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Julie and Geoff Shudtz: A legacy of positivity and hope

Jun 22, 2021

Julie and Geoff pictured at sunset.

Julie Shudtz is on a mission to spread awareness about pancreatic cancer and to share the legacy of positivity and hope left by her late husband, Geoff.

Geoff was a husband, a son and a friend. He was a businessman and entrepreneur, who never missed a day of work even while undergoing cancer treatment and chemotherapy. He was a loving husband to Julie, “Geoff’s ridiculously proud wife,” as she describes herself.

And, he was a new dad.

Geoff pictured with his son

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Julie and Geoff's story

 
Photo collage of Julie and Geoff

Julie and Geoff’s story is one of positivity, and of loss. But as Julie sees it, positivity always wins. It’s a lesson she learned from Geoff, and one she is committed to passing on to their son and to the world.

Julie and Geoff Shudtz met in Washington, D.C., through mutual friends. After getting married, they moved to Richmond, where Geoff grew up, to settle down and to start a business and a family. When Julie was 8 months pregnant, Geoff began to experience back pain and irregularities with his diet and health. Three weeks after the birth of their son, Emery, Geoff was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer and told he had six months to live.

“We had a three-week-old, and it was the day after Christmas,” Julie says about the day Geoff was diagnosed. “We went to our first appointment, where they read the scans… It was not at Massey… and they basically said, you have six months to live; you should go ahead and get your affairs in order. So, right then, we knew that that location was not where we were going to get treated.”

That afternoon, Geoff got an appointment for a second opinion at Massey. With his family and his new team at Massey by his side, his next 15 months included chemotherapy, clinical trials and, despite a lot of bad news, always, hope.

With us every step of the way

“I remember leaving [our first] appointment [at Massey] and having this new refreshed and renewed sense of energy… in that there was a chance, there was hope, and that... this new team, and family that we had just acquired was not going to give up on us. And they didn’t.”

The Shudtz’s never received good news, Julie says, but through it all, the team at Massey was “with us every step of the way.”

“I remember that a little later on in Geoff’s treatment, I looked at [Geoff’s doctor at Massey, Jennifer Myers, M.D.] and just said, ‘please don’t give up on us, we’re not ready to give up.’ And, she looked me in the eyes and said, ‘I will never give up on you. I will always fight for you and with you.’” “The experience at Massey... was so good,” says Geoff’s mom, Karen. “I knew that this was an NCI-designated Cancer Center… and it was the right place. It was also the reason that we got the most up-to-date treatments, because Massey works with other NCI-designated programs, where we spent some time.” Massey is a leader in the national fight against cancer and one of just two National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Cancer Centers in Virginia.

“The collaboration that you get at a place like Massey,” adds Julie, “with a tumor board, and knowing that all the best brains are sitting around the table looking at your scans and making a unified decision” made it the right place for them.

“At other places, we were not given hope,” said Julie. “Massey is like family to us.”

"Fight cancer, stay positive"

 
FCSP

Throughout Geoff’s treatment, the Shudtzs always remained committed to fighting hard for his life and never gave up hope. Geoff adopted a mantra that he and his family would live and fight by: “Fight Cancer, Stay Positive.” They made t-shirts and hosted a dunking event to rally friends and family around the cause while spreading positivity.

After Geoff's passing in 2019, Julie, with help from Geoff’s friends and family, co-founded the FCSP Foundation (“Fight Cancer Stay Positive”) to continue his legacy to raise critical funding for pancreatic cancer research and early detection and to help spread positivity.

“Pancreatic cancer is the least funded major cancer in this country,” says Julie. “It also does not have any type of blood test or pre-screen to identify this cancer before it has already spread. And, that’s why the odds are so tough.” Despite medical advances in other types of cancers, today, pancreatic cancer has just a 10% five-year survival rate and is in dire need of more funding.

As FCSP president and co-founder, Julie is committed to being an advocate for early screening and pancreatic cancer research that will help save lives.

Pancreatic cancer research and care at Massey

At VCU Massey Cancer Center, the pancreas and biliary cancer care team consists of national leaders in cancer care and research, including Jose Trevino, M.D., Massey’s surgeon in chief and division chair for surgical oncology at VCU. Trevino spoke about pancreatic cancer research at Massey’s May 2021 Innovators Forum event and was invited to speak at the FCSP’s most recent event, the 2021 Virtual Dunk for a Cure event.

Massey’s patient-centered, multidisciplinary approach treats the whole patient. Trevino was recruited to Massey in November 2020, and is conducting a series of studies, including research examining inequities in cancer, including pancreatic cancer, prevention and outcomes. He also collaborates on research with Said Sebti, Ph.D., associate director for basic research at Massey and the Lacy Family Chair in Cancer Research, to find new and better treatments for pancreatic cancer.

Cancer never won

 
Photo collage of Geoff and his son

“Cancer never won in Geoff’s mind,” says Julie. “He never let it win in our house, and he never let it win in our family or with our friends, and he never let it stop him. He always stayed positive. He rarely missed a day of work. We went on a ski trip, and he skied down black diamonds in between having the most aggressive chemotherapy on the market.”

“He was an amazing dad, he was an amazing husband and son and family member. And he did what was important to him, which was to live life. And he did. And, he did not take a moment for granted.”

