Tag Archives: pancreatic cancer

Hiking The PCT, For Pancreatic Cancer Research

Ben Shmaruk is an avid outdoorsman and hiker. The 2017 Staples High School grad owes those passions to his father, Alan. They hiked together locally when Ben was a child; at 8, his father took him up Mount Washington.

Soon they ranged farther: Peru and New Zealand. When he was old enough, Ben did a month-long expedition with the National Outdoor Leadership School.

In September of 2019, Alan was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. The news shook his family — including Ben’s mother Dawn and sister Julianna — to its core. Yet Alan’s fighting spirit transformed nervousness and uncertainty into positivity.

Dawn, Ben, Alan and Julianna Shmaruk.

His chemo ended in January 2020. But now the cancer has returned, and Alan is once again undergoing treatment.

Ben says, ” I know his attitude will carry him over the line again.” He’s doing his part to help.

When Ben learned last summer that Lafayette College — where he was a rising senior — would conduct all classes remotely, his father encouraged him to take a gap year.

Ben and Alan Shmaruk, in action.

Ben’s longtime dream was to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. The 2,650-mile route from Mexico to Canada — through barren desert, over snow-covered mountains and around beautiful alpine lakes — is as daunting as it sounds.

It’s no ordinary trek. Then again, Ben is no ordinary hiker. He’s using the 5-month journey to raise funds for pancreatic cancer research, through the non-profit organization PCT 4 PC.

“Each step I take is not only one step closer to the border, but one step closer to early detection methods that could save thousands of lives,” Ben says.

He’s documenting his hike online. Julianna — a sophomore at Lafayette — is handling Ben’s social media.

Just before he began — late last month — Ben wrote:

Writing this post is a completely surreal feeling. I have been thinking about tomorrow for months and to a lesser extent, years, and now here we are. I’ve spent the last couple days staying with my (vaccinated) Great Aunt Ilene and Uncle Donald outside of San Diego, preparing for the trip. After a last minute REI run and my first food shop of the trip, I am all ready to go tomorrow.

Currently my emotions consist of alternating excitement and nervousness, as I look to settle into a rhythm over the next few days. I hope to update this page weekly with detailed reports of my hiking. That said, if I go a while without posting, it is likely due to service issues, so please do not think the worst has happened.

As for the rest of the night, I’m planning on taking a nice warm shower as it could be my last in a while. When I wake up tomorrow it’ll be time to realize a lifelong dream, and I intend to make the absolute most of this experience over the next few months.

Ben has posted 3 times so far. The first covered Days 1 through 6, from the Mexican border to Mountain Valley Retreat. That was 100 miles. “Only 2,550 to go!” Ben wrote.

Sunset on the Pacific Crest Trail.

His second report, through Day 12, brought him to Idyllwild. The highlight was the chance to eat at Paradise Valley Café, reported to serve “the best burgers on the Pacific Coast Trail.”

But it closed at 3 p.m. A blistering pace over 17 miles brought him there in time for a meal that — fortunately — lived up to its reputation.

Ben’s third post — through Day 19, at Little Bear Springs — recounts his inflamed ankle tendon. Clearly, this is not a walk in the park.

It is, however, vital — to Ben, his family, and pancreatic cancer research.

Click here for Ben’s website, including his trail reports. There’s a “Donate” button on the home page. (Hat tip: Francis Costello)


Social Media For Good: The “I Love You, Mom” Project

It was a brutal start to 2018: On New Year’s Day, Stacy Waldman Bass’ mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Jessica Waldman

In the dizzying month that followed — dealing with the diagnosis, finding doctors and treatment plans, facing a very uncertain future — Stacy fell into despair. She searched desperately for something positive.

Photography is one of her many talents. She’s superb at it, and feels comfortable behind the lens. She’s taken many photos of her very photogenic mother. Others have too, over her more than 70 years of life.

Stacy wanted to share her images — and others — with her mother’s many friends.

She asked her mother if that was okay — and to let people know why. A few days later she told Stacy: sure. Go ahead.

Stacy’s plan was to post a photo a day on Facebook, for a year. “I didn’t even know if she’d still be alive then,” she says.

The idea resonated. The project began on February 1 — one month after the diagnosis. Every day Stacy’s photo was accompanied by a brief message.

Stacy Waldman’s first post. (Click on or hover over to enlarge.)

