When Jody Mastro of Yorktown Heights walks with her family and friends at this year’s Support-A-Walk for Breast and Ovarian Cancer, there are two beloved people who will be with them in spirit: her late grandparents Dolly and Mike Acocella. 

Dolly and Mike were fixtures at Support Connection and the Support-A-Walk for many years, loved by all who knew them. Mastro was especially close to her grandmother, who was a breast cancer survivor. That’s why she wants to pay special tribute to her this year at the 25th anniversary of the first Walk.

The 25th Annual Support-A-Walk, presented by Support Connection Inc., will take place on Sunday, Oct. 6, at FDR State Park in Yorktown Heights. The event was founded by local residents to bring attention to the needs of people affected by breast and ovarian cancer. People travel from across the Hudson Valley and beyond to take part in this uplifting community event. Proceeds fund Support Connection’s year-round free support services and programs for people affected by breast and ovarian cancer.          

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Participants of all ages complete a 3-mile walk, often in honor of loved ones. There’s a Survivor’s Welcome Area, where volunteers greet and welcome cancer survivors. Along the Walk path, walkers are encouraged and cheered by local bands, cheerleaders and other community groups. Even those who can’t attend can participate or donate. And supporters can raise funds by creating personal online fundraising pages where friends and family can make donations.

Mastro and her family have a long and meaningful history with Support Connection. Dolly, her grandmother, was diagnosed with breast cancer in early 1997. Later that year, she began volunteering for Support Connection, talking with other women dealing with cancer. Mastro said her grandma loved this work.

“It made her happy,” Mastro said. “She liked helping people and it helped her, too.” 

Before long, Dolly joined the staff. She helped with bookkeeping, then became a Peer Counselor, working with the late Maria Jennings, who helped established Support Connection’s Peer Counseling program.

Mastro’s grandpa Mike soon became involved, too, volunteering whenever he could. He was especially loved for his tireless efforts every year at the Support-A-Walk. Mastro  says he was an “honorary employee.” Both Dolly and Mike remained involved with Support Connection, even after Dolly retired, for as long as their health allowed. Jody herself worked for Support Connection for about a year, 2001-2002, as director of Special Events and Outreach.

Mastro’s memories of the Support-A-Walk go back to the first one she attended in 1999: “We started our team ‘Friends of Dolly.’ I remember being so happy walking together, all of us; there were so many family and friends. I remember helping my grandfather make signs; it was really important to him to have big, beautiful signs. He was very into the Walk and celebrating with Grandma.”

Growing up, and throughout their lives, Mastro spent a tremendous amount of time with her grandparents. 

“The first place I drove when I got my license was to their house,” she said.

Mastro’s relationship with her grandma was particularly strong and close.

“She was my best friend, my partner in crime. We had a special connection. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, I had an intuitive feeling that I needed to go to her, to the hospital.”

Mastro is committed to paying special tribute to her grandma at this year’s Support-A-Walk. Her daughter Jenna, a junior at Yorktown High School, is co-captain of their “Friends of Dolly” team this year. 

“All of the Walks I’ve attended were special. I’m always amazed by the link we all have there,” Mastro said. “So many different people. We may not know one another, but we are all in some way touched by breast or ovarian cancer. And somehow touched and helped by Support Connection.”

Mastro added, “It’s still hard to be there without my grandparents being there in the background, working at registration and the refreshment tent. But the feeling of family that day is real. Everyone comes together as the ‘Support Connection family.’ It feels great knowing you’re part of something bigger and more important than you may have realized. I hope more people will join us, to contribute and to celebrate everything Support Connection is and does.”

To learn more about the Support-A-Walk, or to donate or raise funds, visit supportconnection.org/support-a-walk or call 914-962-6402.