Katie Neustadter DeSalle is the epitome of a young woman who is completely committed to a cause. As we talk, she says frequently, “Family is everything” and there is no doubt that she means it. “I am extremely close to my parents,” Katie explains. She was in her last year of college in December, 2010, when she realized her father was very sick. She tells me, “I could tell something was wrong. I moved back. I saw it all.”
Anne & Michael Neustadter
Katie’s father, Michael Neustadter, was a stockbroker and the chairman of the board of the Atlantic City Medical Center. He and his wife, Anne, met as children. Their fathers were business partners and the two grew up together. They married in 1975 and raised their three children, Scott, Julie and Katie, in Margate, New Jersey. Katie says, “My dad was all about family. He loved the beach. He loved sports and was an avid golfer. He was also a Bruce Springsteen fan.”
Katie’s Dad Grows Ill
On October 9, 2010, the family gathered for Scott’s wedding. Michael felt perfectly fine and the family enjoyed a day of celebration together. Within a couple of days, the Neustadter’s world turned upside down. Michael developed severe, knife-like pain in his upper back. “His digestive system was off,” Katie recalls. “He had lost weight. We originally thought he lost weight because he was getting ready for the wedding, but that wasn’t the reason at all.”
Michael had always been an extremely healthy man who took care of himself. He ate well and worked out in the gym three times per week. Just days after his son’s wedding, Michael’s condition worsened. He developed a fever and flu-like symptoms. He went to the Atlantic City hospital for testing, but the doctor could not find anything obviously wrong. Michael was persistent, however, because he knew his body well and sensed that something was amiss.
In November, he developed pancreatitis. Doctors were still baffled until he became jaundiced. They determined that his bile duct was blocked. After more testing and procedures, the family finally got answers. On January 18, 2011, Michael was diagnosed with stage I pancreatic cancer.
“We were told they caught it really early. We were told he was a perfect candidate for the Whipple. We were told surgery was a success, but it was not,” Katie says, with a hint of pain in her voice. Shortly after surgery, Michael developed an infection and became extremely ill. Two weeks later, the family received more bad news. Michael’s tumor markers were rising. Further testing showed that the cancer was in his liver. He went from being stage I to stage IV overnight.
Michael went to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital where he received chemotherapy. He suffered terribly over the next several months. “He developed every problem you could think of. He had infections. He was so sick he couldn’t leave the house. He was in and out of the hospital constantly. He was not able to get regular treatments,” Katie remembers. Eventually, he developed septic shock. Michael passed away on January 19, 2012, one year and one day after his initial diagnosis.
Katie was just 24 when she lost her father. She was fortunate to have the ability to be with her parents for the final year of her father’s life. As difficult as it was to see him so ill, Katie got extra time with the father she loved so dearly. In addition, she and her mom were able to be one another’s support system during this challenging time.
Now 28 years old, Katie is realizing all of the important life events that she will not get to share with her father. She recently got married and though the day was a joyous occasion, she felt her father’s absence acutely.
Katie started running in high school. A member of her school’s cross country team, she fell in love with running. In college, she continued running and even completed several half-marathons. However, when her dad became ill, she put her running on the back burner as she devoted all of her energy towards her father and his battle with cancer. After he passed away, Katie, a first grade teacher, knew that she needed to focus some energy on herself so that she could heal. As she eased back into running, she knew that she could do something for herself while also doing something for others.
Raising Money for Cancer
Katie and her family started a run/walk in their hometown of Margate, NJ. The proceeds all go to support a pancreatic cancer charity, in honor of her father, and a breast cancer charity, in honor of her grandmother. The run has been in existence for many years now and draws several hundred participants. Katie explains, “I grew up in a charitable world where my parents were always giving back to the community, and when cancer hit home, they started to fundraise for patients who couldn’t afford the care they needed to focus on healing. Through the Shirley Mae Breast Cancer Assistance fund, named for my grandmother (a 17-year survivor), my family and I built a local tradition: a 5k race on the Atlantic City boardwalk. When my dad passed away, the Neustadter family formed the Michael Jay Neustadter pancreatic cancer fund, which seeks to raise awareness, fund research, and aide in the discovery of a cure for this dreadful disease. The 5k run incorporates a walk in his honor. Every step I run is inspired by this fight.
Katie Runs with Project Purple
In addition, Katie has repeatedly run and raised funds for Project Purple. She has run on her own with the Pioneer Program at the New York City Half-Marathon and the Marine Corps Marathon. She has also run as a member of the 2014 Project Purple New York City Marathon team. This particular event holds special meaning for Katie, because her husband Joe proposed to her following the team dinner.
Katie is now getting ready to run the Chicago Marathon with Project Purple. She loves running with Project Purple because she connects with the charity’s mission of ‘Running to Beat Pancreatic Cancer’. She is pleased that the money raised goes to support research. “There are so many charities you can choose from,” she explains. “I wanted to do something close to my heart.” In addition, she enjoys the camaraderie of being part of a team.
Katie appreciates the fact that running allows her to see different places that she might not otherwise have reason to visit. Like everything else in her life, she makes running a family affair. Her husband rides his bike alongside her while she trains. Her family will all come and support her in October as she runs Chicago. When her family comes to the races, they always have gear with Katie’s motto: Running for Daddy. While she feels a sense of sadness that her father never got to see her finish a marathon, Katie appreciates her family’s commitment to helping her raise awareness for pancreatic cancer. “Every time I run, I feel like he is with me. No matter how hard the race is, I will keep going. He went through so much pain, and I am do it all for him. Daddy never gave up and I won’t either.”
For More information about the Run/walk, click here:
To donate to Katie’s Project Purple Chicago Marathon fundraiser, click here: