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 Engagement program, volunteer affiliate network and other initiatives of the organization.
Stefanie Abate serves as the Affiliate Chair for Rhode Island. She has been leading the R.I. Affiliate since she began volunteering in 2013. Her passion drives her dedication to fighting pancreatic cancer and honoring her mother, Barbara Paterra, who spent her life helping others as a registered nurse. Paterra lost her battle with the disease in 2000 after just six months.
Abate’s volunteer work has been a family affair. Her brother-in-law, Jim, also lost his mother, Mildred, to pancreatic cancer. Her sister, Jackie, is the Team Ambassador. Jim is their “Mother’s Hope” PurpleStride team co-captain. Her cousin, AJ, is the social media coordinator and her dad, John, has been the number one individual fundraiser for the last two years at PurpleStride RI. Her husband, Chris, and the rest of her family and friends support the cause by creating awareness and raising money for their PurpleStride team, which was a top-three team in 2016 and 2017.
Abate has spent her career as a product marketing professional. She worked in the consumer-packaged goods industry for most of her career. However, in 2013, Abate began working in the healthcare industry. She is currently employed as the manager of product marketing at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Rhode Island, where she is responsible for managing the product portfolios offered in the Large and Small Employer Group commercial segments.
Abate is a graduate of Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, where she obtained a BS in business administration with a concentration in marketing. She recently graduated from the Women Unlimited ImPower leadership program in Boston, Massachusetts.
Abate lives in North Kingstown, R.I., with her husband. She loves going out to dinner and trying new restaurants as well as traveling, especially to cities. She inherited her love of reading and shopping from her mom.
Anggie Becorest was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 1996. She decided to volunteer for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network in 2013 with the San Diego Affiliate to give back to the pancreatic cancer community that she was so deeply connected to. Becorest felt very fortunate to be a long-term survivor and wanted to provide hope and support to those fighting the disease.
She served as Affiliate Chair for several years and is currently the Sponsorship and Flagship Chair. Her most rewarding volunteer experiences are meeting newly diagnosed individuals and seeing the spark in their eyes when they realize there is hope.
To celebrate her 10-year survivorship anniversary, Becorest participated in her first of many triathlons. She loves golfing, practicing yoga, and going to music festivals with her husband. Becorest is a native San Diegan. She is a proud mom to a smart, kind and beautiful daughter, and two rambunctious Vizsla puppies.
Becorest has a degree in Cell Biology and Biochemistry from UCSD. She has held many leadership positions in the life science community and is a serial entrepreneur. Currently, she is an executive with Empirico Therapeutics and a board member for Women in Bio.
Her outlook on life can be summed up in one of Maya Angelou’s quotes: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style.”
Nathan Burger began volunteering with the Indianapolis Affiliate in 2014 after losing one of his best friends to pancreatic cancer at the young age of 27. His career transitioned him to Orlando in 2016, and he started attending meetings with the Central Florida Affiliate. Eventually, Burger took on their Affiliate Chair position in 2018.
Burger has a BA in Sport Administration from Ball State University. He has worked for the National Basketball Association (NBA) for the past 10 years. He currently oversees the Group Sales Department for the Orlando Magic, and his team has been ranked the #1 group sales team in the NBA for the past three seasons.
With his knowledge of the corporate world and strengths in relationship building, sales, fundraising and logistics, Burger vows to bring these attributes to the affiliate in order to continue growing awareness in the Central Florida region.
In addition to serving as the Affiliate Chair, he also mentors through the Big Brothers Big Sisters Program of Central Florida, serves on the Board of Directors for the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando, participates in Tourism Orlando Leadership Program, and mentors for the Ball State Sport Administration Alumni Connections Program. Outside of work and volunteering, he enjoys playing golf and travelling.
Elizabeth “Liz” Canuas started volunteering for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network as the Affiliate Chair in Phoenix in 2011, after losing her mom, Cathy, in 2007 and her father, Jack, in 2010 to the disease. Canuas saw a need in Phoenix and knew she had to get involved and make a difference. This value was instilled in Canuas by her parents from a young age.
Canuas graduated from Arizona State University with a BA in special education and went on to get a master’s degree in school administration from the University of Phoenix. In her professional career, she is a special education teacher in the Cartwright School District.
Canuas has been a teacher in different roles for the past 16 years. She teaches at the school that her two children attend, which is the same school that she and her sister attended and her mother taught at for 16 years before her passing.
Canuas was born and raised in Phoenix. She currently lives in Avondale, Ariz., with her husband, Marcelino, who is the PurpleStride Chair in Phoenix, and their three children. Marcelino II (age 13), Manuel (age 10) and Trinity (age 6), all volunteer for the Phoenix Affiliate.
