Pancreatic Cancer Action Network Volunteer Advisory Council

The Volunteer Advisory Council (VAC) is a group of Pancreatic Cancer Action Network volunteers who provide feedback and advice to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network with regard to the Community Outreach program, volunteer affiliate network and other initiatives of the organization.

Maurice Bason

Maurice Bason is a pancreatic cancer survivor as well as the Cincinnati Affiliate’s Education and Outreach Coordinator and a volunteer for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s Survivor and Caregiver Network. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in December 2006, just prior to his 62nd birthday and underwent the Whipple procedure in early 2007. In 2011, Maurice jumped into the role of Education & Outreach Coordinator and loves working alongside other passionate volunteers in the Cincinnati Affiliate. He particularly enjoys interacting with the local healthcare professional community.

Following a career as an organization development and executive search consultant, Maurice joined a client corporation to lead developments in human resources, continuous improvement and information technology. In retirement Maurice enjoys chasing after his nine grandchildren.


Melissa Benson

Melissa currently serves as an Event Coordinator for the Los Angeles Affiliate of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. Before moving to LA, she also served as the Event Coordinator for the Atlanta Affiliate, which she joined in 2010. She works with a team of volunteers to plan PurpleStride Los Angeles, which attracted over 1600 participants and raised more than $206,000 in 2013. In 1999, Melissa lost her Grandmother to pancreatic cancer. Ten years later her father was also diagnosed with this disease. He was healthy, active and young, but the statistics were against him. His cancer spread quickly and he passed just three months after diagnosis.

Melissa grew up just outside of Milwaukee, WI. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Finance and International Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She currently works as the Business Operations Manager at KIPP Iluminar Academy in East Los Angeles. Melissa’s father cared deeply about others and taught his children at a young age to always give back. It was his commitment to serving others that motivated Melissa to dedicate her time to raising awareness and funds for pancreatic cancer. She gains inspiration from her family, especially her Mom, who lost both her husband and her mother to pancreatic cancer. Melissa is hopeful that the statistics can change, and that together we can double the survival rate by 2020.

Susan Bowman

Susan Bowman is both a survivor of pancreatic cancer as well as the Volunteer Chair of the Houston Affiliate of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. In 2008, during a routine checkup, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the age of 53. Due to the early detection of her cancer, she was able to have surgery and all the cancer was removed. In 2011, Susan joined the Houston Affiliate as they began planning their first PurpleStride.

Susan has worked in the financial/securities industry for more than 38 years and is currently an Authorized Officer for UBS Financial Services. Currently, she lives in Cypress, TX, with her husband of 36 years and love of her life, Kenny. They have a wonderful son, daughter-in-law, and grand-dog. She recently celebrated her five-year anniversary as a survivor, and volunteers in hopes that more pancreatic cancer patients are able to reach this milestone.

Todd Cohen

After losing his father to pancreatic cancer in 2002, Todd Cohen made finding a cure to this insidious disease a priority in his life. He has served as the Media Representative of the Northern New Jersey Affiliate since the group’s inception in 2007 and was named the organization’s Media Representative of the Year in 2011. He has helped oversee an affiliate that has raised over $450,000 and was named the Large Market Affiliate of the Year in 2012.

Todd received his B.A. in Political Science and Journalism at Rutgers University in 1998, and his Masters in Special Education in 2007 and certification as a Learning Consultant Teaching Consultant in 2011 at Kean University. Todd lives in Edison, New Jersey. He is a middle school special education teacher and freelance writer for several different media outlets. Prior to working as a teacher, Todd worked for Merrill Lynch for five years and as a staff member at Camp Harmony in Warren, NJ. Even though his dream of being a cast member on Saturday Night Live has not yet happened, he likes to use social media as a mechanism for raising awareness about this disease and, of course, making people laugh.

Mariann Cheney

Since her husband Ralph’s diagnosis of stage III pancreatic cancer in January 2005, Mariann Cheney has served as a volunteer for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network in a variety of roles. Currently she and her husband, an 8 year survivor of both pancreatic and prostate cancer, are Community Representatives in Hudson Valley, New York. A native of Sloatsburg, New York, Mariann received her B.A. from Ramapo College New Jersey and is currently pursuing her Master’s in Business Administration. She is the Human Resources Director for Occupations, Inc., Family Empowerment Council, Inc. and New Dynamics Inc.; all non-profit agencies that provide services and employment to people with mental health and developmental disabilities. She has served on the Advisory Board of Directors for the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley and is a member of the Society of Human Resource Professionals. She currently serves as President of the American Legion Auxiliary of Unit 73 in Monticello, New York where she and Ralph live on Swinging Bridge Lake.

Amy Cunningham

After losing her mother to pancreatic cancer in 2008, Amy Cunningham began volunteering with the local Philadelphia Affiliate of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. Since February 2012 she has served as the Philadelphia Affiliate Coordinator and prior to this she was the affiliate’s Education and Outreach Coordinator and a general volunteer. For her efforts, Amy was recognized as Education and Outreach Coordinator of the Year in 2012 and Affiliate Coordinator of the Year in 2013 at Community Outreach Leadership Training.

