It was a sight to behold as a sea of people came out for the Lustgarten Foundation’s annual Walk for pancreatic research at Nassau Community College in Garden City. In its 10-year history, the Walk has grown to more than 4,000 participants, and raised more than $6 million for research initiatives. This year, participants as old as 90 to young infants united in memory of lost loved ones and showed support for those suffering from one of the most deadly forms of cancer there is.
The Lustgarten’s Executive Director Kerri Kaplan was thrilled by the turnout for the largest of 23 charity walks that take place around the country. “We’ve been told by the people who walk that this is a way for people to come out and join the fight,” she said. “The majority of the people are a passionate group of people who have lost loved ones to this disease and don’t want other families to have to go through this and know the urgent need for research,” she says. According to Kaplan, there is only a 5 percent survival rate for those afflicted with disease. “It’s still a very tough disease to fight and, at this point, there is no cure really,” Kaplan said.
In 1998, Cablevision executive Mark Lustgarten was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and, in 1999, he died from the disease. At that time, very little was known about the disease and the foundation named after him was created to help change those facts. A 20-year veteran of nonprofits, Kaplan says she was recruited by the organization and was very impressed by the way it was run. “The Lustgarten Foundation is the largest private foundation dedicated solely to funding pancreatic cancer research. We have been fortunate to be involved in Cablevision and they helped form the foundation…Every dollar we raise goes directly to research because Cablevision underwrites all of the administrative expenses,” Kaplan explained, adding that she expects to raise more than $1 million from the Walk.
To date, the Foundation has invested $32 million into research projects. “At this point, there is no early detection test and that is one of the major projects that the Lustgarten Foundation is supporting,” Kaplan said. The Foundation has also created the pancreatic cancer research consortium, a collaborative effort involving six world-renowned medical institutions to advance the most promising research initiatives aimed at finding a cure for pancreatic cancer.
As part of the Foundation’s additional initiatives, it recently created the curePC campaign to educate the public about pancreatic cancer. Cablevision has engaged all of its media and entertainment assets on behalf of curePC. Those assets range from cable television systems to print publications and Web sites to movie theatres and entertainment venues.
Despite the grim statistics, Kaplan was optimistic about the future of the Foundation’s ability to make a difference. “I know there is a low survival rate, but there is a lot of hope because of Cablevision’s commitment. Last year, we gave out $10 million in research grants…We feel like that’s what the hope is…putting the money into research and finding better treatments and better early detection tests for the disease.”
To learn how you can donate or for more information about the Lustgarten Foundation, visit lustgarten.org or curepc.org.