Her goal, she said, was to take

tiny slices of her then almost 74 years as a daughter, summer camper, counselor, student, wife, mother, grandmother, friend, teacher, philanthropist, passionate theatregoer, and lover of language (to name only a few). I hoped to create a living and breathing portrait, one that would both delight and remind my mom of the wonderful life she had lived, and the range of people she had impacted and influenced.

She also hoped to create and fuel a community of supporters to nurture my mother’s memories, and engage her in an online conversation that could buoy her spirits and positively occupy her time.

The photos Stacy chose (and took) were beautiful, insightful and meaningful. Jessica looked forward to them.

For Stacy, the daily postings became a way to fortify and connect with her mother. They were a way to chronicle her life, and battle. They were a way too for Stacy to stay motivated, and get out of bed each day.

Every day, Jessica woke up eager to see what image Stacy had chosen, what she wrote about it, and what the online community would say.

Through the process, Stacy says,

I had the chance to fall in love with my mom anew. I grew to see her as a whole person, a complete and multifaceted woman who was my mother, but also so much more.

It gave me a more refined appreciation for the nuances of her life, the choices she made, the challenges she faced. I saw strength where before I’d seen only softness. Layers and layers of lovely that I may have taken for granted, now shone through.

As explained in the text, this photo — posted on Jessica’s 74th birthday — is one of Stacy’s favorites. It shows her mother as “bold, playful, and quietly confident.”

At moments along the way, Stacy believed that

the swelling force of the movement that formed around her could somehow change the course of her prognosis, or at the very least extend her time. I think she believed that too.

The love and positivity that flooded in her direction, from near and far, from “likes” and “loves” to comments and questions, was so empowering and transformative that maybe, just maybe, it could work. The digital conversation quickly spilled offline. My mother was supported in ways unimaginable by many she knew and loved and many more that she did not.

Yet Stacy’s mother died just shy of a year after her diagnosis: January 12. Stacy was devastated.

Mother’s Day last month was particularly difficult. That morning, she wrote on Facebook:

I felt unending joy and good fortune in being lucky enough to be a mom, step-mom and mother-in-law to 6 extraordinary, wonderful, kind and generous humans. Not to mention the wild excitement I have in anticipation of our first grandchild, due only a few short weeks from now.

But then, then, it was impossible to get though this holiday, another first and looming large, without also feeling the crushing and often overwhelming weight of my own mother’s recent death, only 4 months ago. The contrasts were staggering.

In the quiet moments in between the mourning, the grieving and the throbbing tears, I have been working hard on a plan to make a difference: to honor my mom’s memory and to help others who may have similar challenges still ahead.

Looking back, Stacy wrote, she realized she had tried to “harness the immediacy, range, and force of social media for good.”

She did. The project was a success. But now she wanted to do even more.

She had planned to make a book of all the posts, and give it to Jessica. It would be a small, beautiful treasure.

In 1960, 16-year-old Jessica won a contest. The prize: a date with Bobby Darin, at the Copa. Here are those photos.

Stacy’s Mother’s Day post continued:

I imagined that together, we could celebrate the victory of both the medicine and the memories, and marvel at the astonishing community that blossomed around her.

In her absence, palpable and ever present, I nonetheless still found myself wanting and needing to make that book; and to find a way to redirect the gift that was intended for my mom to others who are still fighting, and who could still prevail.

So — though her mother was gone — she made the book anyway.

And she created it to help defeat pancreatic cancer.

In partnership with the Lustgarten Foundation — the world’s leading pancreatic cancer research group — donors of $75 or more will receive an e-book version of “I Love You, Mom.” Print copies are available too, on demand.

In the foreward to the book — a slightly curated version of her posts — Stacy writes:

I hope that in reading this you will not only learn about my mother or my journey or my loss, but that like so many who followed along, day by day, you will be similarly inspired: to be grateful for and expressive about the relationships in your life—with your own mother, or daughter, or sister or friend; to mindfully nurture and attend to those relationships and to cherish the simplicity and beauty of the everyday.

Every day that you can.

I can’t imagine a finer tribute to a mother.

Or a more fitting epitaph for anyone.

(To contribute to Stacy Waldman Bass and the Lustgarden Foundation’s “I Love You, Mom” initiative, click here.)

Cocktails For A Pancreatic Cancer Cure

Jen Greely moved to Westport 6 years ago. She met fellow artist Binnie Birstein and was captivated.

