The Power of Partnership: Lustgarten and Fight Cancer, Stay Positive Unite to Advance Early Detection
Topic: Announcement, Real Talk: Survivor, Patient & Family Stories, Your Source for Breaking News & Inspirational Stories
Three weeks after Geoff Shudtz’s son Emery was born, the 34-year-old first-time dad from Richmond, VA received the most crushing news imaginable: he had Stage IV pancreatic cancer. Despite undergoing treatment with multiple chemotherapies and immunotherapy and overcoming several health setbacks, he passed away 14 months following his diagnosis, leaving behind his wife, son, and countless relatives and friends to process their overwhelming grief and loss.
After Geoff’s passing, his friends and family were determined to carry on Geoff’s legacy by making a difference in the fight against pancreatic cancer. “Fight cancer, stay positive” was Geoff’s mantra throughout treatment—it was the unbreakable, passionate, adventurous spirit he brought to all he went through, always with an optimistic outlook, and the belief that enabled Geoff and his wife Julie to plan for their future despite his diagnosis. The Fight Cancer, Stay Positive Foundation is the fitting name Julie and several other close relatives and friends who were inspired by his bravery have given to the organization they founded in his honor. The FCSP Foundation is a volunteer-powered nonprofit that supports finding a cure for pancreatic cancer by funding clinical research.
FCSP Foundation board member Troy Karnes met Geoff in 2007 when both were living and working in Washington, DC, and they became so close that they were groomsmen at each other’s weddings. Geoff’s home became the epicenter for their friend group, which was like a family, and he hosted weekly cookouts, themed costume parties for Christmas, and many get-togethers. According to Julie, Geoff had a special gift—always the life of the party, Geoff also made each person feel like the only person in the room.
Troy didn’t realize just how serious pancreatic cancer was when Geoff was first diagnosed; it’s not a disease that typically affects people in their early thirties, especially those who have no family history and who are otherwise very healthy. After Geoff passed, Troy was diagnosed with cancer in the cartilage of his shoulder blade. “Surgically removing my cancer cured me, and it’s absolutely tragic that Geoff couldn’t have the same outcome,” shared Troy. “Now, I won’t give up until people like Geoff get a fighting chance against pancreatic cancer, and until other kids don’t have to grow up without their parents because of this disease.”
At home, Julie intentionally integrates Geoff into her and Emery’s lives as much as possible. Geoff painted as a hobby; now, Emery’s preschool paintings (created at the same preschool Geoff attended!) are lovingly hung with Geoff’s around their home. Julie purposely stayed in Richmond after Geoff’s passing, where she and Emery are bolstered by a huge community of friends and family who have known and loved Geoff since he was a child. Everyone involved in FCSP has become a cherished member of their large extended family, bound to each other by their shared love for Geoff and their commitment to changing the course of this disease.
“Keeping Geoff’s spirit alive is at the heart of everything we do,” shared Julie. Everyone at FCSP is focused on Geoff’s message of positivity—a mindset that helped him beat the odds by living 14 precious months after diagnosis, more than double what his doctors had anticipated when he was first diagnosed.
FCSP’s Board of Directors brainstormed an event they could hold in Geoff’s memory that would be family-friendly, cross-generational, straightforward to plan, inexpensive to execute, and most importantly, fun for families and impactful on pancreatic cancer awareness and research. Troy proposed the idea of dunk tanks; these dunk tank events could take place anywhere any time of year, don’t require considerable space, have a low barrier to entry, and can be easily replicated in locations across the country. All of the FCSP board members loved the idea! When COVID struck and derailed their plans for the inaugural Dunk for a Cure in 2020, they pivoted to a virtual event. People were creative; they dunked in bathtubs, pools, showers, sprinklers, and lakes, and even used water slides and water guns. The event raised more than $100,000. FCSP’s first in-person Dunk for a Cure took place in 2022 in Richmond and attracted nearly 600 donors and 45 dunkees and raised a staggering $175,000! In fact, the average amount raised by the each dunkee was approximately $2,000.
Troy, Julie, and the other FCSP board members are excited to watch Dunk for a Cure gain momentum and expand this year to Troy’s hometown of Denver. On August 19, Dunk for a Cure will be held at Improper City, a popular Denver coffee shop by day, and a thriving bar by night, with food trucks and a massive, inviting patio connected to a rock-climbing gym. “I hope this event will energize the entire community and introduce us to Denver residents who have been impacted by pancreatic cancer, so we can expand our network,” said Troy. “I’m most concerned about putting good into the world; that’s central to our model and the perfect embodiment of Geoff’s personality.” Troy also credits Dunk for a Cure’s sponsors with helping to make a difference, as every sponsorship dollar FCSP receives turns into $20 for research.
Then, on August 26 Julie and the other FCSP board members are organizing the second in-person Dunk for a Cure in Richmond, which will be held at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery – West Creek. All donations from both events will be used to fund pancreatic cancer research and connect patients to the support they need to fight cancer. Julie, Troy, and the rest of the dedicated team of FCSP board members hope the events in Richmond and Denver ignite a nationwide turnkey Dunk for a Cure program, where they can offer a planning toolkit others can implement to create branded Dunk for a Cure events in their own cities.
Following Geoff’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis, his sister Kristin, a nurse anesthetist, turned to the Lustgarten Foundation for valuable information about treatments and clinical trials. The Shudtz family’s relationship with the Foundation has continued because Geoff’s loved ones want others who may not be as fortunate as they were to have access to the same critical resources and outstanding medical care that Geoff did. As a board, they determined funding promising early detection pancreatic cancer research—the type of research that might have helped Geoff if it had been available when he was alive—is an urgent priority and that harnessing the power of a community partnership with the Lustgarten Foundation would be the most advantageous way to improve earlier detection.
“We want FCSP donors to know their money is going straight into ACTION,” shared Julie. “The future of this disease will depend on early detection, and I love that Lustgarten is committed to early detection initiatives and clinical trials for metastatic patients. I know Lustgarten won’t give up on anyone.“
Troy agrees that Lustgarten is the best place to give money for early detection. “The Foundation is transparent with how research money is being allocated. And, with 100% of every donation funding research, we feel confident that partnering with Lustgarten will have the greatest impact on the most patients and their families,” added Troy. “I believe pancreatic cancer is a solvable problem, once we bring more awareness and more research funding to it.”
For others who want to get involved with Lustgarten but don’t know where to begin, Julie recommends starting small and finding people who share a similar calling and motivation to push their cause forward, while also understanding bandwidth and strengths. Many people are needed to create a successful initiative—donors, volunteers, organizers, and passion drivers—so Julie suggests identifying the role that best fits your skillset and never losing sight of your long-term goal.
“Helping pancreatic cancer patients has now become my calling; Geoff didn’t go through pancreatic cancer for me to not take action,” Julie remarked. “Through FCSP, I want Emery to learn empathy and see the value in being kind and helping others. I want him to understand that while his dad isn’t physically here, he continues to inspire and impact so many. Geoff was a courageous, loving man who touched more lives in his 35 years than many people can touch in twice that lifetime.”
Visit www.fcspfoundation.org for more information and to register for Dunk for a Cure in either Richmond or Denver.