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LI's pancreatic cancer walk goes virtual during pandemic

Commack resident and pancreatic cancer survivor Joel Evans on Thursday reunited with the Northwell surgeon who saved his life, to promote the Pancreatic Cancer Research Walk, which is virtual this year. Credit: Barry Sloan

When the 20th Long Island Walk for Pancreatic Cancer Research steps off this weekend, a very special survivor will be leading the way virtually.

Joel Evans, 72, a Commack resident who is a five-year pancreatic survivor, will help the walk continue on Sunday in a COVID-19 world where social distancing is a best practice.

"There’s not going to be the Jones Beach event because it’s just too risky," Evans said.

Evans said he will take a three-mile walk around his neighborhood Sunday with his family and post to social media to mark the event. He hopes others will join in by donating and participating.

"I’m just happy that I’m around and I’m able to do this walk with my family," Evans said. "I’m also sad because the survival rate for people with pancreatic cancer, making it five years is in the single digits."

Evans was at a walk kickoff event Thursday to bring attention to the disease, one of the most difficult cancers to treat, and the need for research. It was hosted by the Lustgarten Foundation and Northwell Health, the exclusive hospital sponsor of the Long Island Walk, at Lustgarten headquarters in Woodbury.

According to its website, the Lustgarten Foundation is the nation’s largest private funder of pancreatic cancer research.

Evans, who had surgery in February 2015, was joined at the event by his surgeon, Gene Coppa, senior vice president of surgical services at Northwell Health. Coppa said that given the low survival rate of pancreatic cancer, it was especially nice to reunite with his former patient.

"He’s now over five and a half years after the procedure, doing well, no evidence of disease. So I think it’s great for me, it’s very rewarding, actually, for me to see someone who has done so well," Coppa said.

Evans, a distinguished professor emeritus in the business department at Hofstra University, credits his survival to regular checkups, following doctors' advice, and his strong will.

"I was determined that I was going to walk my daughter down the aisle at her October wedding, do a toast and dance," Evans said. "And I did it; there was not a dry eye in the house."

Jason Rice, national director of events for Lustgarten said over the past 20 years the Long Island Walk has raised more than $17 million for pancreatic cancer research. He said having Evans participate in the walk is special.

"Having a survivor brings an element of hope," Rice said. "It really means a lot to our supporters and family members."

For more information on the virtual walk, go to lustgarten.org/longislandwalk.

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