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Making Strides Against Pancreatic Cancer: Mamaroneck Woman Organizes Walk

Tara Shanes-Hernandez's Westchester Pancreatic Research Cancer Walk will raise money for research this weekend.

It was a stomachache that didn’t go away that prompted Gigi Shanes-Hernandez to visit the Urgent Care office near her home in Rye in May 2008.

Hours later the doctor on duty diagnosed her with advanced pancreatic cancer and recommended that she immediately go to the hospital.

A little less than a year later, she passed away at age 52.

Pancreatic cancer has one of the highest mortality rates of all cancers, with 37,390 of the 43,920 individuals diagnosed with the disease in 2012 estimated to die from it, according to the National Cancer Institute. There is no routine test to screen for the cancer and, in many cases, when people began to exhibit symptoms, the disease has already advanced to a point where treatment may not make a difference in life expectancy.  Risk factors include age, smoking, obesity and family history according to the American Cancer Society, but further research is needed to determine more causal links.

This Sunday, April 23, Gigi’s daughter, Mamaroneck resident Tara Shanes-Hernandez will hold the third annual Westchester Pancreatic Research Walk in Rye Town Park beginning at 8 a.m. in memory of her mother.

“I knew that I wanted to help before she [mother] died,” said Tara about the annual event to raise money for research. The idea for the walk came after she organized a luncheon during Pancreatic Awareness Month in 2009 that raised $12K in donations.

The event—of which all proceeds are donated to the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research—drew 400 participants in its first year and 800 in its second, raising $129K and $306K respectively.  According to Ann Walsh, director of events for the Lustgarten Foundation, 100 percent of funds donated to the organization go directly to research; the organization is underwritten by Cablevision.

The Foundation receives funding applications from institutions, and members of its scientific advisory board determine who will receive the money for research. Qualifying institutes have included Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Memorial Sloan-Kettering, said Walsh.

Many of the participants in prior walks have been affected by the disease or had a friend/family member that was.

Although her mother’s struggle with treatment was an uphill battle, she maintained a positive attitude throughout, continuing to work as a special needs teacher for several months and taking trips.

Tara, a special needs teacher at the Barnard School in New Rochelle, said part of the struggle is getting more money for research.

“It’s [pancreatic cancer research] underfunded by the government,” she said.

This year’s sponsors include local restaurants like ,  and who have donated food and drink for the event, and media sponsors like News 12 and The Peak, 107.1 radio station.

“This is what she did her whole life for other people,” said Tara about her mother’s drive to help others.

Registration for the walk begins at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday, April 23; the walk will begin at 9:30 a.m. in Rye Town Park, rain or shine. For more information, please visit the website here. The after-walk party will be held at in Mamaroneck at 11:45 a.m. Brunch buffet is $30 ($14 of that will be donated to the Lustgarten Foundation). 

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