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Friends’ Illnesses Inspired Charity


For Dr. Gregory Echt, saving people’s lives is all in a day’s work.

The Bluffview resident’s private practice, Choice Cancer Care in Las Colinas, is a state-of the-art facility with the highest end treatment technology available. Perhaps that’s what made it all the more painful when two of Echt’s close friends, Michael C. Sandler and Peter Kenner, died just months after pancreatic cancer diagnoses.

According to the American Cancer Society, pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality rate of any cancer — 94 percent of patients die within the first five years of diagnosis.

“It’s out there, and it’s a killer,” Echt said.

To raise awareness and funds for research, Echt and his wife, Susan, started the Michael C. Sandler & Peter Kenner Cancer Foundation about a year and a half ago.

Some of the more high profile pancreatic cancer deaths include Patrick Swayze and Steve Jobs, but the disease has affected so many more. According to the American Cancer Society, 44,000 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year, and about 38,000 will die.

“Nobody ever thinks they are going to get pancreatic cancer,” Susan said. “But lots of people do.”

The Echts’ national foundation is focused on raising money for groundbreaking research that will lead to earlier diagnoses, which Gregory believes is the key to survival.

“If you find it early enough, you can cure it with surgery,” he said.

Because there isn’t an official marker for the disease, most patients aren’t diagnosed until they are in Stage 4. At that point, the best any doctor can do is try to make the patient comfortable for his last months of life.

“Our friends found out way too late,” Susan said. “They had the best care, and there was nothing that could be done.”

Board member Jill Tananbaum, a Highland Park resident, got involved with the organization as soon as it started. In addition to being a survivor of a different type of cancer, Tananbaum has several friends who have been diagnosed with the pancreatic variety.

“This is such a violent killer, and it’s such a silent disease,” she said. “If we could get a grip on early detection, we could probably save an inordinate number of lives.”

The foundation has already raised $300,000, and it hasn’t even held any official fundraising events. The Echts hope to use the money to fund research proposals and hold an international pancreatic cancer conference in New York next fall.

“We’re not looking to be the sole pancreatic cancer organization out there,” Susan said. “We want to all work together.”

In addition to keeping their friends’ memories alive, the couple wants to raise awareness at every

level, starting with early childhood education.

“If we can help to create this awareness, we’ll be doing a lot of good,” Susan said.

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