Local doc honored with inaugural Pink Pearl Spirit Award

Dr. Joseph Duva in his Riverhead office. (Credit: Cyndi Murray)
Dr. Joseph Duva in his Riverhead office. (Credit: Cyndi Murray)

North Fork Breast Health Coalition members say it’s Riverhead gastroenterologist Joseph Duva’s heart that makes him a star supporter of the organization’s efforts.

For more than 16 years, Dr. Duva has donated both money and time to assist the nonprofit with its goals of providing free services for breast cancer patients and survivors.

In honor of his commitment, he will receive the coalition’s first-ever Pink Pearl Spirit Award during a March 20 gala.

The award is intended to embody the legacy of Pearl Philindas, a past president of the organization. Ms. Philindas, who died last year at age 72, was a two-time breast cancer survivor who is remembered for her kindness, generosity and commitment to the cause, said the coalition’s current president, Susan Ruffini.

“[Dr. Duva] has that need and passion to help women that are diagnosed [with breast cancer] in our community,” she said. “He thinks that is important, as did Pearl.”

Dr. Duva is a graduate of City University of New York and Mount Sinai School of Medicine. He moved to Cutchogue and began practicing medicine in Riverhead in 1983. His office, East End Internal Medicine, is located on Route 58.

Despite being recognized as a top gastroenterologist, Dr. Duva became passionate about fighting breast cancer after his mother was diagnosed with the disease.

Dr. Duva spoke with us last week about his support for the coalition and about the Pink Pearl Spirit Award.

Q: Why did you want to get involved with the North Fork Breast Health Coalition?

A: They focus on the local community. There are many cancer societies, but with [the North Fork Breast Health Coalition] we have our own local branch in our town. That personal touch means everything. That is why I support them. If they ever have an outing or a fundraiser, I’ll be there.

Q: What was your reaction to getting the award?

A: I was honored. I was surprised because oncologists and hematologists are doing work with breast cancer. It is really not my area of expertise per se. When I asked [Ms. Ruffini] ‘Why me?’ she looked me in my eyes and said it was because of my heart and because she feels like I care. It is really nice to be recognized for that.

Q: Why is supporting breast cancer awareness important to you?

A: My mother was always very healthy and many years ago she ended up with breast cancer, which was quite a surprise. She went through chemotherapy. It was been many years now and she is doing OK. That really hit home for me because we had no family history.

Q: In your opinion, what is the best way to prevent breast cancer?

A: If you are over age 40 you have to start doing your screening exams; that is the whole key to prevention. One in eight woman will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. It is so important to have early detection.

Q: What do you hope to see the coalition accomplish in the future?

A: I want them to continue to do their work because even with good screening there is still going to be breast cancer. So there will always be a need for them.

The North Fork Breast Health Coalition gala takes place Friday, March 20, from 6 to 9 p.m. at East Wind Inn and Spa in Wading River. Tickets are $95 per person. Funds raised during the gala will allow the group to continue to provide free services including yoga, massage therapy, reflexology and support groups to breast cancer patients and survivors.