Robert and Judith Doesschate’s bequest to Mass General advances pancreatic cancer research and honors Robert's mother who died from the disease.

When Robert Doesschate gazes at an old photo of his mother, he yearns for what could have been. His mother, Helen, died from pancreatic cancer in 1951 when he was 2 years old. At 29, she left behind her husband, Robert and his sister.

Bob Doesschate's mother, who passed away at 29 from pancreatic cancer.
Robert Doesschate’s mother, Helen, who was 29 when she died from pancreatic cancer.

Robert has no memories of his mother, just the black-and-white image from which she looks out, serene and beautiful, light reflecting off her soft curls.

Seventy years have passed since Robert lost his mother, but survival rates for pancreatic cancer are still low, Robert says. Most patients die within one year of their diagnosis. Only about 10% survive five years after being diagnosed, according to national statistics.

Robert was reminded of this fact, when, more recently, he lost a work colleague to pancreatic cancer who died a few years after being diagnosed.

He and his wife, Judith Doesschate, wanted to improve survival rates for patients, so they created a bequest in their will to establish an endowed fund for pancreatic cancer research.

Robert and his wife, Judith Doesschate, wanted to improve survival rates for patients, so they created a bequest in their will to establish an endowed fund for pancreatic cancer research.

Home is New England

In 1968, Robert met Judith at Hanscom Field in Bedford, Massachusetts. She was a college intern. He was in-between tours of duty for the U.S. Air Force.

Robert tells the story this way — “I met my wife under the wing of a C130 aircraft in an airplane hangar. At least the engines weren’t running.”

After serving in the Air Force during the Vietnam War, Robert returned to New England, and married Judith. They settled in Tyngsborough, Massachusetts, and lived there for 20 years while Judith taught art at an elementary school in Lowell, and Robert worked for 3M Health Care selling medical equipment around New England, including at Mass General.

The hospital staff impressed him, and he enjoyed his frequent visits. One of the product lines he sold was N95 respirators. In the 1990s, the respirators helped safeguard health care providers from contracting multidrug-resistant tuberculous from patients. Today, they protect against the COVID-19 virus.

Compassionate and Dedicated Care

In 2017, within six months of each other, Robert was diagnosed with prostate cancer and Judith with breast cancer. They received their treatment at Mass General and both are doing well. Barbara Smith, MD, PhD, director of the Breast Program at Mass General, cared for Judith, and Doug Dahl, MD, chief, Division of Urologic Oncology, treated Robert. The couple was impressed by the skill, compassion and dedication of their entire care teams, from nurses to technicians.

Creating a Bequest with Purpose

Robert knows early detection methods helped him and Judith beat their cancers. They want patients with pancreatic cancer to have the same opportunities to survive longer.

So, they turned to Mass General to create a bequest because they trusted the hospital’s excellence and experienced it as patients. Their bequest will one day establish an endowed fund to support pancreatic cancer research. An endowed fund provides support to the hospital forever, advancing patient care and research.

“We wanted to give our estate directly to pancreatic cancer research. Mass General gave us that opportunity,” Robert explains.

Consider a bequest to advance health care and remember a loved one. Contact the Office of Planned Giving at 617-643-2220 or