Anthony and his mom Catherine

Anthony Joseph, National Pancreas Foundation IL Chapter Chair lost his mother, Catherine Ashton in 2020. Catherine, a native of Chicago was a yoga teacher, therapist, and trauma expert. Anthony shares her story of pancreatic cancer and how he is keeping his Mother’s legacy alive through the NPF.

Catherine Ashton- A Change Agent

“My Journey” and the questions began at the time of the diagnosis of my mother’s pancreatic cancer:

  • “Doctor, to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, what is my mother’s prognosis?”
  • “Stop thinking like a lawyer”, my mom would always tell me.  What questions do we ask the surgical oncologist and/or the medical oncologist?
  • Oh no…”What do I tell my 4 year-old daughter about ‘Nana’?” “How do I explain that Nana is sick and unable to spend time with her?”
  • Other than to say sorry…”What do I tell my wife as to how to say sorry for being so short-tempered?”

As my mother progressed from a Stage 1B, at the time of diagnosis and tumor removal, only 56 years of age, to Stage IV in late October 2020, the questions continued:

  • “How do I ask those really awkward end-of-life questions about what she wants regarding her estate, end of life choices etc?”
  • “How do I say good-bye?”
  • “How can I better make her comfortable when nothing seems to be working?”
  • “How do I let my daughter say goodbye to Nana?”
  • “How do I honor her legacy to ensure she is remembered?” The one thing she was afraid of was being forgotten.

Upon her passing on November 14, 2020, the questions continued (and still remain):

  • “How do I honor her and attempt to carry on her legacy as a grandmother, wife, mother, trauma professional etc?”
  • “How do I continue her work and life’s mission of helping others in need?”
  • “What do I do to make sure my daughter always remembers Nana?”
  • “How do I continue the work of her foundation?”

While not an exhaustive list, nor entirely comprehensive of my journey, from the time my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer to the present day, the questions above started to make me realize that my journey did not end with my mother’s passing or my family’s experience with pancreatic cancer. (I lost my mother, grandmother, and great grandmother to pancreatic cancer).

Since her passing, I have looked for ways, personally and professionally, to honor her and give back to society. My hope is that that my actions will help one single person/patient in their experience with pancreatic cancer, or God willing, raise money that can lead to a cure. That, unequivocally, is what she would have wanted: a cure for pancreatic cancer so no one individual would be prematurely deprived of time with their grandchildren, spouses loved ones, etc. A searing for a cure and to be able to continue her life’s work as a trauma specialist and impact the lives for many is what she would have wanted. A cure for pancreatic cancer to be able to travel with her husband. A cure for pancreatic cancer to be able to call her son on a daily basis and remind him that she loved him, and sneakily ask, “I am coming over to see Tia?”, the name she affectionally called her granddaughter.

The one thing I can unequivocally state is that my mother would not have wanted this piece to be written solely in remembrance of her life. She would have wanted something more. She would have wanted the piece to be written in remembrance of her life’s mission, to help people and be an agent for change. The agent for change, in this case, being the National Pancreas Foundation and its mission, among many, to find a cure for pancreatic cancer. To be an agent for change to stop the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer from being a “death sentence” so that another family does not have to feel the void in their life due to the loss of a loved one. To be an agent for change to significantly increase the volume of patients with pancreatic cancer from living beyond the five-year mark. To be an agent for change to avoid the world-class physicians at Northwestern Memorial Hospital having to tell patients that, at present, there is no way to detect the initial onset of pancreatic cancer unless via scan. To be an agent for change that even a single dollar raised by the National Pancreas Foundation will somehow provide comfort and support for either a patient and/or loved one of a patient diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. To be this agent for change is why I personally became involved with the National Pancreas Foundation.

The story of my mother, Catherine, did not end on November 14, 2020, but rather it began. I am personally struck by a quote written about her on WTTW News on November 20, 2020 in an article titled “Chicago Yoga Community Remembers Teacher, Therapist and Trauma Expert Catherine Ashton” where author Ariel Parella- Aureli wrote others remembered Catherine as “a change-maker who bridged the gap between pain and healing and brought together people from different backgrounds and life experiences”. I urge everyone to continue to be individual change-makers for the National Pancreas Foundation as we all work together to bridge the gap between the pain caused by pancreatitis/pancreatic cancer and, hopefully, sooner rather than later, healing. It is only once we find a cure do the questions akin to those raised above no longer have to be answered.

My mother’s family was her first love and her second was helping people and being there for people. Everyone she met she wanted to touch in some way. It is my personal hope that through our collective work with the National Pancreas Foundation we can all continue to further enrich the lives of future patients and ultimately find a cure for the very disease that has brought us together as members with the National Pancreas Foundation.


To learn more about pancreatic cancer, please go HERE.