Faces of Long Island celebrates the uniqueness of everyday Long Islanders. In their own words, they tell us about their life experiences, challenges and triumphs. Newsday launched this social media journey into the human experience to shine a light on the diverse people of this wonderful place we call home.

‘I hope that I can bring awareness to breast cancer.’

Mary Pallotta, Dix Hills

“Just before the pandemic, I missed my annual mammography. I was taking care of my mom, who had a stroke, and she needed me. I learned that I had breast cancer and needed a double mastectomy. I’ve been through a lot in my life. Born with one kidney, I had multiple surgeries and needed to relax, because the anxiety one goes through when being diagnosed with breast cancer, I couldn’t breathe.

“I created the Guardian Brain Foundation over 20 years ago after losing my brother to brain cancer, then my father to sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. I’ve seen and been through a lot. I’m so used to being there for other people. I had a very hard time being on the other side.

I hope that other women do their research and realize there are different options that they can take.

“So I did my research, and I found a wonderful team of doctors on Long Island. Dr. Randall Feingold introduced me to Molly Sugarman, a clinical director of the Patient Empowerment Program at NYBRA Plastic Surgery. She helped me through deep breathing, guided imagery and meditation. It was such a gift. It helped me broaden my view.

“I decided to do DIEP Flap Microsurgery, which I’m very happy about. It’s been a long and difficult journey. My surgery was nine and a half hours long. When I woke up in ICU, the nurses said, ‘My God, you are breathing so good!’ They were laughing. I was talking up a storm.

“I started to put all my efforts into my art. Art is my passion, and it’s my healing. I’ve always done oil and acrylic and sculpture but wanted to try something new. I met this wonderful art teacher, Jan Guarino. She does classes online. It was extremely therapeutic for me. One day I might like painting hydrangeas. The next day I’ll be painting scenes from Italy. It depends on my mood. I love painting the water, sailboats and ships. It’s just amazing the watercolor, how it drips, and the colors blend together. It’s kept me busy.

“I can’t believe how many paintings I’ve done. I’ve been able to sell, fund-raise and get commissions for my work. I’m having a wonderful time doing it. I feel exposed, but I’m enjoying it. I love to hear what people say.

“I hope that I can bring awareness to breast cancer. I hope that other women do their research and realize there are different options that they can take. Find a hobby; it really helps healing. Try watercolor. You never know. You might want to stick with it.”

Interviewed by Shoshanna McCollum