7,000 in Lustgarten pancreatic cancer walk

Cara Schmier of Carle Place gets emotional during Cara Schmier of Carle Place gets emotional during the Lustgarten Foundation's 12th annual Long Island Pancreatic Cancer Research Walk held along the boardwalk at Jones Beach State Park in Wantagh. (Oct. 14, 2012) Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

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Her T-shirt bore the face and name of her late husband, Frank Dunworth. When a stranger inquired about him, Anne Marie Dunworth started talking. She beamed about his career as a plumber and the simple ways he lived, picking up his children from school and cooking dinner for the family.

She recalled how hard he fought pancreatic cancer during his last months. Then she cried.

Frank Dunworth, 39, died in July. Sunday, his widow and about a dozen friends and family members were among the record-setting 7,000 participants in the Lustgarten Foundation's 12th annual Long Island Pancreatic Cancer Research Walk at Jones Beach State Park.

"He fought 'til the very end," said Dunworth, 43, sobbing. The Franklin Square insurance broker and mom to Samantha, 9, and Ryan, 6, added: "He went to every doctor's appointment -- every treatment. He just didn't make it."

This year's walk attracted 1,000 more participants than last year's and raised more than $1 million for research aimed at early detection of pancreatic cancer and more effective treatments. The event was sponsored by Cablevision, the parent company of Newsday. Cablevision underwrites the Lustgarten Foundation's expenses, allowing 100 percent of the donations to go directly to research, organizers said.

Kerri Kaplan, executive director of the Bethpage-based foundation, said the annual walk provides a gathering place for those affected by the disease and a way to funnel their energies.

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In September, the foundation opened a research center at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory dedicated to pancreatic cancer research. The center bears the name of the Lustgarten Foundation, which plans to support the center with $1 million a year.

"So many people battling this disease know they have someone they can turn to," said Kaplan.

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society, which projects that more than 37,000 people will die from the disease this year.

John McNeal, 28, of Wantagh, was 13 when he lost his mother, Mary McNeal, to the disease. He started attending the walk in her honor last year.

"It's comforting to see other families -- not just mine -- dealing with loss and tragedy, and coming together to help stop other families from experiencing the same loss," he said.

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