Walk will honor mother, raise funds for research


HOWELL — Like most daughters, Nicole Tuscano liked to buy her mother gifts and send her cards on special days.

But Tuscano, 28, of Howell, has not been able to do that since January 2008, when her much-loved mother, Cleo, died at 56 after a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer.

Instead, she and her family will honor Cleo on May 16 at the Manasquan Reservoir in Howell by taking part in the inaugural Cleo Tuscano Memorial Pancreatic Cancer Walk.

Tuscano is the primary mover behind organizing the event. All proceeds from the event will go to the Lustgarten Foundation, the largest private, nonprofit supporter of pancreatic cancer research in the United States.

“I miss being able to go to the store and buy my mother a present,” Tuscano said. “This is what I can do for her. I can honor her.”

Cleo Tuscano was diagnosed with the deadly disease in October 2005. She had fallen one day and noticed a wheezing sound when she lay in bed at night, her daughter said.

“She thought she broke a rib,” Tuscano said. “She ended up being diagnosed with lung cancer.”

But the cancer’s primary site was not in Cleo’s lungs, it was in her pancreas.

“It was caught so early that she wasn’t really getting the symptoms of it,” her daughter said. “Not knowing anything about pancreatic cancer, I was more scared of the lung cancer. It wasn’t until after she passed away that I knew what the odds were.”

And the odds were not good. Overall, just 5 percent of persons diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are still alive after five years. Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States each year. Individual survival rates depend on how early the disease is detected, according to the National Health Institutes’ Internet website.

“I didn’t know anything about it,” Tuscano said. “I don’t regret not knowing too much.”

The disease is insidious. Pancreatic cancer is a “silent” disease, with few visible symptoms until it has progressed to an advanced stage, according to the Lustgarten Foundation’s website.

But Cleo Tuscano did not give up. She went to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia.

“My mom was just full of energy,” Tuscano said. “She had so much hope. She never let her diagnosis get her down. She always looked great. She was happy, she was full of life. Everyone went to my mom for everything.”

Her mother turned down chemotherapy as a treatment option, Tuscano explained.

“She was very positive,” she said. “She just was not going to do traditional medicine. She did not want to do chemotherapy. She saw a nutritionist. She got vitamin C injections once or twice a week.”

Cleo Tuscano did have surgery after her diagnosis. Her spleen and gall bladder were removed.

“They did some rerouting,” Tuscano said. “They told her it would be six months to a year to recover, but she recovered rather quickly from it and went back to work.”

Cleo went on vacations with her husband, a lot of vacations. But by September 2007, Tuscano noticed that her mother’s appetite had diminished. Her doctor admitted her to the hospital the day after Christmas. More surgery was planned.

“She was entirely dehydrated,” Nicole said. “She couldn’t keep food down any more. They weren’t able to finish the surgery. The cancer was everywhere. The surgeon said there was nothing we could do at that point.”

Cleo Tuscano died in January 2008 and there has not been a day since then that Nicole has not missed her mother.

“She was just a great, loving mother and wife,” Tuscano said. “She and my dad were happily married for 31 years. We are a very close family.”

Anyone who would like to make a donation or sponsor Tuscano in the May 16 walk at the reservoir can go to the Lustgarten website at www.lustgarten.org and click on Walks, then scroll down the calendar of walks slated throughout the United States and click on Howell.

Tuscano is also seeking donations for raffle baskets for the event. Preregistration for the event is $50. Walk-in registration is $60. Registration will begin at 8:30 a.m. The walk will begin at 10 a.m.

The Lustgarten Foundation directs 100 percent of all donations to pancreatic cancer research. The foundation was named in honor of Marc Lustgarten, vice chairman of Cablevision. Lustgarten died of pancreatic cancer in August 1999 at the age of 52. Cablevision underwrites all of the foundation’s administrative costs, according to the Lustgarten Foundation.

The Boathouse Bar and Grill on Main Street, Belmar, will donate all April 9 cover charge costs to the foundation; 507 Main at Shark River on Main Street, Belmar, will do the same on April 17, Tuscano said.