HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — It’s October and that means you’ll be seeing a lot of pink for breast cancer awareness.

This year, that reminder is more urgent than ever after many skipped important cancer screenings because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Across Long Island, shops and government offices are decked out in pink, CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported Friday.

“Seeing the color pink will serve as a visual reminder to the women and men in the community to have their annual mammograms,” said Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter.

It’s a lifesaving message that got lost in the pandemic. Routine cancer screenings were paused, others put off treatment.

“We’ve seen people who were not operated on. We’ve seen people go from Stage 1 to Stage 3,” said Hewlett House Executive Director Geri Barish.

While COVID was raging, Heather Edwards, a mother of three, braved a mammogram and is grateful.

“They found something, really small. I was very lucky. We caught it early, treatment,” said Edwards.

Others who waited share their regrets.

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“I had been told to come back in six months. I didn’t go back. Work got in the way. Life got in the way, and then the next time I went back, it was full blown. You just can’t wait,” said Tracy Krut.

“You get busy with life, and you just forget that you’re due… The pandemic is a distraction,” said Northwell Health’s Dr. Deb Salas-Lopez.

Now is the time, say health leaders, to return to self-care. Early detection saves lives and that means an annual mammogram after age 40 – sooner with a family history.

It will take years to measure cancers missed and the consequences, said Dr. Nina Vincoff, chief of breast imaging for Northwell Health.

“It’s better to let six months go by than to let a year go by. If you let a year go by, it’s better than letting two years go by. The sooner we get you in, the better we’re gonna do,” said Dr. Vincoff.

You don’t need a prescription or insurance to get a mammogram. There are free and low-cost options, even at some malls.

“We’re doing $45 [mammograms] for anyone who doesn’t have insurance,” said Felivia Telep Kasow of Pure Mammography at Smith Haven Mall.

Breast cancer remains one of the deadliest cancers. Once one in nine, experts now believe it strikes one in eight women.

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The American Cancer Society estimates more than 17,000 New York women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year and 2,500 will succumb to the disease.

Carolyn Gusoff