For years, Notre Dame Food Services has supported Relay for Life’s fight against cancer. This year, it’s personal.
Dave Prentkowski, director of Food Services since 1990, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last fall and is undergoing chemotherapy treatments. He is the 2012 Relay for Life honoree.
“If I can do some good for the cause, when they asked me, I thought, ‘No question, I’ll do it!’” he says. “What people have got to realize is cancer is not discriminatory. It’ll pick out anybody. Somebody like me who’s very active and busy with different things—if it can affect me, it can affect them, too.”
The interest in cancer research intensifies, Prentkowski says, when a cure could be just around the corner.
“Even if it doesn’t help me personally, down the road it will help somebody else,” he says. “The whole reason I’m going through all this stuff is so they can hopefully extend my life, and during that time the scientists create something else that can be more beneficial to me. Helping to fund that kind of stuff, I think, is worthwhile. A cause like this, which has really picked up at Notre Dame the last 10 years or so, is really a good cause. There’s a lot going on right here in the community, plus what they’re doing at the big cancer clinics.”
His personal experience has given Prentkowski, who has made trips to specialists in Chicago and Houston in addition to his local doctors, an insight into accelerated research as modern technology helps scientists and clinicians collaborate effectively.
“What I was impressed with the most is how the doctors are willing to work together,” he says. “Their whole attitude is more of sharing as opposed to ‘I know better than anybody else, I don’t need your input.’ The sharing of ideas and experiences has been very impressive. It kind of makes you feel like they really care about you, not their own egos. They’re not trying to be the savior all by themselves. They’re utilizing the research and the work that others are doing.”
In addition to his Relay for Life participation, Prentkowski works to help his colleagues at Notre Dame and in the college food service industry around the country become more informed about cancer.
“I’ve always tried to be the positive person and get them to talk,” he says. “You can ask me questions. I try to get people to see it as the way it is—nothing you want to hide. It’s OK to talk about it. The more people learn about it, the more people hopefully will contribute to cancer research or research on any disease that’s out there.”
Support from Notre Dame colleagues has been gratifying, he says, including a 45-minute visit with Father Ted Hesburgh in his library office and a Mass for healing at the Basilica where Hesburgh joined a dozen other priests.
“The outpouring of support has been unbelievable here on campus, both from people I don’t know and people I do know and certainly from the religious men and women,” he says. “It’s been unbelievably supportive. I couldn’t ask for a better place to be.”