Oct 10, 2022 9:00 AM

Read time: 3 minutes

Author: Kelly Hermans, Huntsman Cancer Foundation

group of women all in black and white animal print clothing
Leslie Bangerter, third from right, with friends who supported her NET cancer fundraising efforts.

After Leslie Bangerter was diagnosed with a rare cancer, she took time to grieve—then started planning a fundraiser.

I felt sorry for myself and cried a lot, then I decided to do something about it,” Leslie says. Her decision was buoyed by her doctor, Heloisa Soares, MD, PhD, a neuroendocrine oncologist at Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah, and a 2020–2021 Advocacy Champion. She made Leslie feel cared for and hopeful. “Heloisa has a fire within her. She wants to help her patients, and I want to help her. I know I can do that through fundraising.”

In addition to working two jobs, being a single mother, and going through treatment, Leslie started cold calling and emailing companies. She’d ask for auction items that could benefit neuroendocrine tumor (NET) research at Huntsman Cancer Institute. Eventually, her home overflowed with donations: a paddleboard, a folding kayak, a Yeti cooler, an acoustic guitar, jewelry, gift baskets, and more. “I’ve realized through fundraising that there are so many good people who truly care and want to help. All we need to do is ask.”

Leslie planned to host a fundraiser after her October 2019 diagnosis, but had to delay it due to COVID-19. Finally, on December 18, 2021, she held the inaugural Black and White Ball, a reference to NET’s nickname as the “zebra of cancers” due to its rarity. About 300 guests donning zebra prints and black-and-white attire bid on dozens of items. Ultimately, the event generated $18,700 for NET research. “A lot of people were motivated by the cause, and it was heartwarming and fun,” says Dr. Soares, who spoke at the ball. “Leslie is a fantastic person with a lot of energy and a will to do good.”

Heloisa Soares, MD, PhD, speaks at the inaugural Black and White Ball in 2021.
Heloisa Soares, MD, PhD, speaks at the inaugural Black and White Ball in 2021.

Now, Leslie is gearing up for the second annual Black and White Ball on October 28 at Pierpont Place in Salt Lake City. This year’s theme is Monster Mash and guests are encouraged to wear Halloween costumes. Leslie hopes to surpass last year’s total, and the cause has become more meaningful: one of her older brothers also received a NET diagnosis last year. While Leslie may always need treatment, her cancer is slow-growing and shouldn’t stop her from living a full life. However, her brother’s case has been more aggressive. “It has inspired me to fundraise more,” Leslie says. “They’re working on a lot of great treatments. They’re helping to manage and provide better care for patients.”

Huntsman Cancer Institute offers several cutting-edge clinical trials for NET patients—including trials that use peptide receptor radionuclide therapy (PRRT), a targeted radiation that minimizes side effects. Researchers are also investigating how to improve the utilization of PRRT, and whether chemotherapy prevents relapses in patients who have had tumors removed. A team led by Courtney Scaife, MD, is using samples of NET cells to test drugs and develop more research. “I'm extremely optimistic about the future for neuroendocrine tumors,” Dr. Soares says. “I think there are more strides coming.”

Leslie hopes the Monster Mash will contribute to those strides, and that her story shows people with cancer that they don’t need to hide. “If you know someone who has cancer, don't be afraid to talk to them,” she says. “I want to give people the courage to come out and say, ‘I have cancer, and I am still me.’”

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