Picking up the Pieces

Home Our Hearts Are In It Because… Picking up the Pieces


Julie and her father, Jim Fleshman.

I remember my dad tinkering with his wrench to remove the training wheels from my bicycle.

“You’re ready,” he reassured me.

As he guided me down our Pleasanton, CA, street, pushing my new two-wheeler from the back seat, I started peddling faster, knowing my dad was behind me.

But he had let go. And I was riding on my own.

I remember coming to a stop at the end of the street and looking back. There he was, standing in the distance, proudly clapping and cheering on his little girl. He made me feel confident and safe.

It’s one of the first moments I remember with my dad. I was four and he was my hero.

Fast-forward years later to the last moments I shared with my dad. He was dying from pancreatic cancer. I was 24 and felt anything but confident or safe. My world shattered.

But as anyone who has lost a loved one knows, life forces you to pick up the pieces and forces you to grow and change in ways you never imagined possible.

My “picking up the pieces” started with a phone call to a prominent doctor at one of the few medical centers in the country conducting pancreatic cancer research at the time – I wanted answers. I wanted to know why more wasn’t being done – why my dad, and thousands of other patients – were sent home to die.

To the doctor’s credit, he called me back.

Our conversation changed the course of my life and career. He connected me with the founders of a new organization, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

Through several serendipitous moments, I became the organization’s first full-time staff person, executive director and later, president and CEO. Working for this organization has been my personal way of picking up the pieces.

I come to work each day to honor my dad – and to right his wrong. My anger has transpired into a steadfast mission of hope.

And nothing makes me more proud than knowing patients diagnosed today can find real options through PanCAN Patient Services. The program arms patients with resources, information and, most important, hope for their journey ahead -- something we didn’t have when my dad was diagnosed.

We have a long way to go to finish this journey, but our hearts are committed to changing the course of this disease. Together we Wage Hope.

Julie Fleshman
President and CEO
Pancreatic Cancer Action Network