Gail Krasner’s father passed away from pancreatic cancer almost 22 years ago. The extreme sadness of Krasner’s dad succumbing to this frightful disease prompted the family, from New Rochelle, to get involved with the Lustgarten Foundation, which funds pancreatic cancer research. As a family they decided to join “The Lustgarten Walk,” originally held on Long Island. Now also held in Westchester, the organization is planning its 10th Annual Westchester Pancreatic Cancer Research Walk on Sunday, April 28, at Rye Playland Park in Rye, New York.
Krasner shared her story with The Jewish Link: “I actually find the walk day more emotional than the yahrtzeit. It is incredibly powerful, and sad, to be surrounded by thousands of people who have also dealt with loss similar to mine. My kids know not to be alarmed by the tears that just start flowing each year. Each year we take a family picture of us in our purple shirts, and it is special to look back at the pictures and see how the kids have grown.” Krasner’s daughter, Hadas, organized a bake sale fundraiser for Lustgarten as her bat mitzvah project. Krasner serves on the Walk Committee and helps with publicity.
Krasner explained that every dollar raised by these fundraising events goes directly to research since the foundation covers administrative expenses. To date, $165 million has been directed to research. In January 2019, Lustgarten dedicated its fourth pancreatic cancer research laboratory at Johns Hopkins, positioning the foundation as the only non-profit in the country to have four laboratories devoted solely to pancreatic cancer research. Three other labs are located at Cold Spring Harbor, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Tara Shanes-Knebel is the founder and committee chair of the Westchester Pancreatic Cancer Research Walk, founded in memory of her mom, Gigi Shanes-Hernandez, who passed away from pancreatic cancer at the age of 52 after an 11-month battle with the disease. Shanes-Knebel has embarked “on a mission to fight the disease that changed our lives forever.” She explained, “By organizing the 10th Annual Westchester Pancreatic Cancer Research Walk, I aim to keep fighting for Gigi and others, while raising awareness and funds to support research efforts of this deadly disease. I advocate and fund-raise so intensely and passionately for pancreatic cancer because the last words my mom ever said to me were ‘I want to bring a victory flag to pancreatic cancer.’ I have taken her last dying wish as my life’s mission to helping others in her memory… In her memory, and so others don’t have to feel the pain and loss from this deadly disease like my family has, I wage hope and I demand better for pancreatic cancer research and medical breakthroughs!”
Rye Playland Park is a fitting venue for the Westchester Walk. Gigi, a lifelong resident of Rye, enjoyed taking walks with family and friends through Rye Town Park and Playland Park, alongside scenic Long Island Sound where the Westchester Walk is held every year. The community’s overwhelming support has helped fund additional research, and, according to Shanes-Knebel, “It has also fueled our energy to keep fighting and providing comfort for those who need to heal from their loss.”
Shanes-Knebel also joins hundreds of other pancreatic cancer advocates as the New York State Leader at the annual Pancreatic Cancer Advocacy Day held in Washington, DC in June. Hundreds of advocates from around the country meet with senators and congressmen and advocate for increased research dollars to discover key scientific breakthroughs and medical interventions.
Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S. and, unfortunately, it is on the rise and is expected to be the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths by next year. More than 56,700 Americans are projected to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2019, which reflects a 2 percent increase in diagnoses compared to last year. Sadly, the five-year survival rate from this disease is only 9 percent.
According to the Lustgarten Foundation and John Hopkins Hospital, individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry have an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer. People who have the breast cancer 2 gene (BRCA2) mutation have an increased risk of several cancers, among them pancreatic. Inherited mutations in the BRCA2 gene are particularly common in the Ashkenazi Jewish population. A mutation in this gene can be found in approximately 1 percent of individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. This is higher than in other populations. People with BRCA2 mutations have a 10 percent lifetime risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
This year’s Lustgarten Foundation Westchester Pancreatic Cancer Research Walk is proud to welcome Northwell Health Cancer Institute Pancreas Disease Center as a presenting sponsor. Registration begins at 8:00 a.m.; the walk starts at 9:30 a.m. To register for the walk, please go to www.lustgartenwalkwestchester.org or call: 866-789-1000.
By Yvette Finkelstein