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, she underwent a bilateral mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy. She also had reconstructive surgery using fatty tissue from her abdomen.
Pepper, 45, will participate on Oct. 19-20 in the New York City Avon Walk for Cancer. She will cover 26 miles, distance of a standard marathon, on the first day and 13 miles, a half-marathon, the second day.
Overnight, she, her husband Steven, and five other team members will sleep in tents on Randall’s Island, along with thousands of other walkers.
Last year, Pepper said, approximately 5,000 people took part in the event. With each walker required to bring in $1,800 in pledges, the event raised more than $9 million to fight cancer. New York is just one of eight cities hosting walks.
“I was very lucky to catch my breast cancer when I did,” said Pepper. “I was overdue for a mammogram and put it off. Then I ran into a friend who had just been diagnosed,” which, she said, sent her hurrying off to be tested.
Pepper said she has been clear for two years, but would not officially be considered a survivor until five years have elapsed; nevertheless, she said, she is eager to hit the pavement on Oct. 19, knowing her feat with her feet will support needed research and patient care.
“Having cancer has taught me a lot,” Pepper said. “I realize now that that it’s OK to rely on friends and family for help. I used to think I could do it all, but I can’t.” Pepper also said, “I no longer am willing to accept behavior that I disapprove of. On the other hand, I am more appreciative of things I used to overlook.”
And the friend who was diagnosed with cancer? “She is doing very well, and is about six months ahead of me in the treatment cycle,” said Pepper.
Pepper and her family are members of Marlboro’s Temple Rodeph Torah, as is Heidi Neufeld, the captain of her Walk team. The team name is “Na’s Girl” in honor of Neufeld’s mother Naomi, who also had breast cancer. Other team members include Heidi’s father Stanley Antonoff, Lori Shilling, Annette Kaplan, and Debby Leffler.