Sharing a special bond with their Nana, it was important for Elsie, Baci and Wilkie to fundraise for the Jreissati Pancreatic Centre at Epworth in her memory.

When Judy Kluska received a shock diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in January 2021, it was truly out of the blue. She was always healthy, never unwell, and it just wasn’t a diagnosis you expect after experiencing mild pain for a few days.

A vibrant, loving presence for her three daughters, and a dedicated nana to seven grandchildren – Judy was simply adored. She valued spending time with friends and family, was always out and about, loved travelling, enjoyed films and theatre, and walked the neighbourhood with her dog Bella. Her home was a warm and inviting hub for extended family gatherings, Friday night dinners and Jewish festivals.

Sadly, Judy passed away only months after her pancreatic cancer diagnosis, in June 2021. Her daughter Natalie says it is the everyday, routine moments that her family misses most – the daily phone calls and chatting about the kids.

The family hopes to improve the survival rate

Judy’s three daughters, Lainie, Dina and Natalie, saw first-hand how devastating and rapid pancreatic cancer can be. The survival rate of pancreatic cancer remains heartbreakingly low, with less than 13% of people surviving 5 years.

The Kluskas want other families in the future to be spared what they went through. They share the same goal as the Jreissati Pancreatic Centre at Epworth – to improve the prognosis for people with pancreatic cancer.

Judy was one of the first patients cared for through the centre, growing a trusted relationship with Jo, Pancreatic Nurse Coordinator, during a daunting time.

Lainie says while they wish their mum could have benefited from the research taking place, it was important to her regardless.

“She was interested in the work of the centre, and I think quite comforted to know there were people working on the type of cancer she had, whether that assisted her personally or not.”

In such a close-knit family, the grandkids could see what their nana was going through. A year after her passing, they were able to fundraise in their own special way to support pancreatic cancer care and research at Epworth.

Elsie’s selfless fundraiser for pancreatic cancer

At the remarkable age of 7, Judy’s granddaughter Elsie decided she would chop off her hair, to donate for a wig, and to raise funds for the centre.

“She was there in the bathroom with us the day Mum had her hair cut, before she started losing her hair,” Elsie’s mum, Natalie, says.

Elsie led the charge, writing her own letter asking friends and family to donate. She even wrote a speech and presented in front of her school assembly – no small feat for a usually-quiet kid. “The response was incredible.”

Celebrating life and rites of passage

In 2021, amongst the many hospital visits, the family was also preparing for exciting milestones for the grandchildren. Dina’s daughter, Baci, was sending invites for her bat mitzvah and wanted to raise funds for the Jreissati Pancreatic Centre. Dina says it was a symbolic gesture to be able to fundraise in this way.

“At the time we were so close to the issue in our everyday life, it was really important to us,” Dina says.

“The bat mitzvah kept in mind the memory of my mum and her grandmother, who really enjoyed life. It was actually a more positive experience,” Dina says. Judy was always this positive force for her daughters, showing others the silver lining of life. Lainie says that where others might only see a gloomy, grey sky, her Mum would point out a hidden patch of blue.

Lainie’s son, Wilkie, celebrated his bar mitzvah in September, and it was also a special chance to feel close to Judy.

“He did his ceremony and we had a family gathering at Mum’s house,” Lainie, says. “We set up a synagogue in her lounge room and had a big feast. While she couldn’t be there, she was very much there with us.”

Wilkie asked guests to donate to an online fundraiser for the Jreissati Pancreatic Centre, in lieu of presents.

“When he was thinking about his bar mitzvah he felt like that was the most important cause. To support research so that other people don’t have to go through what she went through, but also to support other people in her situation,” Lainie says.

At their young ages, Judy’s grandchildren were able to raise awareness and thousands in donations to directly support the Jreissati Pancreatic Centre, a centre of excellence in pancreatic cancer research, care and patient experience.

We are incredibly grateful for the efforts and dedication of Elsie, Baci and Wilkie.

The centre is running more than 20 studies, including research on innovative treatments and early detection methods, to improve outcomes and survival for people with pancreatic cancer.

Centre of Excellence at Epworth

Jreissati Pancreatic Centre 

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