Mary LaRussa speaks to visitors at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. (Submitted Photo)
By Mel Rubenstein
I have a special interest in writing this column about a volunteer for the Susan Komen Race for the Cure. My wife, Madeline (Mady), is a breast cancer survivor.
After Mady’s recuperation from breast cancer treatments and surgery, we have participated in the Race for the Cure at the NYS Fairgrounds, and our daughter and granddaughter have accompanied us. Mady says, “Words cannot explain what the camaraderie with hundreds of other breast cancer survivors at the event means.”
There would not be a Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure without the myriad of volunteers who make it happen. When I contacted the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in CNY to see if there was a volunteer with an exemplary record of volunteering for the organization that would be recommended for this column, I received a quick reply from Kate Flannery, the executive director, who enthusiastically recommended Mary LaRussa.
Mary LaRussa was born in Syracuse and attended North Syracuse High School. She then received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the St. Joseph’s School of Nursing in 1999. LaRussa worked as nurse practitioner specializing in women’s health at St. Joseph’s Hospital for eight years. She then worked at Hematology Oncology Associates and Upstate University Hospital and is currently at the Syracuse VA Hospital. Mary also has a degree in genetics, which is especially helpful when nursing people with cancer. LaRussa said, “Genetics became a personal concern to me. When my son was one year old my husband passed away from brain cancer.”
Mary LaRussa was also an active volunteer with Boy Scouts Troop 369. She was recording secretary, did the mailings, and facilitated the achievements and merit badge awards.
When Mary was a nurse practitioner with the Hematology Oncology Association, the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure had a store in the same building. Mary visited the store several times and was impressed with the assortment of (pink) products they offered. Kate Flannery was impressed with Mary’s interest and asked if she would like to serve on the Komen Education Group. Mary accepted the invitation and was soon running public meetings about the need for breast mammograms and self examinations. (I know how important that is, because my wife discovered a lump in her breast because of a self exam. And that was just a few months after a mammogram that was negative.)
Mary explained that the education group begins meeting in January for the Race for the Cure, which is in May. During the event, Mary works at the Education Wheel in the Komen tent. The wheel has a list of questions about breast cancer. After someone spins the wheel they are asked to answer the question the arrow points to. If they cannot answer the question correctly they are told the answer. Mary says, “It’s a great way to educate people about breast cancer. It’s a win–win, because even if the answer is wrong, they learn and they get a free gift…Komen tee shirts, bracelets, etc.” This has become so popular at the Race for The Cure that there are now be three Education Wheels in the Komen tent.
Mary LaRussa has now formed a Komen Race for the Cure team at the Syracuse VA Hospital, which several doctors, nurses and administrative personnel participate in. The team discusses ways to improve breast cancer awareness, even among men. The team also volunteers at the Race for the Cure in May each year.
After Mary’s first husband passed away, she raised their son as a single mom for the next 16 years. Then she met and married Dr. Chris LaRussa, who has three sons of his own.
Watching Mary’s efforts for a couple of years motivated Dr. LaRussa, a OBGYN specialist, to join the VA team. And, a husband of a friend of Mary’s, a radiologist, has come on board too. Wow! A, OBGYN doctor, a radiologist, a nurse practitioner and others. What a team!
Dr. LaRussa never forgot volunteering at his first Race for the Cure, because it was on his 50th birthday. He said, “Now, I will never miss another race.”
The Komen Race for the Cure promotes the event during the NYS Fair. Mary’s VA team staffs the exhibit one day at the fair, and other groups and businesses host the other days.
Mary LaRussa has had several sad experiences in her nursing and genetic careers. She said, “I have seen some people deteriorate over the years. Terry, a long time patient at Hematology Oncology Associates, passed away at just 40 years of age. I got to know her well. It was a very sad time for me. And, I had an aunt who passed away at 52 from breast cancer. Another especially sad time.”
Kate Flannery said, “Volunteers are the lifeblood of the Race for the Cure. With a staff of two, it would be impossible to orchestrate a race of the magnitude of ours without the hundreds of selfless individuals who donate their time to making sure the event operates smoothly and efficiently. We are blessed to have an extraordinary group of women, men and children who show up every year — some for numerous meetings months before the event, some at pre-dawn the day of the event and some taking on thankless jobs like directing cars in the fairground lots — all with a single goal of making sure the Race for the Cure is a success, allowing us to continue to bring awareness to our cause and raise funds to find the cures.”
Mary LaRussa loves are her family, cooking and reading. And, she loves to host dinners and entertain in their home in Jamesville.
For more information about the Komen Race for the Cure, and volunteer opportunities, contact: Jessica Bell at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 472-6162.
To recommend someone with a stellar record of volunteering to be featured in this column contact Mel Rubenstein: email@example.com or 682-7162.
I am a reporter for the Eagle Bulletin and Cazenovia Republican at Eagle News. I report on topics ranging from town and village government, business, news and features. I am a 2014 graduate of the Roy H. Park School of Communications and have a degree in Journalism and a minor in Psychology.
Feb 17, 2019
Feb 17, 2019
Feb 17, 2019