Jeff Netzer calls himself a reluctant advocate for stomach cancer research. But with a lack of federal funding to find effective treatments for the disease that took his wife, Candace, in November 2017, he’s committed to leading the effort through the grant-based foundation they founded together.
“When a disease takes someone you loved, you have to step up,” says Netzer.
Stupid Strong Charitable Foundation celebrates Candace’s love of food, her curiosity for healthy eating and the joy she felt savoring the “stupid good” ambience of friends and family gathered around her table. The foundation’s board includes Netzer, president; Ashley Elmore, vice president; Melinda Fricke, treasurer; Jody Kalman, secretary; and Debbie Freeman, at-large member. Their community of supporters carries on Candace’s legacy and finds comfort and strength in raising awareness of gastric cancer, providing research funding, and offering education and support for patients and families in need. Even small gestures make a difference, says Netzer, such as branded blankets to offer warmth and the hope of knowing that someone cares.
“To see your loved one wither away, it’s hard — on the caregiver, the family and friends,” he says. “Stomach cancer is asymptomatic. Once you’re diagnosed, there aren’t enough options. You feel helpless. It’s a lonely feeling — you’ve got this rare disease no one knows about.”
The foundation recently formed a Seed Research Grant Program to fuel innovative research, naming Candace’s MD Anderson oncologist, Jaffer Ajani, M.D., professor of Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology, the inaugural recipient. The $100,000 grant supports Ajani’s Intraperitoneal Program, a collaborative project to identify new therapies for patients whose gastric cancer has spread to the peritoneal cavity.
“It is a true honor to be the first recipient of Stupid Strong’s Seed Research Grant Program,” says Ajani. “Intraperitoneal spread of stomach cancer causes the patient to become very uncomfortable and have very poor quality of life from malnutrition, loss of muscle mass, difficulty eating, the need for repeated fluid removal, electrolyte imbalances, and bowel and kidney obstructions. This generosity by the foundation will transform our efforts to find novel therapeutic targets against stomach cancer in the peritoneal cavity and will improve quality of life for patients everywhere. Our team is immensely grateful.”
In a span of six years, the foundation has raised more than $550,000 through donations and fundraising events. Efforts started small with neighborhood walks and carnivals and grew to include two major events in the Dallas area, the Charity Golf Classic at Hackberry Creek Country Club and a Vegas Party and Casino Night.
In addition, the foundation participates in an annual advocacy day in Washington, D.C., joining survivors and families from across Texas to visit legislators and request their support of funding for the National Institutes of Health and National Cancer Institute.
Netzer says supporters feel compelled to support the efforts of the foundation to encourage research to enable early detection and innovative treatment options.
“We do it for the love of Candace, to keep her memory alive,” says Netzer. “So many people have rallied to the cause – friends and family, and even those who didn’t know her. Our local community is like the little engine that could, so giving and loving. We are truly blessed.”