Racing to Find a Cure
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Wanda Wolff was the glue holding her family together—a selfless mother who raised three sons on her own, an inspiring breast cancer survivor, an integral part of her family business, a devoted caregiver for her parents, and later, the strong center of a large, blended family when she married her second husband Mike and became a stepmom to his two children. Simply put, Wanda’s family believed there was nothing she couldn’t overcome.
Wanda was devoted to her three sons, Scot, Joe, and Adam, and spoke to them daily. In her late 50s, she joined a SEAL PT Course—a rigorous fitness program established by a former Navy SEAL—a program in which Scot also participated. Wanda remained physically active and even completed half marathons in her early 60s.
During the summer of 2020, Wanda, then 71, started experiencing concerning symptoms including nausea and jaundice. Her doctor immediately referred her for testing and discovered the jaundice was caused by a pancreatic tumor resting against her bile duct. Following her shocking pancreatic cancer diagnosis, Scot arranged for his mom to be treated at MD Anderson Cancer Center near their home in Houston. She received chemotherapy, followed by a Whipple procedure in December 2020 once the chemotherapy shrank the tumor. After the surgery, she received chemotherapy again, and the entire family was elated when she was finally told she had no evidence of disease.
However, that feeling of relief was short-lived. By September 2021, this relentless cancer returned, and Wanda needed more chemotherapy, which thankfully led to another period where there was no evidence of disease. Wanda was a fighter and remained positive throughout her entire diagnosis and even continued to work and walk her dogs. “My mom raised the three of us to be fighters like she was, and we made sure she had the best possible care and that she never went to a doctor’s appointment or a chemotherapy treatment alone. No one going through cancer should ever have to go through it alone,” Scot shared. Throughout treatment, Wanda’s husband and children rallied around her and prioritized family gatherings to create lasting memories with all of her loved ones, including her 13 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
In early 2023, Wanda’s doctor recommended that she take a break from chemotherapy to let her body rest and regain her strength. After this three-month hiatus, her tests showed traces of cancer and she resumed chemotherapy, but this time, the cancer spread uncontrollably. By September 2023, no further chemotherapy could keep it in check, and she wasn’t eligible for a clinical trial. She passed away in October 2023, three years after her diagnosis, leaving her loving family devastated. “The hardest part of losing my mom has been finding my way without having her here, and missing our daily talks, but we’re leaning on each other and processing her passing together, as a family,” Scot shared.
It was important to Scot and his brothers to make sure family and friends who wanted to donate in his mom’s memory contributed to a pancreatic cancer nonprofit. After conducting research online, he discovered the Lustgarten Foundation and included it in her obituary. “Lustgarten just felt right to my brothers and me,” he remarked. “There are not enough resources going into this disease, the survival rate is horrible, and more research on early detection, treatment, and prevention is critically needed. The Lustgarten Foundation is committed to funding more research and saving lives.”
On a whim last spring, Scot researched marathons in Antarctica, and he then discovered and signed up for the Antarctic Ice Marathon, where 70 people from around the world gathered to race in December 2023, battling -15-degree cold and 35-mile-per-hour winds. Scot had always enjoyed running and discussing his races with his mom, and training gave him an outlet for his grief and an additional sense of purpose after Wanda passed away.
After the incredible accomplishment of completing the Antarctic Ice Marathon, Scot attempted another challenging feat; a few days later, he ran the Strait of Magellan Marathon in Chile, followed by the Houston Marathon—three marathons in 30 days! Through his efforts, he raised over $15,000 for the Lustgarten Foundation. For others who are considering getting involved with the Lustgarten Foundation, Scot recommends creating an event that will generate significant interest and enthusiasm. He credits the Antarctic Ice Marathon as the perfect platform to pique the interest of his family, friends, and colleagues while making the most of his and his mom’s shared interest in running and exercise.
“We all have a responsibility to put more resources into organizations like the Lustgarten Foundation so we can find a cure for this devastating disease. A five-year survival rate of 13% is absolutely not good enough,” Scot said. “The disease incidence is on the rise, and chances are you’ll eventually know someone impacted by this disease. We need better treatments because everyone deserves a fighting chance against pancreatic cancer.”