PBMC Executive Director Amy Loeb, left, leads walkers at the start of the 24th annual North Fork Breast Health Coalition 5K Walk Sunday at Tanger Outlets. Photo: Denise Civiletti

The 24th annual 5K Walk for Breast Cancer Awareness stepped off Sunday morning at Tanger Outlets in Riverhead, drawing more than 150 survivors, family members, friends and supporters, despite overcast skies and drizzle at the start of the event.

The event is a fundraiser for the North Fork Breast Health Coalition, an all-volunteer nonprofit that supports research to identify the causes of breast cancer, works to educate women about the importance of self-exams and annual mammograms and provides direct support and services to breast cancer patients and survivors living on the North Fork. These include yoga, reflexology, massage therapy and a semi-monthly support group, as well as access to the Rita Duva Boutique, which provides wigs, scarves, prosthetics and other items to breast cancer survivors.

Bernadette Tuthill, NFBHC vice president and co-chairperson of the walk, said Sunday the organization has recently seen an increase in people with metastatic or late-stage diagnoses seeking the group’s services.

“Because of COVID, people weren’t going for their screenings,” Tuthill said Sunday morning. “So we’ve seen an increased demand for our services and grants and wigs and prosthetics. Events like this help us fund that so we can provide it to our members free of charge,” she said. “We’re also People coming back with metastatic diagnosis.”

NFBHC Vice President and event co-chairperson Bernadette Tuthill with her mother and fellow board member Vanie Tuthill. Both women are breast cancer survivors. Photo: Denise Civiletti

The North Fork Breast Health Coalition established its Stage Four Fund last year in honor of Keri Stromski of Aquebogue, a fierce advocate for funding to research and develop treatments for metastatic breast cancer. Stromski was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer in late 2016 at age 44. Stromski pushed the motto, “Stage 4 needs more,” to underscore the lack of attention paid to people with stage four diagnoses.

Thanks to the fund, which is chaired by Keri Stromski’s husband Rob Stromski, who has joined the NFBHC board of directors, “we’re funding local doctors doing stage four research,” Tuthill said.

Tuthill, like many of the organization’s board of directors and other volunteers, is herself a breast cancer survivor. Her mother, Vanie Tuthill, is also a survivor and recently joined the NFBHC board.

“I believe in the cause,” Vanie Tuthill said Sunday, where she was staffing a table selling tickets for the event’s basket auction.

“They helped me navigate the entire process of diagnosis and surgery and procedures,” she explained.

Survivor Sabina Winter of Riverhead, snaps a photo of the NFBHC’s board. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Peconic Bay Medical Center Executive Director Amy Loeb, emceed pre-walk ceremonies, which included an invocation by the Rev. George DuPree of Living Water Church in Aquebogue and the presentation of colors by the Mattituck/Southold NJROTC. Loeb led the walkers as the race got underway.

Tanger Outlets in Riverhead, the event sponsor, has hosted the 5K since its inception in 1998. The walk, held every year on the last Sunday in September, kicks off breast cancer awareness month, which takes place every year in October.

The event is also supported by many other sponsors among businesses and residents from the local community. The income from sponsorships, the raffle and fundraising by walkers together make the event successful for the organization, typically raising over $15,000 each year, said NFBHC President Melanie McEvoy.

RiverheadLOCAL photos by Denise Civiletti

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor and attorney. Her work has been recognized with numerous journalism awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She was also honored in 2020 with a NY State Senate Woman of Distinction Award for her trailblazing work in local online news. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.