Kristy Scalise of Albany was 28 years old and 21 weeks pregnant with her second child when she found a lump on one of her breasts. “I immediately went to the doctor,” she says. “Three days later, I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer.” She went through four rounds of chemo and a partial mastectomy—all while pregnant. “That was a scare for us for sure—so many questions with the doctors about my baby,” says Kristy, who also had to be a mom to her 2-year-old daughter. She delivered four and a half weeks early and continued with four more rounds of chemo and radiation after that. This past January marks 10 years without cancer for Kristy.
Like so many battling this disease, Kristy leaned on one of her closest friends, her sister-in-law Cathy Scalise. She describes Cathy as the one who ties together a group of deeply engaged survivors and women who had loved ones diagnosed with a disease that kills about 42,000 women and 500 men annually in the US.
A Capital Region native, Cathy Scalise is no stranger to the fear that comes with a scary diagnosis. One of her best friends, Stacy Van Cott of Colonie, fought breast cancer at just 26, right after giving birth. Van Cott, a high school teacher, still remembers that diagnosis as if it were yesterday. “I was wheeled down to start the testing the day after I gave birth to my second daughter,” she says. “Chemo was on Friday and because I was up for my tenure, I didn’t want to interrupt work.”
Cathy’s other close friend, her younger cousin Sabrina Viglucci, lost her mother-in-law to breast cancer. “My mother-in-law, Risa, was diagnosed with breast cancer the summer before Brian and I got married,” she says. “She was able to attend our wedding, and then I got pregnant and she passed away one month before my baby shower.” The expectant grandmother was just 54.
United by cancer scares and surgery scars, this small but tight-knit group of four friends has been integral in the effort to do more for those impacted by the second leading cause of cancer death in women. (Lung cancer is the first.). In two decades, the four women have collectively raised more than $150,000 working with the American Cancer Society (ACS) of the Capital Region. That has included attending charities and walks, raffling off swag on social media, and even creating their own fundraisers. “We try to raise as much money as we can, and each year we try to think of something a little different,” says Cathy. “We’re hoping to raise even more this year—we’re in the spotlight right now.”
Cathy’s referring to the American Cancer Society’s 28th Annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer (MSABC) walk. The 2023 Champions of Hope are (you guessed it) the fearsome four: Cathy, Kristy, Sabrina and Stacy.
“They were chosen for their spirit, dedication and sisterhood,” says Cynthia Claravall, the ACS Northeast Region’s associate director of development. “It’s amazing to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, but as little as $50 provides a ride for a cancer patient to and from treatment; $65 provides a hotel room near the cancer treatment facility. And some of those financial obstacles cannot be overcome for some working families.”
On October 15, on the Washington Park Parade Grounds in Albany, the four friends will be honored on stage with an award presentation followed by the MSABC walk itself, in which Cathy and Van Cott have been participating for more than 20 years and Viglucci and Kristy for at least a decade. But how exactly did these four raise so much money so quickly?
It really began to take off in 2011, when Van Cott, Viglucci and Cathy created Pretty in Pink, an adults-only night out of fun and dancing held each year in October at The Point in Albany. Pretty in Pink alone raises about $10,000 annually. Additionally, Van Cott and her parents make pins and other items for Cathy to raffle off online. And this year Viglucci’s husband, Brian, along with his partners, are getting their company BMT Hospitality more involved. They will be going pink for October and holding different fundraisers at their restaurants during the month to help Team Pretty in Pink’s fundraising efforts.
As for Kristy, in 2021 she started a Never Give Up Block Party, held a week or two before Pretty in Pink, in her Loudonville neighborhood. This family-friendly street fest brings in an additional $10,000 annually. And she’s got both kids —daughter Bianca and son Anthony “Junior,” who was with his mother in utero during half of her cancer battle—enlisted in the fight as well.. Junior’s now 10 years old and full of energy and curiosity. “Both kids have no problem wearing pink at school for Real Kids Wear Pink in October,” says Kristy. All that money is donated into her team “Never Give Up” for the MSABC walk.
After all these years, the four still lean on one another, not just to raise more money to beat the disease and help those battling it, but also getting together for a meal, a girls’ night out, or just a cup of coffee. “The reason we keep going is because it affects our daughters, sisters, stepdaughters and nieces,” says Cathy. “And whatever we can do to help prevent cancer or help things go smoother is why we’re going to continue to do this until we no longer can.”