Awareness walk to raise funds for pancreatic cancer research

BY JAMES McEVOY
Staff Writer

One week after Mother’s Day, Nicole Tuscano will honor the memory of her mother, Cleo, by raising money that will support research into the disease that took her life.

Tuscano, 30, of Howell, will remember her mother through the third annual Cleo Tuscano Memorial Pancreatic Cancer Walk on May 20 at Monmouth University, West Long Branch. Proceeds will benefit the Lustgarten Foundation, the largest private, nonprofit supporter of pancreatic cancer research in the United States.

Cleo Tuscano endured a two-year battle with the disease. She died in January 2008.

Nicole Tuscano participated in other walks after her mother’s passing before organizing the inaugural Cleo Tuscano Memorial Pancreatic Cancer Walk with family members in 2010.

Through the walk, she hopes to raise awareness for the disease and alternative treatments in addition to research funding.

“My mom was such a fighter and she actually lived with the cancer for a couple of years, which is unheard of,” Tuscano said. “She did all her research and dove into the disease, and that’s why I started it, just for people to be aware.” Tuscano is eagerly looking forward to the event, which she hopes will raise $150,000 for pancreatic cancer research.

“It’s such a special day,” she said. “Obviously I remember my mom every day, but it’s a way to honor her once a year, and I think people who come to the walk feel the same way.

“They are honoring the person they lost or the person who is standing right next to them who is still fighting [the disease]. It brings everyone together, and there is always such good, positive energy at the event,” Tuscano added. “People just come up and tell you their stories and say thank you. It’s a really nice event.”

According to the Lustgarten Foundation website, pancreatic cancer is a silent disease with no early warning signs. Even as symptoms develop, they can be vague and are frequently attributed to other ailments.

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in both sexes and a majority of patients diagnosed are 55 years or older, although the disease can also occur in younger people.

Surgery offers the best treatment results when the disease is found early, according to the website.

Despite the challenges she faced, Tuscano’s mother did not give up and sought treatment from the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia.

In lieu of chemotherapy, Cleo pursued alternative treatments and ultimately had her spleen and gall bladder surgically removed.

Tuscano said her mother was able to resume her life, but her condition worsened in late 2007 and she was admitted to the hospital the day after Christmas. She died shortly thereafter in January 2008.

The inaugural memorial walk in 2010 was held at the Manasquan Reservoir in Howell. Tuscano said she was told to expect about 150 people, but about 350 people participated to help raise $52,000.

The memorial walk was relocated in 2011 to Monmouth University because of its initial success. In 2011 the turnout grew to 500 people who raised $101,000.

This year, Tuscano is hoping to raise $150,000. She said $8,000 has already been raised.

For additional information about the walk or to donate, visit the website at www.lustgarten.org, click on Walk/Run under the Get Involved tab.

Tuscano said anyone who is interested in volunteering at the event may contact monmouthcountypcrwalk@gmail.com.

Preregistration for the May 20 event is $50. Walk-in registration is $60. Registration will begin at 8:30 a.m. and the walk will begin at 10 a.m.

The Lustgarten 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 foundation.