Supporter Spotlight:
Julie Shudtz and Kristin Shudtz
A Mantra and a Movement: Fight Cancer Stay Positive

Three weeks after Geoff’s son was born, the first-time dad received the most crushing news imaginable: he had Stage IV pancreatic cancer. The diagnosis was incomprehensible to this athletic 34-year-old. But Geoff found hope grounded in the love of family—including his newborn son, Emery—and the determination of the oncologist committed to his treatment.

“His caring nature and spirit of adventure never diminished,” shared Julie, Geoff’s wife. “He had a special gift—always the life of the party, Geoff also made you feel like you were the only person in the room.”

Geoff’s sister Kristin–a nurse anesthetist who had cared for pancreatic cancer patients–knew the road ahead would be tough. “My brother put on a brave face and he was always fighting for more time with his family,” Kristin said. “He was the best big brother in the world.”

Geoff’s late diagnosis ruled out surgery—and the disease had already spread to his liver. Geoff’s zest for living and devotion to family kept him going despite the bad news. When chemotherapy failed, Geoff joined a clinical trial testing an oral immunotherapy. Geoff and Julie had five good months together until the treatment stopped working and Geoff tried another chemotherapy. But then Geoff suffered a devastating setback—a stroke. He lost the ability to speak and move his right side. In another remarkable show of determination, he fought back again to regain the ability to talk and walk.

And when Geoff passed away 14 months after his diagnosis and just six weeks before his 36th birthday, Julie, Kristin and all of his family took solace in the time they had together—eight more precious months than predicted, thanks to significant research advancements. To honor Geoff’s life and remember his spirit, Geoff’s family created Fight Cancer Stay Positive, a foundation that—in its inaugural “Dunking for a Cure” fundraising event—raised $100,000 for the Lustgarten Foundation, despite moving to a virtual format in April 2020.

“In going through this experience, I learned to be strong and stay positive because that’s what Geoff always did,” Julie said with a full heart. “Trivial things don’t matter quickly figure out who and what truly matters in your life.”

And one of the things that matters most to Julie and Geoff’s family now is helping other families on their own pancreatic cancer journeys. “Fight Cancer Stay Positive” was Geoff’s mantra—it was the unbreakable spirit he brought to all he went through, and the belief that enabled Geoff and Julie to plan for their future despite his diagnosis. So, it’s the fitting name they’ve given to their work to honor and remember him.

Despite her tremendous loss, Julie feels lucky Geoff received the best possible care. For her, Geoff lives on in their son, in their story and in the research the Lustgarten Foundation supports thanks to you.

Geoff and Julie (pictured above, with their son, Emery) never gave up hope.
Hope Personified: Survivor Story
Bob Minetti

Bob Minetti plans to play a lot of golf in the next year. At 73 years old, the former professional fundraiser is also an avid walker, reader and bridge player. But when he received a Stage III pancreatic cancer diagnosis in 2016, he didn’t know how long he could continue doing the things he loved.

A mysterious pain in Bob’s stomach and low back had led to an initial diagnosis of pancreatitis, but his own deep family history of cancer inspired him to push for more information. He recalls advice from an uncle who had survived both kidney and bladder cancer: “He told me that unlike most men, he paid attention to what his body was telling him, and he wasn’t scared to go to the doctor.” Bob’s quest for answers led to additional testing, which revealed a malignant tumor lodged against a major vein.

Bob met with a radiation oncologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and learned about a new clinical trial sponsored by the Pancreatic Cancer Collective, an initiative of the Lustgarten Foundation and Stand Up To Cancer. He joined the trial as #27 in the pilot test group.

The trial combined a powerful chemotherapy called FOLFIRINOX with an older blood pressure medication, losartan, which is believed to soften the hard outer surface of pancreatic tumors, making the tumor more vulnerable to chemotherapy. Bob’s tumor responded dramatically, shrinking “like butter in the microwave,” as one of his doctors described. After six months of chemotherapy and proton beam radiation treatments, Bob underwent a complex Whipple surgery to resect the tumor. Four years later, Bob’s oncologist sees no signs of cancer and says he doesn’t need to come in for scans anymore.

Among patients in the trial whose pancreatic tumors had initially seemed inoperable, 61% were able to have tumors completely removed. In three, the drug treatment was so effective that the surgery found no detectable cancer. The study found that overall, patients whose tumors could be removed survived a median of 33 months. The pilot study’s findings have been carried forward to a larger randomized study.

Bob’s story is shared in a series of Public Service Announcements (PSAs) promoting the Collective and clinical trial participation. The PSAs also feature actress, writer and director Keesha Sharp, who lost her mother to pancreatic cancer in 2020.

To those considering participation in a clinical trial, Bob has one piece of advice. “Do it,” he says, without hesitation. “They’re making really great strides with early diagnosis, and I’m proof of the fact that you have a fighting chance.”

Do it. They’re making really great strides with early diagnosis, and I’m proof of the fact that you have a fighting chance.
—Bob’s advice on participating in a clinical trial