“She was quite a character,” Jen says. “She never minced words. But she always gave great feedback to me and other artists.”

Binnie was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2017. Jen and fellow members of the Artists Collective of Westport became her caregivers.

“She never spent a single night alone,” Jen says. “We were there 24/7. When her kids came, we gave respite to them too.”

Binnie Birstein with her work, at the Westport Arts Center. (Photo/Jen Greely)

Binnie died this past May. As Jen talked about her mentor, and her experience as a caregiver, with other Saugatuck Elementary School moms, she learned how many people have lost loved ones to pancreatic cancer.

One of those Westporters is Jessica Newshel. A decade ago, her world was thrown into a tailspin as her 50-year-old uncle — healthy, active, the father of 3 — battled the disease.

Jessica Newshel (Bottom left) in 2001, with her uncle Jeffrey Rosenzweig (top right), cousin Steven Rosenzweig and aunt Lizanne Rosenzweig.

He died 6 weeks before Jessica, her relatives and friends walked in a Lustgarten Foundation fundraiser. The organization is the largest private funder of pancreatic cancer research.

Jessica’s family — who also lost their matriarch to pancreatic cancer — provided a large challenge grant to Lustgarten. They also organized several large race events in Westchester, raising over $500,000.

Now Jen, Jessica and fellow Westporter Natalie Kroft have teamed up for their next event. And it’s right here, in their hometown.

“Cocktails for a Cure” — set for Thursday, April 4 (7 p.m., Westport Country Playhouse barn) — includes drinks, light bites from Bartaco, treats and live music.

Jen, Jessica and Natalie all have personal connections to pancreatic cancer. They are doing all they can to raise awareness around the importance of testing, early diagnosis, and research.

They do it for their loved ones. And for all of us.

(Click here for tickets and more information on the April 4 “Cocktails for a Cure.”)

“A Tribute To Pamela”: Local Benefit Show With Wide Impact

Jim Naughton is a pro.

Whether winning Tonys on Broadway, raves for roles in films like “The Paper Chase” and “The Devil Wears Prada,” or plaudits for directing plays like “Our Town,” the longtime Weston resident does things the right way.

Pam Naughton

After his wife Pamela died in 2013 of pancreatic cancer, he dedicated himself to raising funds to fight the disease. He has brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars for a very important clinical trial — and on Sunday, May 7 he’s set to raise more.

He’s doing it with a very professional — and extremely entertaining — benefit show.

“A Tribute to Pamela” brings his family together on the Westport Country Playhouse stage. Naughton will be joined by his son Greg, a producer, actor, singer/songwriter and founding member of the Sweet Remains; his daughter Keira Naughton Forgash, a Broadway and TV actress, and Greg’s wife Kelli O’Hara Naughton, Tony-winning actress and Broadway star in “The King and I,” “South Pacific” and “Light in the Piazza.”

The songs and celebration will support research aimed at early detection of pancreatic cancer. It’s led by Westporter Dr. Richard Frank, of the Whittingham Cancer Center at Norwalk Hospital.

Newman’s Own Foundation is a lead sponsor of the May 7 event.

So it’s a very local, one-night show. But its impact could be global — and everlasting.

(Click here for tickets. For more information, call 203-739-7354.)

Music With A Heart

When pancreatic cancer hit Tyler Paul’s family, he reacted the only way he knows how:  with music.

A few months after Tyler’s 2007 Staples graduation, his great-uncle succumbed to the disease.  That summer, Tyler produced a concert to raise funds for the Hirshberg Foundation — a research, information and support group.  It was successful, but he wanted to do more.

Tyler Paul

Tyler Paul

So Tyler conceived an 11-track album.  For months talented vocalists recorded songs, ranging from “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” and “Let it Be” to contemporary musical theatre pieces like “Part of a Painting” — from the very talented duo of Benj Pasek and Justin (Tyler’s brother) Paul.

The album also includes Westport’s vocal group From the Heart.  This ensemble of middle and high school performers, founded by Staples senior Caley Beretta, recorded a rendition of the inspiration song “I’ll Always be There,” written by Westporter Kevin Connors.

“Heart and Music” is available on iTunes.  Just 24 hours after its release, it was already #9 in the Vocal Genre category — squeezed between Josh Groban and Norah Jones.  All money raised from download sales benefit the Hirshberg Foundation.

(For more information, contact heartandmusicproject@gmail.com)