Despite the cold weather and gray skies, family, friends, loved ones and supporters gathered at Marine Park on Saturday morning, September 16th, to participate in the 5th Annual Esophageal Cancer (EC) Awareness 5K Run/Walk.
The event was organized by Dara Mormile, the Brooklyn Chapter leader of the Salgi Esophageal Cancer Research Foundation, who created the run/walk in 2019 to not only honor the memory of her father, Joseph Mormile, who passed away due to EC in 2010, but also to raise donations and bring awareness to the disease.
“In January 2019, I began a partnership with the Salgi Esophageal Cancer Research Foundation and pursued a 5K race event in Brooklyn’s own Marine Park with a race organization, elitefeats, where I could promote education on the disease and give others the tools to take their digestive health seriously. My hope and goal is for participants and volunteers to help spread knowledge about EC so we can change the stories of the future into those of survival,” as written by Mormile on Salgi’s website.
Returning runners and newcomers from various backgrounds came to the park to honor those who passed away, support the cause and bring awareness and support to those seeking treatment of the disease.
“Our friend Bennett, unfortunately, had his father pass away from EC a couple years back and reached out to us and said, ‘Hey, you guys want to come out and do a run in honor of my father,'” said Steven Trombetta. “So yeah, we decided to come out and support our friend.”
Local officials also came to provide support, such as a representative from State Senator Roxanne Persaud’s office and Councilwoman Mercedes Narcisse. Both spoke of lobbying for mandated screenings, more treatment and awareness for EC. While as a nurse, Narcisse also talked about how she supported Mormile and her father during their time of need.
According to the American Cancer Society, key statistics of EC are that it has risen over 733% in the past four decades and is considered the fastest-growing cancer in the United States and the Western world. EC risk factors include: Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, persistent heartburn, obesity, poor nutrition, tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption, inactivity and Barrett’s esophagus. Unfortunately, there are no routine or standard screenings to detect EC in its earlier stages. In 2023, EC is anticipated to be diagnosed in 21,560 people and to be the cause of 16,120 deaths.
Before participants gathered at the starting line, Amy Suznovich, an opera singer who lost her father to EC, performed the National Anthem as she has done in years prior.
Due to construction in the park’s oval, the main course was two loops around the park’s perimeter on the sidewalk.
The men’s winner was Zadlaire Guillou, who came in at 21:09; the women’s winner was Kristen Horn, who finished at 24:07. They each won a $50 Amazon Gift Card. Second-place winners were Tomer Shoham and Kiera Haggerty, who each won a $25 Amazon Gift Card.
“The place doesn’t matter,” said Shoham. “What matters is that we are off the couch and here to support a good goal, and at the end of the day, if we can donate to a good cause and fighting cancer, why not?”
Afterwards, family members and one battling EC came forward to give speeches about how EC has impacted their loved ones and their struggles.
Michael Flores participated in the 5K and is battling Stage III Junction EC. He spoke of his experience, particularly with his diet and chemotherapy, stating, “We’re all here for the same cause to make people aware of this cancer. It is good to know that there are a lot of us out there. As I said, it is not as rare as they say it is because multiple of us are going through it. So, I say one step at a time.”
Danielle DiVanna, daughter of John DiVanna, spoke fondly of her late father and his connection to many people. “Our dad was diagnosed with EC and passed away two years ago. We found the Salgi Foundation online and they were a good support system,” said DiVanna.” We sent the message out to many friends and family, and my dad impacted many people’s lives, so they all came to show their support. It’s incredible. I get emotional thinking about it.”
Over 200 people participated in the 5K, and over $2,000 were raised on the initial day, though Mormile plans to extend the donation time as she hopes to match or exceed last year’s donation of $14,000.
“I feel stronger about this year’s event,” said Mormile. “More people are coming out; more people are seeing the value in raising awareness. It became more meaningful to so many families. I’m proud of that.”
Visit Salgi.org and salgi.org/research/ to learn more about the Salgi Foundation. Visit Mormile’s EC Awareness YouTube survivor series channel at youtube.com/user/diggydiggydara or email her at DaraMormile@hotmail.com.