A 5K run in memory of a Flower Hill woman who died of a rare kind of ovarian cancer will return this year following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Katherine Rose “Katie” Oppo had graduated from Manhasset High School in 2009 and was preparing for her sophomore year at Johns Hopkins University when she was diagnosed with stage four small cell carcinoma of the ovary, hypercalcemic type — an aggressive form of the disease.
It was a “pretty horrific shock” to her family, Liz Oppo, her mother, said in a phone interview.
“Katie, at that point, had just declared a major, and she was going to be pre-med,” Oppo said.
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Katie, 20, carried on with the help of her family and “the most remarkable group of friends,” who would stay with her and accompany her to treatments, Oppo said.
“They were Manhasset High School students who had been together since kindergarten, and preschool,” Oppo said. “They just love each other so much. They were just a great group of boys and girls. And the whole time that she was battling, they were there for her. And we called them Team Katie.”
But after emergency surgery and “several rounds of very, very aggressive chemotherapy,” Oppo said, Katie died in April 2011 at North Shore University Hospital — the same hospital where she had volunteered as a candy striper.
Her supporters on Team Katie, however, were far from done with their mission.
“My sons and I and the team, as we call them, realized pretty quickly we were going to have to do something,” Oppo said.
Less than two months after Katie’s death, the Katie Oppo Research Fund was formed and held its first 5K run to raise money for research into the cancer that took Katie’s life. The event returned every year until 2020, when it moved online due to COVID-19.
In the years since its inception, the nonprofit has raised more than $300,000 for ovarian cancer research and has donated those funds to laboratories at Johns Hopkins University, NYU Langone Health, Northwell Health, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. One study funded by the organization even discovered the gene mutation that causes the cancer that Katie fought.
“It was what Katie wanted all along,” Oppo said. “She had kept saying to her various doctors, ‘What do you mean, it’s a rare cancer that nobody’s ever heard of? We have to get to the bottom of this.’ And what’s incredible about that is mothers and young women with daughters who have have encountered this horrific disease have come to us and reached out to us.”
Last year, Liz Oppo retired from her job to run the fund full-time, which she says is her true passion.
“I loved her dearly,” Oppo said. “She was so kind-hearted and had a remarkable ability to bring people together. So I think the community came together for her.”
The 11th annual Run for Katie 5K, held by the Katie Oppo Research Fund, will begin at 9 a.m. at Flower Hill Country Park on Bonnie Heights and Searingtown Road. Timed runners can register at events.elitefeats.com/oppo21 for $35, while untimed participants can register at charity.gofundme.com/o/en/campaign/runforkatie2021 for $30.