If Not Roger Magowitz, Then Who Will Help Fight Pancreatic Cancer?
By Mike Saucier
“If not me, then who?”
That was the motivating question for Roger Magowitz in starting a foundation for pancreatic research after the disease took the life of his mother Seena in 2001. It is a question that continues to drive the Scottsdale resident today to find a cure for pancreatic cancer.
It’s also question that has led to considerable success for his foundation. The Scottsdale-based Seena Magowitz Foundation will host its 15th annual golf tournament in August, which has earned the distinction of being one of the most influential charity fundraising events that exclusively benefits pancreatic cancer research at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen).
Because of the sizable donations from donors and companies who support the Seena Magowitz Foundation, TGen has been able to make pancreatic cancer research advancements that have shown promise for triping the five-year survival rate.
For nearly 30 years, Roger Magowitz owned and operated the iconic Metropolitan Mattress. But everything changed during a process of reflection that occurred after losing his mother to pancreatic cancer. Magowitz was shocked by her diagnosis – and sadly even more shocked as to how quickly the deadly killer took her life just five months later. He is determined and dedicated to help find a way to beat the disease that took his mother.
Pancreatic cancer is the fourth deadliest cancer, and because it is often detected in late stages of development, people with pancreatic cancer have just a five percent chance of surviving for five years after their initial diagnosis. It claims hundreds and thousands of lives each year.
Magowitz created the foundation with the hope of raising awareness of the disease so that early detection might prolong other lives. He said the foundation’s number one goal is to raise funds to advance science to the point where pancreatic cancer can be prevented or cured.
“What has surprised me is that everybody is philanthropic, you just need to know how to ask them the right questions,” Magowitz said. Building relationships is the key, he said, and knowing how to engage people because “everybody has a soft spot.”
He pairs this belief with a deep faith in the power of the individual.
“Everybody thinks one person can’t change the world, that one person can’t put an end to homelessness or hunger or foster children. I really disagree with that,” said Magowitz. “We have taken on the toughest cancer in the business and just with my network of friends that has built up through the mattress and home furnishings world, we have clearly been able to make a dent in the fight against pancreatic cancer. So one person can make that difference. “
The foundation is essentially operated by just two people, Magowitz and Liz McBeth. There is no paid staff and neither Magowitz nor McBeth take salaries.
“You just have to have the passion and the gumption to go out there, plant your stake and be willing to forge forward,” he said. “Nobody starts off at the top. You start off basically bringing in nickels and dimes to the point where you can now ask somebody for a half million dollars or a million dollars.”
He continued: “Then you start thinking, what if somebody gave me 50 million, a hundred million. What could I do with that? Could we beat this disease and how many people’s lives would change? And obviously it’s not just people, it’s the kids, it’s the friends, it’s the grandchildren, it’s the great grandchildren.”
Magowitz said he is “extremely hopeful” that a cure for pancreatic cancer can be found.
“The truth is I’m not sure I believe we would see the movement that we’ve seen in the last couple years compared with what went on the last four years,” he said. “It was just a couple years ago that nine to 18 percent was the average life expectancy for a patient. Now almost 60 to 70 percent are going to make it the first year – that’s huge. And not only are they going to live the first year, they’re going to live a second, a third, a fourth, a fifth, maybe a sixth? I have friends that are 15-year survivors.”
One such survivor, Howard Young, credits the Magowitz Foundation for his survival of 15 years since his diagnosis. Young has since walked two of his daughters down the aisle.
“This guy wasn’t supposed to last six months,” Magowitz said.
“There certainly is that light at the end of the tunnel,” he added. “It’s not around the corner but we always say we have to get you from point A to point B. And then maybe a new drug will come. Maybe a new breakthrough will happen. Then we can get you to point C. You’re just going to have to make these steps of success until we can get you past the finish line.”
Seena Magowitz, a Brooklyn native who went to high school with baseball legend Sandy Koufax, was “a woman who was full of life, just somebody that would seize the moment and appreciate every minute of it,” Roger Magowitz said.
He recalled how his mother, grandmother and aunts would raise money every year for cancer research by selling everything from bingo tickets to knit hats.
“The whole year they would sell stuff,” he said. “Every year they would raise money so I often wondered if that imprint of what they did goes to the back of your mind somewhere. You didn’t know how to do it but you knew it should be done. And you knew if you tried to do it you’d be successful at it.”