(This article was originally published in The Boardwalk Journal.)
In the wake of October’s National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we embark on November, National Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. As pink fades and purple comes into focus, so too does the devastating disease, Pancreatic Cancer.
The color purple moonlights as a representative of nobility, the wounded soldier’s heart and Pancreatic Cancer, a disease that has left families grieving, including one local family who is fighting back.
Purple was once used in literature to describe a final stage of mourning by Mark Twain, who also wrote, “To be good is noble, but to show others how to be good is nobler and no trouble.” Michael Neustadter was such a man.
Michael, a noble paradigm, was a lifelong resident of Margate, graduated from Atlantic City High School in 1968, attended Kent State University (until the tragic shootings) and then graduated from Temple University in 1972. He returned to the area and married Anne Goldberg, the daughter of his father’s business partner and close friend, Maxwell Goldberg. He has worked in his family’s hotel business, the casino business, financial planning and more recently served as president of Beth Judah Synagogue and as Chairman of the Board of the AtlantiCare Health System all the while disseminating good will.
Michael’s passions included golf, Philadelphia sports, music, summer, and beaches, but he lived most fervently for his family. The Neustadters are glued at the hip and a self-proclaimed close knit family never to be unthread by anything, including cancer. The family is no stranger to cancer. Anne’s mother, Shirley Mae, is a breast cancer survivor. Anne and family members responded in a profoundly positive and philanthropic way to her own cancer; they established the Shirley Mae Breast Cancer Assistance Fund, a fund which aids breast cancer victims residing in Southeastern New Jersey with certain medical necessities. Anne was involved with the advisory committee when in January 2011, cancer struck again.
It was Michael, who was in good shape and led a healthy lifestyle, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It surfaced under the guise of a backache not long after his son was married. True to his nature, he was tirelessly hopeful. He believed he would triumph over this greedy and abstruse illness to such an extent that his family was convinced too. Despite an early diagnosis, superior medical care, a positive outlook, exhaustive determination and the belief he would beat it, one year later it refused to let him go.
Michael would not go in vain. His family responded to their loss and grief in a selfless movement. Transplacing his hope into hope for others, they established a fund in his name to educate others that this illness exists, and that it can fatally afflict anyone.
If ever there was a face for hope, it is Michael Neustadter’s. His personal mission in life was to help others and he did so with terrific humility. His good nature and optimistic outlook in the face of this relentless disease would impress and inspire anyone. This was in addition to the already well-respected kind spirit he exercised. Michael played an integral part in such movements as the relocation of Beth Judah Synagogue and, given his interest in healthcare and desire to help others, he was also influential in raising funds for the Cancer Center at AtlantiCare who, in turn, paid homage to him. In the words of David Tilton, the President and Chief Executive Officer of AtlantiCare, “Earlier this year, AtlantiCare dedicated the Michael J. Neustadter Mind, Body, Spirit Center at our Cancer Care Institute in his honor.
We thought it was fitting to honor Michael in this way as he recognized the importance of treating the whole person—and the whole family—in a supportive environment. Family was everything to him, and he regarded the community as his family, too. He was a great friend personally and certainly a beacon to AtlantiCare and our region. He continues to inspire us to make life better for our patients and our community.”
Michael was indeed very fond of his AtlantiCare family. And as was evident with the dedication of the center and endless testimonies, they were of him. AtlantiCare System Chairman, Gene Arnone, added, “As a personal friend and Board colleague, Michael always impressed me with his concern for others; be it community, AtlantiCare or personal. He provided empathy, genuine concern and assistance whenever possible; while always remaining in the background.”
Also with tremendous respect, Alvin Ong of the Rothman Institute shared “Michael was a great human being who deeply cared for people and his community which he had terrific vision for; he was instrumental in improving the quality of healthcare for the residents of Southern New Jersey.”
In turn, that is what his family aims to do—improve the quality of healthcare. Taking a tragedy and turning it into something positive is a cruel order of life and not a task for the faint of heart. It takes strength of character and will to power through adversity and fashion good out of it. The Michael J. Neustadter Fund will give others the will to fight while continuing Michael’s public service and natural impulse to help others.
His children are still in shock their dad is not here with them today. Daughter Katie describes their sorrow and longing for him every second of every day. Her brother Scott, and wife Lauren, named their son Michael to continue their dad’s legacy, which is also perpetuated by his own children through their own hope, positive outlook and philanthropy. It turns out these attributes are genetic in the Neustadter family. Katie, a co-founder and spokesperson for the MJN Fund, takes solace in knowing, “he would be proud to know we are continuing his passion of making a difference.”
Katie and her siblings, Julie and Scott, along with aunts and uncles and grandparents, are making that difference. The difference is here and waiting to grow. The difference is the MJN Fund. The Fund’s current mission is to educate people and raise monies to dedicate to a more diligent exploration of the disease. Katie explained, “The Fund seeks to increase the survival rate of pancreatic cancer by raising awareness, funding research, and aiding in the discovery of a cure,” and added, “He never gave up and we won’t either.”
The Fund’s website states, “Michael spent his life helping others and giving back to the community…” and with the help of his family he will do the same from beyond.
Through the Michael J. Neustadter Fund, Michael still has a voice and his magnanimity will live on. Even in his absence, he will help others.