When cancer touches one life, it often changes many.
In 1999, Michael Woltmann's life was changed by pancreatic cancer when his mother Randi fought the disease for six months before she passed away. Then, in 2010, Michael's father Walter died – from the very same disease.
"It really tore my whole family apart," said Woltmann, whose two-year-old son Ryan never had the chance to know his paternal grandparents.
Now, Woltmann, 31, is trying to touch other lives by helping to find a cure. He will walk on Sunday with the Lustgarten Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to pancreatic cancer research. He created a team called Team Wally's World to honor the memory of his parents by raising money for the foundation.
According to the organization, 5 to 10 percent of pancreatic cancer cases are hereditary. Losing both his parents was a wake-up call for Michael, who began to pay more attention to his own health: He has lost about 120 pounds since his father passed away, and he has a regular exercise regiment in addition to improving his family's eating habits. He worries that other family members will suffer from the disease.
"One day I’d love to have a pancreatic cancer survivors’ walk," Woltmann said. "I'd like more people to get involved. There really are so few and limited options a patient has at this time. That’s why I like to get the word out and spread the message."
The Lustgarten Foundation has allocated $42 million for pancreatic cancer research since its inception in 1998, according to Kerri Kaplan, the organization's executive director.
"We feel like it’s more promising today than ever before," she said. "We are working on developing an early detection test, potentially a blood test; developing a vaccine for pancreatic cancer; and also we understand the genetic makeup of this disease more than ever before."
Kaplan said Cablevision underwrites all of the Lustgarten Foundation's administrative expenses so that 100 percent of the money it raises can go to research. The foundation was started by Cablevision's Dolan family along with Cablevision executive Mark Lustgarten before he lost his battle with pancreatic cancer.
Kaplan said the walk unites families like the Woltmanns "in the spirit of hope."
"Many come together to honor people they've lost," she said. "Michael believes that this is a moving and inspirational way to honor the memory of his parents."
To join the Lustgarten Foundation's walk, visit www.curePC.org and head down to Jones Beach on Sunday. Registration begins at 8 a.m. and the walk starts at 9:30 a.m.