Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest cancers in the world. There are no early detection tests, no effective long-term treatments, and, unless the cancer is surgically removed in its earliest stages, there is no cure.
About 40,000 Americans are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year and 33 months ago, Arthur Gudeon of Rego Park learned that his wife Susan, was one of them.
“She was diagnosed in July 2010,” Gudeon said. “Luckily, we caught it early enough that she could battle through it and stay with us as long as she did.”
The couple remained optimistic and used their sense of humor to lighten the mood during Sue’s chemotherapy sessions
“Everyone was so supportive,” Gudeon said. “We live in an apartment and the other people in the building would help out when necessary. And when I couldn’t take her, friends of ours would drive, some from far away, to take her to her chemo sessions. I almost always went though.”
A few months after Susan’s diagnosis, Gudeon came across the Lustgarten Foundation, the nation’s largest private foundation dedicated to funding pancreatic cancer research.
The group was named after Cablevision Vice Chairman and Madison Square Garden Chairman Marc Lustgarten, who was diagnosed with the disease in 1998 and died in 1999. He was 52.
The foundation, based in Bethpage, holds annual walks on Jones Beach in October and three years ago, they added a New York City walk, to be held in April.
“What really separates the Lustgarten Foundation walk from others is that Cablevision has made it possible for 100 percent of the money raised at each walk to go straight to research,” Kerri Kaplan, the executive director for the Lustgarten Foundation said.
October 2010, Gudeon signed up to walk on behalf of his wife.
“I sent out a blast email to those I thought would be interested and we formed a team,” he said.
The group, consisting of friends and family, was aptly named “Sue’s Crewsers,” after her love of going on cruises.
“She loved to go on cruises,” Gudeon said. “She went so often, even before we were married. She just loved the experience.”
Susan, who was still ill, was unable to participate in the walk but would wait at the finish line for her team, who ended each walk with a group hug.
The walks that followed had a similar air of optimism. Sue’s health was up and down, as is the norm with cancer patients, and in 2012, a beacon of hope came to the Gudeons.
A new clinical trial was seeking candidates with pancreatic cancer to take part in a new treatment.
But Sue did not make it. She died in December 2012, weeks before she was scheduled to enter the clinical trial.
“That is the thing with pancreatic cancer, it really is the most lethal cancer there is, unfortunately, because the symptoms are so vague,” Kaplan said. “The overall five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is 6 percent and most with advanced cancer die within six months to a year.”
Despite Gudeon’s partner of 34 years no longer being with him, he decided to participate in the New York City walk on Sunday.
“We notice this a lot with the people who participate in the walk,” Kaplan said. “People like Arthur and other participants are so grateful and want to get the word out. They all say the same thing, that they don’t want anyone else going through what they went through.”
On April 14, Sue’s Crewsers walked alongside 1,500 others to raise money and awareness.
“The whole day, for the most part was emotional,” Gudeon recalled. “There were times during the walk that I teared up.”
The hardest moment, Gudeon said, was when he reached the finish line, where his wife would wait for him.
“It’s always an emotional experience but this year it was that much more emotional,” Gudeon said, choking on his words. “It just was hard to know that she wasn’t going to be at the finish line when we finished up, that I wouldn’t be able to hug her at the end of the walk.”
Even though Sue wasn’t there to hug him, when Sue’s Crewsers crossed the finish line, they embraced each other in a group hug.
More than $380,000 was raised that morning, $9,000 of which had been raised by Gudeon and his teammates.
“These walks do more than raise money,” Kaplan said. “The people who attend really feel united in the fight and they feel they are doing something to help. I think they really enjoy meeting others who have been through the same thing they have, whether they have cancer or know someone who has it. There is a spirit of hope.”
The next Lustgarten Foundation walk will be held Oct. 13 on Long Island. Information on the walk, including how to form a team and how to donate is available on their website curePC.org.
Gudeon, who has continued to work part-time as a podiatrist in order to keep busy, said the most important thing is that people become informed.
“I just want people to know that of all the cancers in the world, this is the worst as far as prognosis goes,” Gudeon said. “By the time it’s discovered, they have three or six months to live. They have to find some sort of screening process and people need to be aware of this foundation because anything that’s done, even the small things, matter. Every little piece of information is beneficial.”
This story was updated to reflect the following: The Lustgarden Foundation was named after Cablevision Vice Chairman and Madison Square Garden Chairman Marc Lustgarten.