Naperville sisters fight to cure pancreatic cancer
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Joseph C. Monastra was starting his retirement by looking for a house in Florida when he passed out at a restaurant. Four weeks later, he was dead from pancreatic cancer.
The Ohio native and longtime engineer barely had time to fight the disease. His family, including his wife, Maureen, and four daughters, didn't have time to adjust to the diagnosis.
"Like any family, you think, 'We can kick this. There have been lots of advances in cancer treatment. We're going to rally and research and figure out what our hope is going to be,'" said one of his daughters, Monica Lodge of Naperville. "We very quickly realized that there was really no hope."
Now, 15 years after Monastra's death, two of his daughters, who both live in Naperville, are continuing their fight to give other families more time with their loved ones who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
"We thought at some point somebody has to start doing something to make a difference so another family doesn't have to go through the devastation that we did," Lodge said.
At the first Cheers for a Cure wine tasting and gala dinner on Saturday, Nov. 11, supporters of the Joseph C. Monastra Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research will toast to the cause of research toward early detection, prevention and a cure.
The evening takes place during Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, and during the week the Millennium Carillon in Naperville will be illuminated in purple to spotlight the cause.
It's also shortly before Thursday, Nov. 16, designated World Pancreatic Cancer Day by the World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition, a group of about 60 organizations dedicated to the cause, of which the Joseph C. Monastra Foundation is a member.
The event is by no means the first for the foundation, which began by selling purple pancreatic cancer awareness ribbons almost immediately after Monastra's death. But it's the first in the suburbs since sisters Grace Saunders and Lodge moved to Naperville 9 and 5 years ago, respectively.
Attendees who buy tickets for $125 each will be able to sample their choices of more than 60 wines provided by 11 suppliers of Peterson Spirits and Fine Wines.
The vino tastings will complement a dinner by Cress Creek Country Club Executive Chef David Curotto, as well as silent auctions and raffles with prizes including tickets to a 2018 Cubs game with a tour of Wrigley Field and a catered, in-home meal for six by Casey's Foods and Le Chocolat du Bouchard.
"We wanted to be able to earmark funds that we raised for early detection," Saunders said.
In their research after their father's death, the sisters determined many patients don't know they have pancreatic cancer until it's in the often-deadly third or fourth stages.
The research center at Johns Hopkins says the disease's symptoms -- abdominal pain, unintended weight loss and jaundice -- are vague and easily confused with symptoms of other conditions.
There is no reliable screening to identify its presence. Research, though, has determined pancreatic cancer starts changing cells years before it reaches a life-threatening stage.
"You've got the 10 to 15 years to be able to detect it early," Saunders said. "What they're working on now is how to find it."
The years before the disease reaches a devastating point can be a gift to future patients among the 44,000 diagnosed with the disease each year across the country. About 38,000 of those patients die each year, making pancreatic cancer the fourth-leading cause of cancer death for men and women, according to Johns Hopkins.
Monastra's daughters hope the research dollars they provide can be seed money, helping scientists apply for bigger grants and nudging the National Institutes of Health to support the disease with more generous allocations.
"We've gone from thinking that there was no time to help patients to knowing that there is time," Lodge said. "There's a lot of time."