FISHKILL, N.Y. -- Fishkill resident Dawn Fortis was lying on her couch in 2015 watching The Wendy Williams Show while recovering from a double mastectomy.
She was in so much pain, she could barely move, much less contemplate taking part in a 39-mile two-day walk to end breast cancer that the TV personality was talking up, urging audience members to “be a hero.”
But that was then and this is now.
Less than two years later, while still continuing to receive treatments, Fortis has managed to morph into a fundraising phenom with the strength – and a schedule – that would put any Superwoman to shame.
Not only did the mother of three and grandmother of two toddlers wind up taking the Avon 39 challenge Williams promoted while still healing from her surgery (She hurt so much that she literally cried during the last 10-mile stretch), Fortis has been asked to be an ambassador for the anti-cancer crusade.
Her team, Angels for Warriors, will be taking part in the 2017 challenge in New York City in October. And her 25-year-old son, Joe, will be walking with her.
Besides the walk, Fortis has launched a number of fundraisers on her own, including a backyard barbecue, a Christmas lights display and, believe it or not, a “dunk tank” at a community block party. Next month, she will be manning a table at a local party rental business’s vendors event.
This spring, you might even find her camped out in front of ShopRite handing out pink cupcakes and bracelets and collecting donations.
“You’d be surprised how giving people are,” she says.
So far Fortis has raised about $22,000 for Avon 39, which helps fund research, awareness and education while providing assistance for individuals and families fighting breast cancer. The $1,100 she and her husband, Joe, raised with their Christmas lights display went to the pediatric cancer unit at New York Presbyterian Hospital.
Her goal for 2017 is to raise $10,000 more, she said.
The money is important, of course, Fortis said, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the healing power of love and support that survivors, their families and those walking for lost loved ones, feel.
“You meet so many people. They hug you. They encourage you. They share their stories, so many stories; you never hear the same one twice,” she said.
Fortis, who has used social media to tell hers, found that it is a good way to re-connect with old friends, and to make new ones.
Last fall, a woman she had not been in contact with in years, saw Fortis’s Facebook page and asked her to come over.
She told Fortis that she had Stage 4 lung cancer.
Fortis sprung into action. She set up a fundraiser at a local bar, with raffles and a cover charge. Within hours, the event raked in $4,000, which, she said, should cover a few months of her friend's bills.
In their “spare” time, the Fortises and their two black Labrador retrievers, aka therapy dogs, visit hospital patients in New York City, where Joe is a fire department rescue medic.
Fortis is looking ahead to the next Avon 39 challenge, in October, in the Big Apple.
“It’s brutal. It’s a hard walk. We go over the Brooklyn Bridge, everywhere. They don’t shut down the city for us at all, especially the cabbies, they don’t stop for you, you know,” she said.
But the throbbing feet and aching muscles are all worth it for walkers, knowing that they are helping others … and healing their own bodies and spirits.
“It just makes me feel so good to create more birthdays,” Fortis said, adding: “But I’m looking forward to the day when it won’t be necessary for my poor feet to hit the pavement again.”
To donate to Avon 39, visit www.avon39.org , click on “donate,” and type in the name Dawn Fortis.
The minimum donation is $5, but, she said – and the master fundraiser should know – “every dollar counts.”