Keri Stromski knows a lot about being a superhero.
A lot of superhero powers come from attitude. She strikes a superhero pose — feet apart, firmly planted, fists on hips, head turned to the side, chin up.
No wonder her class of 23 kindergartners at Aquebogue Elementary School think their teacher can fly. The cape, by the way, is optional.
With or without the cape, the 46-year old mother of three, exhibits power and energy that certainly can seem supernatural to casual observers. For the past three years, she has been engaged in a battle for her life, following a diagnosis of stage four breast cancer the day after her birthday in 2016.
A month later, she was told her metastatic breast cancer had spread to her spine. At the time, doctors said she had only months, maybe even just weeks, to live.
With the assistance of a team of health care providers led by Dr. Allison Stopeck, an oncologist and researcher at the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Care Center at Stony Brook Cancer Center at Stony Brook University Hospital — “a badass rock star,” Stromski says — supplemented by herbalists and natural healers and the support of her husband, children, parents, siblings, friends and coworkers, Stromski has cleared one hurdle after another.
Here and there, she has undoubtedly gone airborne along the way. She has to, given the pace she keeps in her life. Stromski is the kind of person who doesn’t do anything halfway. She throws herself into everything she does with gusto and hasn’t let her illness — or the brutal treatments she endures — slow her down, let alone sideline her.
Through it all, she’s become a prodigious blogger. On her Faith Over Fear website and on Facebook, she chronicles her daily life — her trials, triumphs and emotions. In turns both uplifting and gut-wrenching, Stromski’s blog provides sometimes difficult insights into living with metastatic breast cancer and juggling treatment and self-care with the responsibilities of work and family.
While mere mortals might retreat into a shell after a diagnosis like the one Stromski got three years ago, Stromski was instead energized to fight — first for her health and her life and then for the thousands of people who are diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer each year and then pretty much written off.
Very little focus or funding is devoted to research into metastatic breast cancer and Stromski has taken up the mantle of this fight.
“We fight and fight for fair funding, knowing that we will probably die before the research comes that we need,” she wrote in a column published on this website earlier this month. “But we fight for the future men and women who will be told the same words that rocked our world and stole our lives.”
She’s active in raising awareness for stage-four breast cancer with the organization MetUp, and has done fundraising for another organization, Metavivor, where 100% of funds go to research into metastatic breast cancer.
Now, the Jamesport woman has trained her sights on raising money for research and clinical trials being done by her own oncologist, an accomplished researcher and clinical investigator.
Stopeck has authored over 75 publications in peer-reviewed medical journals related to clinical trials, biomarkers, or breast cancer and has authored chapters in well-known online references including eMedicine and UpToDate. Her breast cancer research has been continuously funded for the last 20 years by private foundations as well as by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health.
A spaghetti dinner to benefit her research is set for Oct. 24 from 5 to 9 p.m. at Jeni’s Main Street Bistro, 62375 Main Rd., Southold. Dine-in or takeout dinners are $30 each and all proceeds go to support Stopeck’s research at the Carol Baldwin Cancer Center at Stony Brook.
The Riverhead Running Club and the Riverhead High School Cross-Country Team has started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for Stromski. She plans to dedicate some of the proceeds to support Stopeck’s research.
On Oct. 22, the Riverhead High School girls cross-country team is running at Indian Island County Park to raise awareness for metastatic research. Stromski’s daughter Madison is a member of the team.
“I’ll be there handing out awareness ribbons and cheering on the team that has supported Maddie,” Stromski said.
In addition to teaching, being a mother to her three kids, coping with her illness and the effects of chemotherapy, undergoing endless batteries of tests and writing a daily blog and fundraising, Stromski now has a new project in the pipeline: a children’s book, aimed at explaining cancer and chemo to little ones.
“It sounds crazy, adding one more thing to my plate — but if it’s meant to be, God will give me what I need to get it done,” she said.
And, yes, it will have a superhero theme.
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