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Column: Cancer Victim's Legacy of Determination

Morris Township resident Wendy Keil loses valiant battle against pancreatic cancer but sets model of volunteerism for others to follow.

Wendy Keil was a true fighter. She might not have worked in a ring or collected multi-million dollar purses, but the mother of four was every bit as courageous and determined as an elite professional athlete.           

After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, Keil persevered and managed to send it into remission.  Three years later, the Morris Township resident was given a second unfortunate diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. 

Despite a valiant battle against a disease that usually takes five to seven months to claim its opponent, Keil managed to surpass expectations. But like nearly 38,000 others in the United States this year, her final battle was against a ruthless and unrelenting foe.

With her family around her, Keil, 60, lost her battle Tuesday night at her home. She had valiantly fought nine months, taking on a disease with almost insurmountable odds – one with a one-year survival rate of about 24 percent and a five-year survival rate of just six percent.           

During her short time with the disease, Keil and her family had packed in loads of advocacy and outreach this year, raising over $130,000 (and counting) over three PurpleStride events in New York, Ohio and New Jersey.

Her team of about 130 people strong wore shirts at the Manhattan walk that read “Walking For Wendy” on the back with, appropriately enough, a picture of Keil donning boxing gloves, to symbolize the competition in which she was pitted.

“The image sums up that fighter in her,” her daughter Heather said. “She would fight for anything that she believed in. Her one wish was to grow up and be a great mom. She would do anything for us and wanted the best for us.”          

She also traveled to Washington D.C. in June for the , meeting with members of Congress and supporting increased pancreatic cancer research funding. Keil, along with 600 others, asked them to co-sponsor the Pancreatic Cancer Research & Education Act (S. 362/ H.R. 733) to spur true progress in fighting the disease.

All of this while battling severe back and abdominal pain as well as fatigue. But she kept going even with all of her limitations.

“On behalf of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, I offer my condolences to the family and friends of Wendy Keil,” said Julie Fleshman, president and CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. “Wendy was a passionate advocate for finding a way to defeat pancreatic cancer, and we will honor her, and countless others taken too soon by this devastating disease, by continuing to advance research, support patients and create hope. She had such tireless energy and left a legacy of giving back and volunteerism that has served as a model for so many others.”

Keil grew up in Scotch Plains before eventually moving to Boston, Cleveland, Florham Park, and then Morristown.  She married Gordon Keil and they had four children, Adam, Sarah, Heather and Noah, a daughter- and son-in-law, Elizabeth and Mike, and one grandchild, Brody.

Much like her parents, Keil was devoted to altruistic and religious causes, serving as a fundraiser for the Jewish National Fund. She worked to the very end. Even with the cancer sapping her energy, Keil made sure she attended local events and every monthly meeting for the local Pancreatic Cancer Action Network New Jersey Affiliate, offering some valuable advice for the group’s PurpleStride walk on Nov. 6

“Wendy’s fierce determination to change the future of pancreatic cancer was so inspiring to our affiliate,” said Nicole Trella, the co-coordinator of the Northern New Jersey Affiliate of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. “Here she was, feeling so awful, and yet willing to do anything she could to make a difference in this awful disease.  I feel so privileged to have met Wendy.  I will miss her and will always remember how brave she was.”       

Keil was hoping to attend the walk but set up a fundraising site that has brought in about half of the total funds for the entire event.  She celebrated her 60th birthday one month ago and asked friends not to send gifts but to donate toward the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network event. To learn more, visit her page here.           

With her loss coming just one day before the start of Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish New Year, it closes a heroic chapter of a woman whose impact went beyond the local affiliate for which she was a tireless volunteer. It gives her family and friends a chance to say farewell and start the new year fresh, keeping alive the legacy left by an altruistic woman with plenty of fight still left in her.           

“We’re hoping to have a positive impact as a result of this horrible experience,” her daughter Heather said. “After seeing what she went through, we now see how important the fight is that she was committed to. We need to raise funds and awareness so there is some progress. We want to feel as though we have done as much as we can do.” 

Todd Cohen is the Media Representative for the Northern New Jersey Affiliate of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. 

For more information about the New Jersey Affiliate of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, go to http://www.pancan.org/newjersey or email Todd Cohen at TCohen@pancanvolunteer.org.  To donate to Wendy's Team, go to http://www.tinyurl.com/WalkingForWendy

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