Seventh annual Fred L. Mazzilli Lung Cancer Screening Awareness Day takes place in Coney Island

CONEY ISLAND — Trying to hit a home run in putting an end to lung cancer, NewYork-Presbyterian (NYP) Brooklyn Methodist Hospital in collaboration with Weill Cornell Medicine’s Center for Health Equity hosted the Seventh Annual Fred L. Mazzilli Lung Cancer Screening Awareness Day.

The Fred L. Mazzilli Foundation was founded after former MLB player, coach and manager Lee Mazzilli’s brother Fred died from the disease.

Held on Friday, Nov. 8 at Coney Island Seaside Innovative Senior Center, 3001 West 37th St., the event featured free screenings, educational materials, giveaways, a lecture from doctors and more.

Dr. Anthony Saleh, who treated Fred and has been a part of the event since its inception, told this paper what holding the event accomplishes.

“The Mazzilli family do this from their heart and soul, and to be involved every year just gets more special,” he said. “The most important thing is, if you are a candidate for screening, 55-79, have a history of smoking, if you’ve stopped within 15 years, go get screened, because we never had a screening test that saved lives and now we do, and we should take advantage of it.”

Screenings such as the ones held during the Mazzilli event have saved lives, Saleh stressed.

“We have seven or eight examples here of people that had small spots that we picked up that, if we weren’t screening, we wouldn’t have picked up,” Saleh said. “Or if we did pick it up, it would’ve been too late. Now, a couple of them have had surgery and are thriving. This is the whole point of this. To save lives.”

During its first few years, the event took place at NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital. Recently, Saleh said, it has been important to branch out to other areas.

“What [the hospital] has done is they’ve tried to target high-risk communities,” he said. “This year, they targeted Coney Island. Next year, we may branch out to somewhere else but certainly we want to get out in our borough.”

Saleh met Fred Mazzilli in 2011 when he was diagnosed with lung cancer and quickly grew fond of him and his family. 

“Fred was sort of the patriarch of the family,” he explained. “He was Lee’s older brother and sort of advised everybody. He was just such a kind and warm-hearted guy. Once he passed, [his family] wanted to try to make it wher no one else had to go through what they went through.”

Among the speakers at the event was 72-year-old lung cancer survivor Lauretta Folk, who was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer over a year ago when she went to NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital.

“I told [the doctors at NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital] I had been seeing a doctor for years and they never thought to test me for cancer, and they knew I had been smoking for over 40 years,” she said. “My two sisters had cancer and they both died from it. One had cervical cancer, the other had lung cancer and she had never smoked a day in her life. My first husband died from prostate cancer and lung cancer. Cancer is a killer.”

Thanks to the fact that she was screened and treated, Folk is currently in remission and on the mend.

“I feel great,” she said. “You just have to do what they say. I never missed an appointment. I knew that stage four was the end of the battle so I had to work hard. When they told me I had lung cancer, the first thing I thought to myself was that I am going to die.”

The Fred L. Mazzilli Foundation “gave me my life back, along with the doctors,” Folk said. “And I really appreciate it.”

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