Amy received a B.A. in Anthropology from Bryn Mawr College, and a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree from Temple University. She currently works as a program manager for a health care foundation, and is pursuing her PhD in Population Health at Thomas Jefferson University. She now lives in Philadelphia and is honored to work with so many passionate and caring volunteers both locally and nationally.

Maija Eerkes

As well as being a 6 year pancreatic cancer survivor, Maija Eerkes is the Advocacy Coordinator of the Puget Sound Affiliate of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and a volunteer for the organization’s Survivor & Caregiver Network. After retiring in December 2005, she began to experience discomfort in her back and chest, which she assumed was the result of a past sports injury. After seeing her internist months later, Maija was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at age 52. After aggressive treatments, the tumor shrunk, and by 2007, could no longer be detected.

As a survivor of pancreatic cancer, Maija was inspired to work on behalf of the cause. Her efforts include fundraising and creating awareness through local events, connecting people within the pancreatic cancer community, offering hope to newly diagnosed patients and their families, and lobbying legislators for increased emphasis on research and NCI funding for this disease.

Maureen Feck

Maureen has volunteered with the Chicago – Metro Affiliate of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network since losing her father to the disease in 2007, only three short weeks after diagnosis. She served as Event Coordinator for three years before becoming Affiliate Coordinator in 2011, and has played a key role in making PurpleStride Chicago to one of our organization’s largest PurpleStrides.

Maureen grew up in the suburbs of Chicago is a graduate of Purdue University, where she studied Communications and Public Relations. She works as the Meeting Services Manager for True Value Company in Chicago where she plans and executes meeting and events including two annual city-wide conventions for the company’s 4,000+ retailers. She currently lives just outside of Chicago in Schaumburg with her husband, Matt, and enjoys cooking, shopping and entertaining with friends.

Carol Foreman

Carol became the Community Representative in Western Kentucky in October 2010, only two months after losing her father to pancreatic cancer. When he was diagnosed earlier that year, Carol’s life changed forever. From his first chemo treatment, to his last breath, she was at his side. In researching the disease, she came across the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. Carol wanted to use her father’s name, “Minus John Leleaux,” his life and his illness to advocate and help find a cure for the disease that took him so quickly. She wanted to fight for a world “MINUS” pancreatic cancer in his memory.

Carol is a Cajun girl from Southwest Louisiana. She is a Licensed Practical Nurse and loves all things outside as well as spending time with her husband, two daughters and seven grandchildren. Since becoming the Community Representative in Western Kentucky she has built a growing team of volunteers and has planned the first-ever PurpleLight in Kentucky.

Kara Friedrich

Following her father’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis in 2000 and the loss of two other family members, Kara Friedrich has worked passionately to change the course of this disease. She has volunteered with the Denver Affiliate since 2007, became Event Coordinator in 2008, and has served as Affiliate Coordinator since 2009. Kara even helped plan the first Purple Light: Vigil for Hope before it became a national movement.

Kara has worked in management and customer service in a variety of industries, including cable television, home healthcare and education. She currently runs a very successful infant/toddler daycare from home, which allows her the flexibility to devote her spare time to her passion – fighting pancreatic cancer! She was born in Illinois, but grew up Estes Park, CO. She currently lives in Loveland, CO, with her husband, Joey, and they enjoy being active outdoors and spending time with friends and family. She and her husband have three adult children, one grandson and another on the way!

Noila Johnson

After losing a dear friend to pancreatic cancer, Noila Johnson began looking for more information on the disease and found the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. In 2011, she volunteered for PurpleStride New York City, where she was able to connect with volunteers from the local affiliate. Since September 2011, Noila has served as the Education and Outreach Coordinator of the affiliate, working to inform local healthcare professionals and the general public about pancreatic cancer. Through volunteering, Noila has met many pancreatic cancer survivors as well as those, like herself, who have lost someone to the disease. She is inspired by these opportunities to be able to talk to those who have similar experiences and share a message of hope.

A native of Jamaica, Noila migrated to New York nearly 28 years ago. She received her Bachelor of Professional Studies in Business from Audrey Cohen College (now Metropolitan College of New York) and is currently pursuing her MBA in Healthcare Administration. Additionally, she has worked at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center for the past 12 years. Noila has four daughters and seven wonderful grandchildren.

Lindsey McDonald

Lindsey is the Event Coordinator for the Kansas City Affiliate of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. She joined the affiliate in 2009 after losing her father-in-law to pancreatic cancer. Since then Lindsey has planned many fundraising events, including Night of Hope Kansas City 2010 and 2011, as well as PurpleStride Kansas City in 2011 and 2012. In early 2012, she was selected as the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s Event Coordinator of the Year.

Lindsey graduated from the University of Iowa and enjoys trips with her family back to Iowa City to cheer for alma mater, the Iowa Hawkeyes. She currently resides in Shawnee, Kansas, with her husband Ryan and two children, Maddy and AJ. Lindsey also works full-time at ScriptPro, a pharmacy automation company in Mission, Kansas where she has worn many hats including Trainer, Project Manager and Workflow Analyst. She currently manages the Field Operations Configuration Management group which focuses on new product development, testing and release.