In her spare time, Canuas and her family are very involved in their church, volunteering time in the children’s ministry on weekends. Canuas and her husband are also involved in their sons’ football teams and their daughters’ cheerleading team.
Serving their community and caring for others is a high priority in everything they do as a family. Canuas also has a large collection of penguins and loves everything purple!
Joining the Volunteer Advisory Council has been a longtime goal for Canuas. She is so excited to bring her years of experience as an Affiliate Chair and her leadership to this special group. She hopes to be a great support to all of the affiliates.
Frank De Seno
Frank De Seno has served as the Media Chair for the Chicago Affiliate for the last four years. During his tenure, he has acquired at least two Gold Media Sponsors for PurpleStride every year, including several radio and television interviews. He was also able to obtain numerous interviews and media coverage for Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month and World Pancreatic Cancer Day in November.
In 2008, De Seno lost his older brother to pancreatic cancer just 30 days after being diagnosed at the age of 62. Three years later in 2011, Frank lost his wife to the disease, four months after being diagnosed. She was only 52 years old.
Since that time, De Seno has lost three close friends and other acquaintances to pancreatic cancer. He has made it his mission to help fight and find a cure for the world’s toughest cancer.
De Seno became a volunteer with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network in July 2011, after meeting the founder Pam Acosta Marquardt.
He has been an active volunteer ever since, serving in the roles of advocate, PurpleLight Chair and Media Chair. He has attended Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C., for the last seven years. Plus, De Seno serves as a volunteer mentor for other cancer-related organizations.
He is now retired after a 40-year career at Grainger, where he held numerous roles including Buyer, Trade Show Setup Manager, Project Manager, NASCAR/Grainger Media Manager and many others. In addition to his normal duties, De Seno was also Employee Event Coordinator, where he planned monthly employee events and annual company picnics with attendances over 4,000 people. He holds a degree in Business Management from DePaul University.
De Seno spends his personal time walking, bike riding, gardening, event planning with his small business, cooking dishes from scratch, and planning for his wedding in August 2019.
He was born and raised in the Little Italy neighborhood of Chicago where he learned strong family and life values. De Seno now lives in Round Lake, Illinois, a far northwestern suburb of Chicago with his wife-to-be, their dog Bailee and bird Austin. He is a big Chicago sports fan, cheering for the Blackhawks, Bears and White Sox.
Annette Fetty-Santilli called the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) on Oct. 9, 2007. It was the day after her 38-year old brother’s funeral.
Her younger brother, Jim, had passed away from pancreatic cancer. She made a promise to him on his last day on earth that she would do everything she could to help end this disease, because no one else should have to suffer like he did. Fetty-Santilli began volunteering immediately.
Fetty-Santilli’s calling to help end pancreatic cancer also influenced her career path. In December 2013, she became the administrator at her local public health department. Combining both professional and personal activities, she serves on the Steering Council of West Virginia’s Mountains of Hope Cancer Coalition.
Fetty-Santilli also served a two-year term in the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network as State Lead Ambassador. She was instrumental in helping pass legislation in West Virginia, prohibiting tanning bed use by anyone under the age of 18 in the state. Fetty-Santilli was motivated by her own skin cancer diagnosis. She also viewed this as an opportunity to raise the profile of pancreatic cancer all around West Virginia.
Her “purple passion” has rubbed off on her entire family. Both her husband, Sam, and her daughter, Stephanie, volunteer for PanCAN as well. Stephanie has accompanied her mom on several occasions to National Pancreatic Cancer Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C.
Fetty-Santilli has summed up her advocacy efforts in one word – “relationships.” She has appreciated building personal relationships with her federal legislators and their staffs. Every legislator and their staff members know that it was her brother who passed away from pancreatic cancer and the importance of this cause. As a result, in November 2018, all five of West Virginia’s Congressional Office Staffs wore purple for World Pancreatic Cancer Day.
In 2015, Fetty-Santilli received PanCAN’s Community Advocate of the Year Award. In November 2017, she led West Virginia to have the most systems engaged during Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. And in May 2018, Fetty-Santilli had the opportunity to host CEO Julie Fleshman in West Virginia.
Fetty-Santilli has a BS in business administration from West Virginia Wesleyan College and a MA in education administration from West Virginia University. She enjoys shopping, designing counted cross-stitch patterns, and watching baseball games and WVU women’s basketball games with her husband and daughter.
“Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much.” (Helen Keller)
Janice Griffin’s personal journey with pancreatic cancer began in June 2009 when she lost her mom, Connie Drudik, to the disease after only 9 months.
In 2012, Griffin literally stumbled upon a Boston PurpleStride event. It was truly an emotional and life-changing moment for her. From her first Boston Affiliate meeting to the present, Griffin has been able to channel her energy and passion in a positive way as a volunteer, educator, advocate and leader with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN).
