What a weekend! | Sheila Long O’Mara

I had the pleasure of attending this year’s Seena Magowitz Foundation fundraising event in Milwaukee where we laughed, cried, shared stories, cheered one another on and learned some incredibly positive news in the world of pancreatic cancer research from top-notch doctors in the field of the third most-deadly form of cancer behind lung cancer and colorectal cancer.

Roger Magowitz
Roger Magowitz

It was hosted by the foundation founded 20 years ago by Roger Magowitz, a former mattress retailer who sold his 24-store chain Mattress Discounters to Mattress Firm in 2010. If you’re not familiar with the organization, the death of Roger’s mother in 2001 from pancreatic cancer set the wheels in motion for the foundation. Like so many during those early days, Seena received her diagnosis, survived only a few months and died at 64.

Since that time, he has been a tireless advocate in yes, fundraising, of course, but also in other ways that only really come to light when you spend a weekend at one of the events. That’s where the real magic happens, and despite Roger’s humble refusals, he is a rock star.

A rock star that as survivors arrive on scene, they clamor to him and share stories of how he connected them to the right doctor or another person with a similar story. He calls them regularly to check in on them. He’s a sounding board when they may have lost hope. He pours all of that into them and more.

At this most recent event held in conjunction with the Milwaukee Brewers organization, Medical College of Wisconsin and HonorHealth Research Institute in Phoenix, 80 survivors of pancreatic cancer were in attendance. Read that again: 80 survivors. Not patients, not family members who had lost loved ones to the disease (although they attend, too), but survivors.

Those in attendance range in “age” from one-year survivor to an incredible 29-year survivor.  That survivor time is incredible. My sweet grandfather succumbed to the disease quickly in the late 1980s while I was still in college. What a blessing for families today to be able to cherish more than a few months beyond a diagnosis.

While there’s much work still to be done in flying the purple flag in honor of those that fight the disease in their bodies, those caregivers that support them and the medical teams and researchers who spend hours treating and running experiments to uncover the best ways to treat and one day find a cure, there have been so many advancements in the area. More are in the works.

Physicians at Milwaukee College of Wisconsin are leading the charge in developing targeted radiation treatments that allow them to better reach tumors in the pancreas — a challenge in years past — without damaging healthy parts of surrounding tissue and organs. In one of the labs there, they are studying how pancreatic cancer metastasizes to the liver, and some early research with mice has scientists hopeful that a novel treatment could one day work with people.

It’s an amazing thing to see the progression of science and how dedicated the team working on treatments remains to the cause.

The other amazing thing is that impact the Seena Magowitz Foundation has had in helping fund research and clinical trials for finding treatments and eventually a cure for pancreatic cancer. Without Roger and his small but mightily dedicated team that includes two other people, some of those findings that have helped many of the surviving warriors continue may not have made it into treatment protocols.

Cheers to the warriors, cheers to the scientists and cheers to Roger. I am more than happy to connect you with him if you haven’t had the pleasure to cross paths. He is one magical sort of guy, and I’m sure he’d love your help.

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