Today is a Bonus
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To say I idolized my oldest brother and that his influence shaped me into the man I am today is an understatement. Steve, who was 10 years older than me, took me under his wing, and despite our sizable age difference, we were always close. I marked so many important childhood milestones with him—my first camping trip, my first Eagles football game, and even my first time learning to drive. One of my favorite childhood memories involves tagging along on dates with Steve and Joan, his high school sweetheart who he later married. As I got older, our relationship grew, built on mutual respect, admiration, and love, and that closeness extended to our middle brother, Dave, who was eight years older than me.
I thought our brotherhood was invincible. However, everything changed in 2012 when Steve, just 51, started experiencing back and stomach pain. He underwent tests revealing he had stage 4 pancreatic cancer that had already metastasized and was inoperable. It was nearly impossible to process this shocking news, and I felt like I had been gut-punched. I couldn’t understand how someone could be healthy and have no family history of pancreatic cancer and then all of a sudden be diagnosed with such an aggressive case. Steve was my mentor, my role model, my best friend, my compass. I simply couldn’t imagine life without my big brother in it.
At first, my family felt relieved because Steve responded well to chemotherapy, and I think we were lulled into thinking he would beat this disease. Dave, my parents, and I visited him, Joan and their two sons in North Carolina as often as possible, and I cherished the quiet moments we spent together when I took him to his chemotherapy appointments. Joan was Steve’s primary caregiver, and she took on this incredibly difficult role with such compassion and strength throughout the 20 months that Steve was sick.
Steve remained optimistic throughout treatment, leaning on his faith, and devoting himself to creating lasting memories with Joan and their children. He felt blessed to have every day after his diagnosis and was determined to stay positive and live for as long as possible. In fact, he used to ask himself daily, “What can I do to make the most of today? Today is a bonus.”
The chemotherapy eventually stopped working, and after trying other therapies and participating in a clinical trial, he was out of options, and we were completely devastated. He survived for nearly 20 months following his diagnosis—no small feat for someone facing this life-shattering disease. His passing has left a massive void in our family that can never be filled, and the grief I feel over losing him is overwhelming.
My mom learned about the Lustgarten Foundation after Steve was diagnosed, and when he passed away in 2014, it was one of the organizations we suggested our loved ones donate to in memory of Steve. We couldn’t save my brother’s life, but I’m determined to make sure no one else experiences the nightmare of receiving a call from their sibling, parent, spouse, child, or friend like I received from Steve telling me he had an aggressive, advanced form of cancer. As a father myself, I don’t want to ever deliver or receive such devastating news from my daughters, and that determination is what drives me to support the Lustgarten Foundation.
I’m encouraged by the Lustgarten Foundation’s early detection research. The Foundation is committed to funding the most promising methods for identifying the disease at an early stage, when more treatment options and surgery are available, and survival is a greater possibility. And, most importantly, I am honored to support an organization where 100% of every donation funds life-changing research.
Two years after Steve passed away, I was visiting Lehigh Valley Sporting Clays, and I had an idea for establishing an event where Steve’s loved ones could gather to celebrate his life and share memories, while also raising disease awareness and research funding. Steve absolutely loved the sport of shooting and taught me how to shoot clay bird targets, and from that hobby, the Steve Rickert Memorial Sporting Clay event, held at Lehigh Valley Sporting Clays, originated. The first two annual events were such a success that our family decided to start the Steve Rickert Memorial Foundation to help the event evolve and grow. To date, we’ve raised $46,000 for the Lustgarten Foundation’s research program through six annual events, with upcoming dates already booked through 2026! We have been blessed with incredible family, old friends, and new friends who have known Steve, Dave, or me who now support the event and are just as passionate about the early detection of pancreatic cancer as we are.
The agony of losing my brother will never go away, but knowing we are raising money to advance impactful research makes me optimistic for the future. Supporting the Lustgarten Foundation provides our family with immeasurable comfort and hope, and we want to bring that same comfort and hope to other patients and their families facing a pancreatic cancer diagnosis.