Event raises $50,000 for pancreatic cancer research

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published March 22, 2017

DETROIT — More than 100 people attended an event at the Bayview Yacht Club Feb. 25 and raised more than $50,000 to benefit efforts to fight pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer survivor Sheila Sky Kasselman founded the Sky Foundation, the nonprofit that organized the fundraiser.

“I am a nine-and-a-half year survivor of pancreatic cancer,” said Kasselman. “It was caught at a time when I could potentially survive. Our organization is unique because it is run by a survivor, and we give away millions to research and treatment at the University of Michigan, the Karmanos Cancer Institute, the University of California and many other groups.”

The money will go toward the Lauren Marantette Fellowship Award, a medical student grant named after a local woman who died from pancreatic cancer. 

“Lauren was a young woman who was married and lived in Grosse Pointe and developed pancreatic cancer at an extremely young age, and passed away at the age of 37,” said Kasselman. “She was treated at the University of Michigan, and they have a program for training doctors going into cancer research. We will be funding someone specifically going into pancreatic cancer research. We named this grant after Lauren after I talked with Lauren’s family, who raised $28,980, and we matched that amount for this fundraiser.”

The money raised from the event will fund a Ph.D. candidate who will be studying the disease. Kasselman said the timing for the fundraiser was perfect, as the University of Michigan was looking to fund a fellowship for the student.

“Money was raised through many donations by people who have lost people to the disease,” said Kasselman. There also was a special speaker, Howard Crawford, who is a Ph.D. at the University of Michigan’s pancreatic cancer center. There was a silent auction, a strolling dinner and a DJ playing with dancing following the speakers. It was a very positive event, and the Marantette family was very pleased with how it went.”

Crawford stressed what good work he thinks the Sky Foundation does for a cause that doesn’t get nearly enough attention despite its high mortality rate.

“Pancreatic cancer is not a particularly common cancer,” said Crawford. “Only about 53,000 people will be diagnosed this year, but almost all of those people would be dead within five years. Eighty-five percent will have passed away within nine months of their diagnosis. We’re making a little bit of progress, but we haven’t made much in the last 40 years.”

Among the problems related to treating pancreatic cancer is a lack of early warning for most people and a lack of awareness in the minds of the public.

“Relatively speaking, so few people get it, it’s hard to raise awareness of it. You have to rely a lot on friends and family members,” said Crawford. “One of the major problems with the disease is there is no early detection for it. There are some very nonspecific symptoms that are signs. Diabetes can be a sign, but that can mean any number of conditions, not just pancreatic cancer, of course. Jaundice and back pain are some of the more distinct symptoms, but they are only noticeable when the cancer has progressed very far into its course.”

This is the first year the Sky Foundation has hosted the fundraiser in Marantette’s name, although it has had several other events in the area. Based in the Detroit area, the organization’s primary fundraiser is in November at the MGM Grand Casino.

“Listen to your body,” said Kasselman. “The symptoms of pancreatic cancer can be very vague. If there is a history of pancreatic cancer in your family, you need to pay attention and visit a doctor. Symptoms can include unexplained back pain, diabetes, fatigue, nausea and stomach issues, weight loss, and depression. Depending on what part of the pancreas it is on, it can affect how the disease produces symptoms.”

Crawford added his own advice for people who may be facing this diagnosis.

“Very often when people are diagnosed and doctors know this disease has such horrible statistics, some doctors will treat it like a death sentence,” said Crawford. “But I always advise people to get a second opinion and consider getting involved in clinical trials, which can do a lot of good work in finding ways to fight it.”