Michele Passarella, a two-time breast cancer survivor, remembers the help the Coalition for Women’s Cancers at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital offered her when she battled the disease a few short years ago.
The organization provided the 47-year-old Sag Harbor resident with a $750 grant to help her cover food and gas expenses when she was undergoing treatment.
Now, she wants to give back.
Ms. Passarella, who also enjoys beekeeping as a hobby, collected honey from her 30 hives and is selling it to raise money for the coalition during the month of October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
“I’m giving them as much as I possibly can so the money can be used to help some other woman going through cancer,” she said.
Ms. Passarella had raised $2,300 midway through October. At $20 per 12-ounce jar, that works out to 115 jars of honey. Not bad for someone who has never sold her product commercially before, preferring instead to keep it for personal consumption and to share with family and friends.
Ms. Passarella is selling her honey under the name Stiletto Bee Queen. It comes in a hexagonal shaped jar covered with burlap that is tied with jute string. The “o” in honey is in the form of the ubiquitous pink ribbon associated with breast cancer awareness.
But what about the name? Ms. Passarella said that was suggested by fellow participants in a cooperative garden at Hallockville Farm on the North Fork. “Sometimes I would show up after work in my high heels to inspect my hives,” she said.
Ms. Passarella said she has been assisted in her honey endeavor by her boyfriend, Fergus Sloan, who helped with the packaging design and has served as her salesman.
The honey has been available at The Cheese Shop, the Golden Pear, Southrifty Drug, Besim’s Fine Cigars, Catena’s Market, and Topiaire Flower Shop in Southampton; Sag Town Coffee, Cavaniola Gourmet Cheese and the Harbor Market in Sag Harbor; the Milk Pail in Water Mill; and the Hampton Maid in Hampton Bays. Supplies are limited
When she was diagnosed with the disease more than five years ago, Ms. Passarella said she was shocked. “I was always healthy. I ran, I did marathons, I took pride in my appearance,” she said. “I couldn’t understand why I would have cancer, when there was no cancer in my family on either side.”
Down to only 80 pounds after chemotherapy, Ms. Passarella was forced to adopt out her two dogs and move back to her parents’ home in Bethpage, where her Italian-born mother fed her a healthy diet to help her regain her strength.
“If it wasn’t genetic, it was environmental,” she said, citing her belief that her cancer was caused by a known “hot zone” of groundwater pollution at the former Grumman complex in Bethpage.
Just as honey bee hives are under assault from pesticides, Ms. Passarella believes humans are poisoning themselves with the toxins that have been allowed to enter the drinking water. “It has to stop,” she said.
Although she is well on the road to recovery, Ms. Passarella said she remains vigilant. “I’m doing well, I feel healthy,” she said. “But I don’t take my health for granted. If there is a problem, I make sure to take care of it.”
She urged women to get regular checkups and mammograms as well as self-examination to search for lumps in their breast tissue.
The success of her fundraising effort has Ms. Passarella weighing the possibility of one day transforming her honey hobby into a part-time side business, but for now she has some other fundraising ideas.
“Next year, I want to do a 5K and 10K run at Hallockville,” she said. “I’d like to have one on the North Fork, one on the South Fork, one in Montauk, and one in New York City.”
As part of local runs, which she wants to name “Bee Strong Long Island,” Ms. Passarella said she wants to invite environmental organizations to participate and offer education on the need to reduce the use of pesticides and other harmful chemicals in the environment.
While the Coalition for Women’s Cancers would be one beneficiary, Ms. Passarella said she would like to also donate to the recently opened Phillips Family Cancer Center in Southampton, so funds would go to people suffering from all forms of cancer.