Common Man to Ironman

Part 2

Robert Skorupski is a Spartan in Michigan territory and shares his story on how and why he decided to raise money for pancreatic cancer research at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center. You can find out more about his and his families journey on his blog or his Facebook page.



There were two major fundraising efforts this year. The first one was a golf outing we held in Ralph’s honor.  Golf was a true passion of Ralph’s. He loved the game of golf, so we could not think of a better way to pay tribute to him and raise money for Pancreatic Cancer research. This event was held on August 2nd at Lyon Oaks Gold Course (a golf course Ralph was instrumental in developing prior to retiring as the Executive Officer of Oakland County Parks and Recreation). The golf outing was a huge hit.  We had over 70 sponsors and 200 people in attendance (including Ralph’s UMCCC doctors) to golf, eat and share stories about Ralph! The proceeds from this event went to the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, specifically for pancreatic cancer research. Ralph would have been honored to see the showing of family and friends at this event.

The second fundraising event was a personal goal that I wanted to accomplish. I decided to sign-up for the Ironman Louisville.  For those that don’t know, an Ironman consists of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike race and a 26.2 mile marathon all rolled into one.  In one day, no break!  140.6 miles total in less than 17 hours!

Ralph was an athlete most of his life. He loved sports. This was an area that bonded us.  I knew that I would have to use Ralph’s mental determination as an example to endure this type of event. Only 1/10th of 1% of the entire world’s population can say they have completed an IronMan.

Preparing for this event required long hours of training. By the time the race day came I swam over 100 miles, biked over 2700 miles and ran 730 miles. I trained for over 360 hours and over 3,500 miles. If I started from my house I would be in Anchorage, Alaska!  Not a training session went by that I did not think of Ralph and the toughness he showed in his battle with cancer.

I made a promise to my Wolverine friends that if $5,000 was raised for UMCCC in Ralph’s name that I (a true SPARTAN) would wear a University of Michigan jersey during my IronMan race. When I made that statement I wasn’t sure it would be possible to raise that much money, however by the day of the race we raised almost $15,000 for the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center! Without hesitation, I wore that UM jersey during the race. I have to admit, this Spartan wore it with pride knowing that I was able to help such a good cause and I will wear it again for $25,000, not a penny less!

Our entire family learned about fortitude and perseverance as we witnessed the positive attitude Ralph had after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He accepted it as one more challenge in his life, and was willing to take on whatever the doctors offered him by way of treatment or procedures.  He was an inspiration to us all. His oncologist at U of M told us that he will use Ralph as a model for others facing this diagnosis. He said Ralph’s belief in God, his mental determination, and his will to live was a true inspiration.

Learn more about pancreatic cancer and pancreatic cancer patients

Common Man to Ironman

Part 1


Robert Skorupski is a Spartan in Michigan territory and shares his story on how and why he decided to raise money for pancreatic cancer research at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center. You can find out more about his and his families journey on his blog or his Facebook page.



My Father-in-Law, Ralph Richard was an incredible man and an integral part of my family.   Living only two miles from each other allowed us to spend a great deal of time with our family. Ralph was retired, loved golfing, traveling and cherished spending time with family and friends. Ralph was a pillar of strength in our family, so it was no surprise that from the moment he received the diagnosis, he was determined to fight. Ralph sought advice from multiple doctors and determined his best option was with the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center…a tough decision living with a family full of Spartans.

The doctors of the Cancer Center worked with Ralph to determine the most aggressive treatment plan possible. The plan involved chemotherapy aimed to stop the potential spread to nearby organs and reduction of the known tumor. Ralph started the chemotherapy treatment right away. After a year, we remained positive because we knew Ralph had already beaten the odds and Ralph was determined to continue do whatever was necessary to spend more time with his family. Ralph willingly participated in clinical trials and other treatments that would hopefully help future pancreatic cancer patients.  He not only wanted to get help for himself but he also wanted his experience to help others.

I recall being with Ralph on the chemotherapy floor in UofM hospital. As I sat with Ralph as he received his treatment, I could not help but look up and down the aisle of chemo chairs. There were kids and adults of all races and sizes and it was clear that cancer doesn’t discriminate. There was not an empty chair in the room. His wife Diane stepped away for a cup of coffee and Ralph and I talked about the sports, the grandkids and he reflected on his struggle comprehending his own diagnosis. He said that morning he was called by and old coworker with a family member recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. They asked him what to expect, what questions should they ask, what treatments are there to consider? He said it felt good being able to offer help and some type of hope to a terrible situation. After a short pause, he looked at me and said that he often wondered why God picked pancreatic cancer for him and maybe this was the reason… maybe he could help other people and make difference in people’s lives. I smiled and nodded, but deep down wondered if I was ever in that situation, could I be that selfless?

It was that evening sitting in Maize and Blue territory I decided I wanted to do something to help…to try and make a difference…but what? I made a commitment to myself to raise as much money for the Pancreatic Cancer Research Program at UMCCC as possible. This money could help find methods of early detection, prevention and ultimately a cure for this horrible disease.  Ok…that what was the easy part…the hard part was the how?

Come back tomorrow for Part 2 on what has been accomplished so far in honor of Ralph.

A Minute With…John Krauss, M.D.

Today we are launching a new feature highlighting the physicians, nurses and staff that make up the Cancer Center.

Meet John Krauss, M.D., medical director of the multidisciplinary Colorectal Cancer Clinic. He also sees patients at the general oncology clinic at the Canton Health Center.

