Hudson Valley Parent

HVP October 2016

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Page 8 of 39 n Hudson Valley Parent 9 Varunok and Effron founded Miles of Hope in 2003 to help wom- en in the Hudson Valley diagnosed with breast cancer. It was designed to provide ser- vices that larger organizations weren't but that Effron (as a sur- vivor) and Varunok (as a medical professional) knew first hand were badly needed, like gap funds, to cover everyday expenses for people who had to take time off of work for treatment; payments for massage or art therapy, or reiki that were often not covered by insurance; peer-to- peer counseling for newly diagnosed women and survivors who could tell them what to expect and how to get through it; and something especially dear to Varunok's heart – scholar- ships for those whose lives have been affected by breast cancer. "I paid my own way through college by piecing together a lot of little scholarships," she says. "Having a niece and a nephew who were left behind, I realized that kids who are affected by this need help too." Following suit Today, Mikayla is a 20-year-old college student who's no longer at I am a Hudson Valley Parent Cathy Varunok: Offering breast cancer survivors Miles of Hope By BRIAN PJ CRONIN S ixteen years ago, Cathy Var- unok's youngest daughter Mikayla, then just four years old, struck up a conversation with a stranger. It was the beginning of something that would change count- less lives in the Hudson Valley. They were at a fundraising event for breast cancer, a disease to which Varunok had lost an older sister. The woman, Dana Effron, was a breast cancer survivor. Effron and Varunok became acquaintances, which grew into a friendship as they continued to run into one another and various breast cancer-related charity events. What was also growing was their dissatisfaction with those events. "We realized – independently of one another – that none of the mon- ey we were raising was going into our neighborhoods," Varunok says. Filling a need Finally, after bumping into each other at the Dyson Center in Pough- keepsie where Varunok worked as an occupational therapist, the two women made plans to meet on pur- pose this time. Varunok had an idea she wanted to share with Effron. "I wanted to found a local orga- nization to help women with breast cancer in the Hudson Valley," she says. "And it turned out that she had the same idea. We were both seeing people in our backyards who weren't getting the help they needed. We were raising all this money, but we weren't seeing the benefits of any of it." home in Lagrange with her par- ents. Her two older siblings have moved out as well: Recently married Nicholas, 26, is in medical school, and Katey, 24, just graduated with a degree in occupational therapy like her mother. Varunok's husband is a physician, and they often joke that their kids aren't creative enough to come up with their own professions and have just decided to do what their par- ents do instead. But they know it's because they've set a good example. "They all saw growing up how much we both love our jobs," she says. Tough lessons Their kids also saw firsthand the changes that Miles of Hope was making in people's lives. "They were literally involved from the very be- ginning," says Varunok. "They've run events. They've been on committees. They've stuffed envelopes. They've made tickets. It's been their whole life." That wasn't by accident. Varunok felt it was important for her kids to be a part of the work she was doing. "I'm so proud that they've grown up to be good citizens and good peo- ple," she says. "Everyone always says they want their kids to be happy. I don't necessarily think that's what is really important. I want them to be productive members of society, be- cause if they are, happiness usually follows that." Brian PJ Cronin is a freelance writer whose work appears through- out the Hudson Valley. "We realized...that none of the money we were raising was going into our neighborhoods."

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