The Story of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN)

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The Story of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN)

In June of 1996, Rose Schneider, the mother of Pancreatic Cancer Action Network founder Pamela Acosta Marquardt, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  After Marquardt learned her mother was only given 3 to 6 months to live, she began gathering as much information as she could about the disease. 

The only place where Marquardt and her family could find any useful resources was in an online discussion board dedicated to pancreatic cancer hosted by Ralph Hruban, MD, a pathologist at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center.  Participating in the discussion group became Pam’s lifeline as she coped with her mother’s diagnosis.

After her mother’s passing on December 29, 1996, Marquardt continued to visit the university’s online discussion group to console herself and support others facing similar circumstances.  She was amazed at the number of new members who continually joined the group.

In January of 1998, Marquardt noticed that those seeking support on the discussion board were becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of resources for their community. There were simply no organizations solely dedicated to assisting those affected by the disease or anyone advocating on their behalf. 

In response, she decided to stage a black-tie celebrity fundraiser to fund the development of an early detection research lab for pancreatic cancer for Michael Goggins, MD, associate professor of Pathology and Oncology at the Sol Goldman Pancreatic Cancer Research Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Many of those on the discussion board became excited about the idea and agreed to help. 

As she began to plan the event, Pam contacted Michael Landon, Jr., whose own father, actor Michael Landon, passed away from pancreatic cancer in 1991 at age 54. After the younger Landon starting contacting members of other celebrity families who had been affected by pancreatic cancer, scores of additional high-profile individuals became involved. The gala, dubbed “An Evening with the Stars”, was an extraordinary success, raising more than $165,000.

Attendees at the first fundraiser included many well-known celebrities and their loved ones touched by pancreatic cancer, including the family of Michael Landon; the family and company employees of Paul Mitchell; Esther Williams, the widow of Fernando Lamas; B.J. Allen, the companion of Juliet Prowse; fashionista Mr. Blackwell; E.J. Peaker, who lost her mother to the disease; Pat Boone; Connie Stevens; Stella Stevens; Anna Marie Horsford; the family of Henry Mancini; Mary Owen, the daughter of Donna Reed; Majorie Beradino, the wife of actor John Beradino from “General Hospital”; Dick Van Patten and singer Freda Payne.

As the organization took shape in the months that followed, help came from across the country. A New York attorney who lost both of his parents to pancreatic cancer contacted Marquardt and offered to help her by establishing a 501(c)(3) corporation for the new charity, pro bono.  Another supporter volunteered to create a web site.

Sheila Kaplan, a former CNBC reporter based in Washington, DC, provided assistance that proved to be especially valuable. Kaplan, who lost her own mother to pancreatic cancer, put Marquardt in touch with Terry Lierman, Chief of Staff to Maryland State House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and the former owner of Capitol Associates, one of the largest health care lobbying firms on Capitol Hill.

Lierman , who lost his father to pancreatic cancer, lent his considerable political expertise to help successfully launch the fledging charity. At their first meeting, the two decided upon the new organization’s name:  the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, or PanCAN.  Another key initial backer was Paula Kim, who had lost her father to pancreatic cancer.  Kim played a key role in establishing the first national office, hiring the first full-time paid staff member, Julie Fleshman,  and working in the public policy and research areas.

In February of 1999, after months of hard work, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network was officially incorporated by Marquardt, Lierman and Kim.  From the start, hundreds of volunteers were at the ready to build awareness for the long misunderstood and neglected disease.

These contributions, whether given in time spent volunteering, making a donation, or both, have helped us advance research, support patients and create hope for those facing pancreatic cancer. This valued support has enabled us to grow from a small start-up to the leading national pancreatic cancer organization.

We are, and will continue to be, profoundly grateful to everyone who has helped us and to our three founders for showing us the way.

To read about our achievements over the past fifteen years, and to see a timeline representing a decade of important milestones, click here.