Dr. Krauss is an avid mountain bike rider, as evident in this recent muddy ride.

  1. What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
    Interacting with patients, and helping them through their illness.  For the patients I can’t cure, giving them extra quality time with their family while prolonging their life with chemotherapy. For the patients I can cure, serving as their oncology coach to get them through the chemotherapy and onto the rest of their lives.
  2. The Cancer Center turns 25 this year. What were you doing 25 years ago?
    In 1987, I was a second year medical resident at the University of Minnesota in Internal Medicine.
  3. How do you spend your time when away from the Cancer Center?
    I like to spend time with my family, and spend time outdoors.

Art of the Heart – New Voices Art Gallery Show Now Open

After a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, Jennifer Kelley’s experience with cancer has been one of struggle and growth.

Kelley, a patient at the Cancer Center, created a crocheted felt art piece, featuring two hearts that she says signify the growth she’s experienced through treatment. Together, the hearts represent a shedding of her old self and an acceptance of her new self.

“My piece is about me evolving with my body,” she says. “I’m proud of what I’ve created and it makes me feel good.”

Kelley’s piece is one of more than 50 that will be featured in the new “Art from the Heart” exhibit hosted by the Cancer Center’s Voices Art Gallery. The gallery will hold a reception for the exhibit from 4-6:30 p.m. on Sept. 10, 2012.

Maraget Nowak, the Cancer Center’s art therapist and exhibit creator, said she chose the heart theme because it resonates with everyone and means something different to each artist. The collection has a wide array of meaning and messages, Nowak says, with some pieces conveying hope and strength, and others symbolizing remembrance or struggle.

“The symbol of the heart, it shows up a lot in everyday life,” she says. “Your heart is what keeps you going, and it’s an image that everyone can relate to.”

The exhibit features more than 50 multimedia pieces from 26 artists, who include Cancer Center patients, staff, caregivers and volunteers. Nowak said this is the most participation she’s seen for a group exhibit.

The exhibit will be open until November.

Exhibit Reception Information:

Time: 4:30-6 p.m.

Date: Monday, Sept. 10

Location: Voices Art Gallery, in the U-M Cancer Center, Level B1, near the Outpatient Pharmacy

Taking Cancer in Strides

By Lisa Cummins

Lisa Cummins addresses the participants at the 2011 American Cancer Society Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk.

Cancer runs in my family. My uncle was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 1996 and shortly thereafter, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Although a person usually has one type of cancer which metastasizes to other areas, my mom produced different types – lung, small cell lymph node – over the next three years until she passed in early 1999.

Six months later I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

After my treatments ended in 2001 I became involved in the American Cancer Society (ACS). When I was first diagnosed I was really afraid that I was going to die like my mother. I found out about the ACS’s Reach to Recovery Program and they put me in touch with a woman who had a similar situation – and she was a 15-year survivor at the time. So I wanted to give back. I started at a Relay for Life (on my diagnosis date of June 30), then became a captain and now am participating in the ACS Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk. Over the past 11 years I have continued with these events because I feel that we go through difficult things to grow and help others. And through the ACS I am helping others, and now even cancer patients at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Cancer has and continues to play a big role in my life. Through my time as a caregiver for my mom, and the countless hours I spent in the hospital for my cancer treatments, I became increasingly grateful and appreciative of the work the nurses did. Recently I received my registered nursing (RN) degree and started work at U-M’s Acute Leukemia Unit.

I feel blessed to be alive and feel it’s my life’s purpose to help others who struggle with a cancer diagnosis. I know many who have not beat cancer — this is the least that I can do.

Lisa has been a long-standing team captain for the annual American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk and was the spokesperson for the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center teams in 2011. This year’s event will take place on Saturday, October 27, 2012 on the campus of Washtenaw Community College. Teams are currently forming and you can find out how to participate on the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center Community Champion Team by contacting Martha Laatsch.

Cancer and Fertility

For young adults with cancer, facing decisions about treatments, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy can be overwhelming. Adding to that burden is the fact that the same treatments helping to extend survival may come with the trade-off of not being able to bear children in the future. This can occur for both men and women receiving cancer treatment.

For men, some treatments cause damage to the testes and/or interfere with sperm production. For women, some treatments can result in premature ovarian failure, early menopause, genetic damage to egg cells or difficulties maintaining a pregnancy. Not all cancer treatments will affect fertility and every person’s situation is different. Some of the factors include:

  • the type of cancer
  • which standard therapies are recommended
  • the location and stage of the cancer
  • the type and dose of chemotherapy
  • the dose and location of radiation therapy

Other factors depend on the person, such as fertility status before treatment, as well as age, since risk for infertility increases with age for both men and women.

Fertility issues can also arise for young patients who have not had a cancer diagnosis, but are at high risk based on a known hereditary cancer syndrome within the family, such as:

  • Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer syndrome (related to BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations)
  • Lynch syndrome (high risk for cancers of the reproductive organs)

Patients face options such as preventive removal of the ovaries and uterus before cancer develops.   Patients may also have the option of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). PGD uses advanced reproductive technology and in-vitro fertilization to prevent passing a genetic risk factor on to future children.

For patients diagnosed with cancer, as well as patients considering preventive surgery, it is important to know there may be ways to preserve fertility. These options should be discussed with your doctors as early in your treatment planning as possible. The U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center Fertility Preservation Program is a resource for patients to learn more about these issues and options.

Continue learning about cancer and fertility preservation