Where hope meets action
BY DENISE M. BARAN-UNLAND Correspondent September 26, 2013 3:36PM
Audrey Montalto of Plainfield with her mother, Millie Majka of Orland Park. Majka died from pancreatic cancer in 2008. | Supplied photo
If you go
What: “A Time for Hope”
When: 1 to 7 p.m. Oct. 6. Doors open at 12:45 p.m.
Where: Crystal Grand Banquets, 12416 Archer Ave., Lemont
Etc: Proceeds will benefit Pancreatic Cancer Action Network
Tickets: $40 in advance, $50 at the door
Order: 815-922-3068 or www.pancan.org/timeforhope
Updated: October 28, 2013 6:24AM
As soon as Audrey Montalto of Plainfield saw her father, she blurted out, “Dad, you look really yellow.”
That was Montalto’s first step toward being involved with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. Now she hosts an annual informational and fundraising dinner in memory of her parents, who both died from cancer of the pancreas.
The ninth “Time for Hope” dinner is from 1 to 7 p.m. Oct. 6 at Crystal Grand Banquets, 12416 Archer Ave. in Lemont.
Ever since Montalto’s parents, Gene and Millie Majka of Orland Park, had returned from a trip to Alaska, Gene had felt slightly unwell. Shocked at his appearance, Montalto led him to the bathroom mirror and compared the conjunctiva of their eyes.
Hers were white, as they should be. Gene’s were yellow.
Gene immediately went to an urgent care facility. Tests suggested a gallstone was blocking a bile duct and causing jaundice. But during surgery, it was discovered a tumor was crushing the ducts. Gene had pancreatic cancer.
Gene consulted with doctors at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and subsequently underwent the Whipple procedure, in which part of the pancreas is removed. He began chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Too ill to attend Montalto’s wedding, he “gave her away” by phone.
Three months after Gene’s diagnosis, Millie underwent a routine CT scan to monitor a mass in her liver. That’s when Millie’s inoperable pancreatic cancer was found. She was in remission for 18 months, allowing her to care for her husband until his death.
The horrible irony of both parents receiving a rare cancer diagnosis, and in the same year (2004), Montalto said, is that Gene and Millie always did everything together.
“He did say at one point, ‘I guess this is one thing I’ll have to do myself,’ meaning dying,” Montalto said. “He kept telling my mom, ‘I’ll be waiting for you on a bench with roses.’ ”
In the summer of 2005, Montalto said her husband, Mike Montalto, offered his band, “Friday @ Five,” for a concert with a cover charge to help raise money for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
“I talked to Pioneer Lanes (a Plainfield bowling alley) and they said we could do the event,” Montalto said. “Then someone donated a slot machine so we could make more money. We sold close to 300 tickets and they had to close the bowling alley and put the band out on the lanes.”
Gene died on Sept. 4, 11 days after that first fundraiser. Millie died on Sept. 6, 2008, 11 days after the fourth fundraiser.
The first year, “Time for Hope” raised $8,000. Last year, it raised $57,000.
“This year, I want to raise a dollar more than last year,” Montalto said. “That’s my goal every year, to do a little better than the previous year.”
“Time for Hope” attendees often are victims of pancreatic cancer as well as their family and friends. Some people are newly diagnosed, Montalto said; others have been in remission as long as 14 years.
“Time for Hope” is a “casual gala,” Montalto said, a dinner where attendees share resources and which features two speakers. One is Dr. David Bentrem, a researcher and associate professor in surgery-surgical oncology and medical social sciences at Northwestern University in Chicago. The other is Dr. Mark Talamonti, chairman of surgery at NorthShore University Health System in Chicago, professor of surgery at the University of Chicago, and past chair and member of the medical advisory board of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
“Dr. Talamonti is very down to earth and compassionate,” Montalto said. “He lost his own father to the disease and was already a pancreatic cancer surgeon at the time he diagnosed his own father. He watched him die six days later.”