PanCAN staff member Abigail Dominguez, Lisa Kulok, 2024 awardee Karina Gutierrez, and last year’s awardee Brianne Flores all standing together posing for the picture in front of a purple wall with writing on it.

(L-R) PanCAN staff member and 2022 awardee Abigail Dominguez, Lisa Kulok, 2024 awardee Karina Gutierrez, and last year’s awardee Brianne Flores.

“PanCAN is an amazing organization,” says PanCAN Board member Lisa Kulok, “not only for the work they do, but because of the people.”

One of those people is PanCAN Patient Services Case Manager Karina Gutierrez. She is the fourth recipient of the Carol Kulok Award for Compassion, an award given annually to a member of the PanCAN Patient Services team who has gone above and beyond in service to patients and their caregivers.

Lisa worked with PanCAN to establish the award to honor her mom, Carol Kulok, who passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2016.

“This award was created because my mom would want the amazing people in Patient Services to know how much your work means every day, in big ways and small. When I think about this award,” Lisa continues, “I reflect back to even her hardest days and how she was grateful for the support and care she received.”

After she was diagnosed, Carol and Lisa got involved with PanCAN, participating in two PanCAN PurpleStride events together. Lisa says her mom was full of life and believed deeply in helping other people – that each of us had a responsibility to do something Lisa has continued her support of PanCAN by serving as a longtime Premier Sponsor for PurpleStride Orange County and a Team Captain for “Carol’s Purple Crusaders.”

Now, Lisa believes that through this award, Carol’s spirit and energy is shared with all of us – especially the recipients.

As for this year’s recipient, Karina says that receiving the award was truly unexpected. “Being recognized made me feel a sense of gratitude. The recipients before me are all remarkable in their work and I am humbled to be recognized alongside them,” she says.

To get to know Karina, we asked her a few questions:

PanCAN: Tell us a little about yourself, your background, and how you came to PanCAN.

Karina: I’ve always worked in nonprofit and I’m passionate about nonprofit organizations because they foster community, provide access to resources, and help fill gaps.

I came to PanCAN almost coincidentally. I was referred to the Case Manager role by a previous Case Manager (a dear friend of mine) who felt I was perfect for the position. At the time I was ready for a career change, but I was not confident in taking that next step. However, I took a leap of faith, and I am forever grateful to my friend for supporting me in making that decision because I love PanCAN and the mission!

PanCAN: Lisa has said, “My mom found joy in the simplest of moments.” What parts of your job do you find the most joy in?

Karina: The part of my job I find most joyful is continued connections. Every so often, I hear from people I haven’t connected with in a while just calling to say hello and share updates on their/their loved one’s journey. It brings me joy knowing that even while managing their role as patient/caregiver they take the time out to continue to connect with me and the organization. I also find joy in educating people about the disease. Education is vital for patients to make informed decisions. I am happy to be able to play a role in that.

PanCAN: What are some ways you show compassion to the patients and caregivers who contact you?

Karina: Pancreatic cancer, like any cancer, can be a very difficult diagnosis to navigate. There are a lot of changes that come after a cancer diagnosis. With any change, compassion is essential. I show compassion to the patients and caregivers that contact me by validating their emotions, communicating with sensitivity, and through continued connection.  It’s important to meet everyone where they are in their journey, and I find that compassion is key in being able to do so.

A big thank you to both Lisa and Karina for their dedication to creating a world where all patients with pancreatic cancer will thrive.

Contact a PanCAN Patient Services Case Manager
Contact PanCAN Patient Services for free, personal one-to-one support and information about the disease.