Geoff’s mom, Karen, remembers Geoff as always the life of the party, cracking jokes and making others feel at ease, even as a young child and even while undergoing aggressive chemotherapy treatments at Massey. “His first chemo treatment was here at [Massey],” Karen remembers. “He was walking around talking to all the nurses and the other patients who were getting treatments… And, I said, ‘Are you making this a party or what?’”

FCSP Virtual Dunk for a Cure 2021

Speaking of parties, on May 22, 2021, the FCSP Foundation hosted its annual FCSP Dunk for a Cure 2021, this time virtually, by inviting supporters to get dunked, donate or volunteer to help raise money for the FCSP Foundation and pancreatic cancer research, including at Massey.

Julie welcomed and thanked guests in between music from featured bands from across the country, including Emily Easterly, The Goodwin Family Band, Goodnight, Texas, and Thirsty Curses.

“While 2020 dealt us all a rough hand, 2021 is starting to look a little brighter,” Julie said during her welcome message. “Through it all we are still finding ways to come together and carry Geoff’s torch. We’re doing it!”

The event also featured an update from Trevino on pancreatic cancer research at Massey, as well as a “FCSP Mule” cocktail demonstration from friends at Founding Spirits and comedian Jared Stern (@FunnyJared), who kept things light while hosting from his guest room at home.

And, of course, there was dunking. Seventeen people got dunked including Julie, Karen and Emery Shudtz, Massey Cancer Center Development staff member Michelle Adcock and her husband and daughter, and friends from far and wide who shared videos from neighborhood dunking events across the country. Adcock’s daughter and her “school pod” classmates and their team, the Beaver Creek Crew, raised more than $3,200.

View the virtual FCSP Dunking for a Cure 2021 event

Watch Beaver Creek Crew’s dunk event video

$117,000 raised and counting

The 2021 dunk event raised $117,000, as of this publication, with donations still rolling in. Sponsors included Garberville.us, Gina and Alan Yang, Dodson Development Group, Chandler Residential, MMB Milne Leone, LLC, Overcoat, NCi (Northeast Construction, Inc.), and Jane and Neil Ursic. Founding Spirits and Hardywood Craft Brewery were beverage sponsors, and individual gifts from Anne and Jeff Dunnington, Elizabeth and Jason Messick, Joan and Jonathan Mayer, Elizabeth Dolan Wright and J.D. Wright helped make the event a success.

“Every single dollar raised by the FCSP Foundation goes directly to clinical research to help find, treat and ultimately cure pancreatic and other cancers.”

One focus area for the FCSP’s fundraising is early detection, says Julie. “There is no early detection test for pancreatic cancer at this time. Some of the money that we raise is going to an early detection blood test, [including] one that is going into a clinical trial right now… [and] to artificial intelligence testing… which can help for significantly earlier findings, which can help our treatments to be more effective.”

“The FCSP Foundation is an incredible organization that has provided an incredible amount of support for our research here at Massey,” Trevino shared. “As we go into our clinics to try to help our patients, we also go into the labs to do amazing research to try to figure out ways to affect this horrible disease. Why is this important? It’s very important, because over the past 50 and 100 years, we have made very little strides to try to affect this disease. Your support will enable us to help change the course of this disease.”

Paying positivity forward

 
Photo collage of Geoff

In addition to advocacy and fundraising, the FCSP Foundation engages in other activities throughout the year, always with one goal in mind: to add smiles and positivity to cancer patients. “The point of the Fight Cancer Stay Positive Foundation is to fight cancer by raising money and giving it directly to clinical research,” says Julie. “And, also, to continue to remember, like Geoff did, that life is meant to be lived.”

“A little positivity can go a long way. During Geoff’s treatment, a woman handed out [toy] monkeys to encourage people to ‘hang in there.’ Something so small hung on our bed for a really long time as a very prominent reminder to stay positive. We hope FCSP can do the same for others.”

Last winter, for example, FCSP sold slippers with a “get one, give one” offer and delivered over 100 pairs to cancer patients receiving treatment at VCU Massey Cancer Center. “The hope was to provide patients with a little extra comfort and a reminder of the love and positivity that surrounds them,” says Julie. “We sold FCSP slippers, because, let's be real, no one was going anywhere [during the COVID-19 pandemic]. And I'm always freezing,” she quipped.

A future without cancer

For Julie, a future without cancer means, “A whole lot of families get their normal back,” she says. “It means lazy Saturdays… A life without cancer is getting the opportunity to fight about who takes out the garbage. It’s leisurely checking off your bucket list instead of rushing to get things done because time is running out. It means Dad’s coming to soccer practice... And it means getting to see a whole life together, instead of just a really amazing, small amount together.”

Together, with support from Massey Nation and foundations like FCSP, we can imagine a future with better early detection and improved treatment and outcomes for patients with pancreatic cancer.

We can imagine a future with more Father’s Days. For moms. For families. For friends and neighbors. And for dads, like Geoff.

Honor or remember a father or father figure in your life with a donation to Massey today.

Join the Massey Club to support Massey and receive invitations to members-only events like the Innovator’s Forum.

Learn more about pancreas and biliary cancer at Massey.

Written by: Katherine Layton

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