A Thanksgiving Wish
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Katie Pernell vividly remembers the unexpected phone call in August 2012 that forever changed her life. She was shopping at her local Costco in Tallahassee, FL when her dad called and asked her to stop by her parents’ house on her way home. When Katie arrived, her mom, Judy Field—loved by her family and community for her warmth and friendliness and a major influence on Katie’s life—told Katie she had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Recognizing the gravity and absorbing the shock of this diagnosis, they both broke down in tears.
For several months before this devastating diagnosis, Judy suffered from acid reflux that stopped responding to medication. Her doctor performed an endoscopy, which led to further testing and the heart-breaking diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Before this diagnosis, Judy was in good health, had no family history of pancreatic cancer, and had survived early-stage colon cancer discovered through a routine colonoscopy years before.
Following her pancreatic cancer diagnosis, Judy opted for a second opinion and sought treatment at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. The doctors there were hopeful and committed to beating this disease and extending Judy’s life, and maintaining her quality of life, for as long as possible. Judy received radiation and chemotherapy and kept her positive outlook throughout treatment, and Katie spent as much time with her as possible, even stepping away from her business to focus on her mom. The family was also blessed with supportive relatives, close friends, and a church community that wanted to help.
Despite treatment, Judy’s pancreatic tumor never shrunk enough for surgery to be an option, and she wasn’t eligible for any clinical trials. During the summer of 2014, Judy’s health took a turn for the worse, and her family started to accept the tragic realization she wouldn’t survive this disease. Judy passed away at just 62 years old on November 27, 2014—Thanksgiving Day—after having pancreatic cancer for two years, leaving behind her husband, two children and their spouses, three grandchildren, and countless friends and other family members who adored her.
Following Judy’s passing, a family friend donated to the Lustgarten Foundation in her memory. Katie was incredibly grateful for the donation, and after researching the Foundation and learning that 100% of donations fund pancreatic cancer research, she began contributing as well. Katie and her family also started the Judy Field Memorial Foundation, with the mission of giving back to community members affected by pancreatic cancer and investing in research to help with disease prevention.
“Losing my mom is the hardest thing I’ve ever been through, but it has made me stronger, more resilient, and more empathetic,” said Katie. “I’m committed to making sure other people don’t go through what my family did, and a key component of that is addressing the lack of disease awareness in the Tallahassee community.”
In 2016, Katie’s close friend Stacy Hartmann, an experienced community event organizer, approached Katie with her new idea for a family-friendly music event. Stacy knew that Katie was looking for a way to honor her mother and raise awareness of pancreatic cancer and thought this event would be a perfect fit. While explaining the idea to friends, Stacy referred to her event concept as “Field Day”—ironic because Katie’s late mother was named Judy Field. From that day forward, the event became a cause.
Katie and Stacy didn’t have experience organizing a music event, but they leaned on their community network and each other, determined to produce a festival that was a fitting tribute to Judy. The first annual Field Day Music Festival attracted approximately 300 attendees and featured local bands, games for children, food trucks, and other outdoor entertainment. The majority of the sponsors—representing Tallahassee-owned businesses—have continued their support during the past seven events. The Field Day Music Festival has become so well-known and well-attended that it outgrew its original location. In 2023, more than 1,200 people attended, and the event has raised more than $100,000 for the Lustgarten Foundation’s critical pancreatic cancer research since its inception in 2017.
“I hate not having my mom in my life physically, but I am comforted knowing I am carrying on her legacy through the Field Day Music Festival, which offers something fun and entertaining for children and adults of all ages,” Katie shared. “Every year, I learn about someone new in the Tallahassee community who has been impacted by pancreatic cancer. That’s how I know what I’m doing to raise awareness and research funding truly matters.”
In memory of the Thanksgiving Day when Judy passed away, and in celebration of her life, Katie’s family takes an annual trip to Callaway Gardens in Georgia in November to enjoy the Christmas decorations and visit the butterfly garden—a larger version of the one Judy and her husband built in their backyard. As the butterflies remind her of her mom, Katie makes a wish: I hope that thanks to the Lustgarten Foundation and the support of the entire community impacted by pancreatic cancer, I’ll see the day when most people survive—and thrive—after this diagnosis.
Visit Field Day Musical Festival for more information about the upcoming event on Sunday, February 25, 2024, from 2-7 pm at Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park in Tallahassee, FL.