Keri Stromski hugs a student good bye on the last day of school at Aquebogue elementary School in 2015. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Keri Stromski, the beloved Aquebogue Elementary School kindergarten teacher whose crusade for awareness and funding for Stage IV breast cancer enlightened thousands, died last night at her home in Jamesport. The cause was metastatic cancer.

Keri, who taught kindergartners in our community for more than two decades, continued teaching remote classes of stay-at-home students throughout the pandemic, never skipping a beat despite rounds of chemotherapy.

Her outspoken advocacy to raise awareness about the unmet need for research funding for metastatic cancer treatments and her writing abilities established Stromski as a social media influencer with a devoted following.

Keri raged against the proliferation of pink each October and the way corporations and even nonprofit organizations founded to fight breast cancer used breast cancer awareness to promote themselves and increase their bottom lines. Keri took aim at the Susan G. Komen organization for what she called “pink-washing” — dedicating most of the funds it raises to “awareness” and executive salaries, while allocating 19% to research, and only 2% of that to research aimed at preventing the spread of metastases.

Diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in December 2016, just after her 44th birthday, Keri, the mother of three young children, refused to compromise when it came to living life fully and vigorously. In addition to working full-time, she was there for every track meet, game, practice and event that filled her family calendar.

Keri leaves behind a beautiful family: husband Rob, children Madison, Morgan and Quinn, parents Allan and Judy, siblings, Scott, Jill and Rob. Though words may fail us at a time like this, our hearts go out to them.

Ever persistent and resilient, Keri remained active in the community and was a fearless activist for education — and educators.

She chronicled her life with metastatic cancer in her blog, Faith Over Fear, and on social media.

In a column on RiverheadLOCAL in October 2019, Keri educated readers about how “words matter” when speaking about people living with — and dying from — metastatic disease. She wrote:

We cringe when people say someone ‘lost the battle’ when they die, and shout against media when they say someone died from ‘complications’ from breast cancer.

Words matter.

Don’t make the person who died a loser. That makes it seems like they didn’t fight hard enough. Would you say that about a diabetic, a heart attack victim, a stroke victim, a car crash victim? Then don’t say it about cancer victims. They were murdered by cancer, and companies were complicit as they wore their pink shirts that said ‘Save the tatas.’

Don’t say complications killed people. Metastatic cancer did.

Keri had a special bond with every kindergarten class she taught, from her first class at Our Redeemer Lutheran School to her last class of remote kindergarten students. She engaged them with puppets and songs and antics. She was a vortex of creative energy and she infused her 5 and 6 year olds with that energy, instilling in them a love of learning that would last a lifetime.

No matter how old Keri’s students got, they were always her kids. I know this from personal experience because my daughter was in that first class Keri taught — and more than 23 years later, their bond was still strong.

There’s just something about Keri. It’s what inspired one of her current charges to devise a “hug machine” so he could safely hug his beloved teacher during this cruel pandemic. The hug was captured on video and went viral — a hug felt round the world, if you will, and was picked up by TV stations across the country. And it turned “our” Keri into a national celebrity last month.

From the day I first met the young teacher who greeted my own little girl on her first day of school, Keri has always been larger than life. And so she remains, and will always remain, larger than life.

Godspeed, young friend. Thank you for all you’ve done, for all you’ve shared and for all your love. The world is a better place because you lived.

View obituary here.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.