Maureen Shul was riding high as the first mayor of Castle Pines when her life came crashing down.
It wasn’t a political scandal that forever altered her career path and, ultimately, the course of her life. It was the consecutive losses of two of her staunchest supporters: her brother and mother. And their deaths were attributed to the same illness.
Shul admits that she didn’t even know what a pancreas was, let alone her unfamiliarity with the aggressive nature of the cancer that infiltrates the internal organ. Her family does not have a history of cancer, and there were no warning signs before her brother, Victor, was diagnosed in 2005.
His was something of a rare story; he battled for four years before passing away in 2009. Others are taken suddenly, as was the case with Shul’s mother, who survived only three months after her August 2009 diagnosis.
“The losses were so profound and so great, I had to steady myself and learn how to keep going,” she said.
Shul coped, in part, by joining national efforts to raise money for pancreatic cancer research. Then she learned that intensive research was occurring in the Denver area, and immediately shifted her focus. She created Wings of Hope for Pancreatic Cancer Research, her own nonprofit foundation, and in February partnered with those Denver researchers.
Doctors and scientists at the University of Colorado Cancer Center at the Anschutz Medical Campus are engaged in multi-pronged studies to try and determine the cause of pancreatic cancer, the most effective treatment methods and ways to detect it much earlier.
The first fundraiser for Wings of Hope, scheduled for April 25 at The Wildlife Experience, is nearly sold out, reflecting the high number of people in Douglas County with a great interest in stopping the disease’s advance. The best part is that Shul and the nonprofit’s board of directors will have direct discussion with researchers to determine the best use of the funds that are raised.
“Of all of the things I’ve ever been involved with, nothing has been more meaningful or significant as starting this foundation,” Shul said.
The charity event will not only highlight advances in research and raise awareness, it will feature Shul’s brother, Brian, a bestselling author and former SR-71 pilot, as the keynote speaker. Brian Shul will relate his harrowing story of survival after being shot down over Vietnam. His family received notification that he died, and it wasn’t until 48 hours later that they learned he was alive.
When asked what her brother and mother would think about her actions in the wake of their untimely deaths, Shul says she hopes they would be proud.
“We’re making a contribution in a way that is honoring them as well as helping me get through all of this,” she said. “I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I couldn’t just walk away from it.”
For more information or tickets to the Wings of Hope for Pancreatic Cancer Research event April 25 at The Wildlife Experience, visit www.wingsofhopepcr.org or call 720-733-0491.