North Fork Breast Health Coalition to celebrate 25th anniversary at Pink Pearl Gala

Despite having lived with stage 4 breast cancer for four years now, Susan Ruffini feels blessed.

“We know [my treatment’s] working because my PET scans are showing at this point — which, I’m very lucky — not really lucky, I’m blessed — that there is no evidence of active disease,” she said.

She was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer after a routine mammogram in 2006. During a 2019 MRI, after 13 years free of cancer, a recurrence was found and she received the stage four diagnosis.

Ms. Ruffini is an outreach committee member at the North Fork Breast Health Coalition, as well as a past president. She will be among the guests at the non-profit organization’s annual Pink Pearl Gala on May 5 at East Wind Long Island in Wading River.

The gala — named for the late Pearl Philindas, a past president of the coalition — includes a cocktail reception, seated dinner and dancing to music by Phil Schmidt of Make Some Noise DJs.

Pink Pearl raffle baskets are available for preview at the organization’s Riverhead office at 185 Old North Country Road on April 28-30, where raffle tickets will be sold. Proceeds from the raffle benefit NFBHC’s Keri Lynn Stromski Stage IV Breast Cancer Research and Support Fund.

Apart from celebrating the organization’s 25th anniversary, the gala will honor two local cancer specialists: Dr. Alison Stopeck, associate director for clinical and translational research in Stony Brook Medicine’s Department of Hematology and Oncology and Dr. Iris Zhi, a medical oncologist who specializes in breast cancer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Both doctors treat stage 4 “thrivers,” as the coalition refers to them, in the NFBHC service area.

As leaders in metastatic cancer research, Dr. Stopeck and Dr. Zhi were previously awarded grants from the Keri Lynn Stromski fund to help fund their stage 4 research laboratories.

“We specifically gave grants to those two oncologists’ labs because they had a large patient base on the East End,” Ms. McEvoy Zuhoski said. “So our people, a lot of them, are their patients and they were actively doing research on stage 4. That’s what we specifically wanted to use the fund for … active research labs that are benefiting patients on the East End.”

The North Fork Breast Health Coalition was founded in 1998 by Ann Cotten-DeGrasse and her late husband Antonio, in response to what they perceived as a great need for such an organization on the North Fork, where there is an especially high rate of cancer diagnoses. 

The coalition is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization that supports local breast-cancer patients with various programs. Proceeds from the event allow the organization to continue to provide free services like gentle yoga, reflexology, massage therapy and “Strength for Life” exercise classes to breast cancer patients and survivors. The money also helps maintain the Rita Duva Boutique at the coalition’s office — which offers free hats, scarves, wigs and prostheses for breast cancer patients or survivors.

Pink Pearl Gala tickets are available through To reserve individual seating or tables for a group, email: [email protected] or call 631-208-8889.