She has served as a PanCAN general volunteer, PurpleStride KidZone Chair, Volunteer Chair (two years), and currently Affiliate Chair (three years).
In addition to affiliate activities, Griffin serves on committees for the annual Framingham Police 5k for Pancreatic Cancer and The Boston Purple Party. She also participates on a Special Commission to Study Pancreatic Cancer with the Commonwealth of Mass.
Griffin is committed to continuing the mission of changing the future of pancreatic cancer not by herself, but with the support of other committed individuals. “It is truly an honor to be a part of the Volunteer Advisory Council, and I look forward to this opportunity within the PanCAN community.”
Born and raised in rural Nebraska, Griffin has lived in New England for nearly 30 years with her husband, son and daughter. She currently lives in Arlington, Mass. The Griffin team, Butterfly4Mom, participates in Boston PurpleStride annually.
When not involved with PanCAN, Griffin loves to walk, cycle, practice yoga, garden, and travel with her family, including her children’s spouses. For the past 25 years, she has worked with students with special needs. Her mom’s love of serving others inspired the direction of Griffin’s life.
Michelle Hernandez has volunteered with the San Antonio Affiliate since 2013. Her father lost his battle with pancreatic cancer in 1995 at the age of 40 when Michelle was 13 years old.
Hernandez has always been active in many organizations, but in 2013, she sought an organization that could help those that had lost loved ones to pancreatic cancer. She found PanCAN and realized not many people knew about this particular cancer, or how to get help. Hernandez knew she had to jump in and make a difference.
Her volunteer journey began as the San Antonio Volunteer Chair. Hernandez has enjoyed meeting amazing people, hearing their stories, and encouraging others to get involved to spread the “Purple Passion.”
She was part of the team that earned the 2016 Region 2 Affiliate of the Year Award, and in 2017, she transitioned into her current role as the San Antonio Affiliate Chair. She also volunteered at the Boston PurpleStride and attended Advocacy Day in 2016 and 2017.
Hernandez has a BA in Business Management from Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi, and works in human resources for a manufacturing and engineering firm. She resides in Schertz, Texas, and loves to travel as much as possible.
Tiffany Mekeel believes our lives are measured in moments, and defining moments are the ones that endure in our memories. Her defining moment came on July 14, 2017 when her beautiful, strong, and courageous mom was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. This moment upended the certainties in her life and reshaped them.
When her mom passed away September 28, 2018, she was determined to continue her mom’s battle and when the opportunity arose to serve as the Affiliate Chair for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network Cleveland Affiliate, there was no question in her mind she was destined for this role.
Tiffany made a promise to her mom that she would not stop the fight against pancreatic cancer and she hasn’t. Her passion and dedication drives Tiffany to advocating and demanding better for those affected by pancreatic cancer. Tiffany is a proud and active member of the Cleveland Affiliate serving as both Social Media Chair and Affiliate Chair.
Tiffany has helped plan and execute PurpleLight, PurpleStride and other affiliate activities. She often volunteers with other PanCAN related activities and affiliations. Tiffany represented PanCAN at check presentations and has appeared on local television. Volunteering for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network gives her a huge sense of pride and empowerment. She knows her mom is smiling down on her and proud of the accomplishments she has made.
Tiffany is a wife of an extremely hardworking and supportive husband, Tim and a Jeep driving mom to two spirited, super adorable boys, Noah (age 11) and Hunter (age 8). She graduated from John Carroll University with a BA/BS in Accounting, and works full-time for local government in the Council Office. When she’s not working, Tiffany can be found spending time with her family, working out at Orangetheory Fitness (OTF) or exploring her city, the “CLE.”
Rebecca Shanahan formed the Las Vegas Affiliate of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) in 2011, after losing both her girlfriend and her father to pancreatic cancer, just a few months apart. Acting as Affiliate Chair, she has worked alongside an incredibly dedicated team to generate awareness and funding for pancreatic cancer research among a diverse community of many worthy causes. Facing these challenges has intensified her passion and leadership toward continued growth of the affiliate year after year.
Her involvement with PanCAN has not only provided her with an empowering extended family, it has expanded her skillsets professionally. Advocating for federal funding in Washington D.C., promoting PanCAN’s mission through public speaking and media relations, and engaging with patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals has helped her find success as Deputy Director of a Nevada-based nonprofit, driving innovative water technologies for the state.
Between juggling her work and volunteer commitments, Shanahan is first and foremost a wife and mother of two young daughters. She hopes to lead by example in raising her two girls to be kind, engaged and giving. They participate regularly in her volunteer activities and are some of the youngest advocates on Capitol Hill. She hopes the experiences they are exposed to through her leadership opportunities set the course for their successes in life.
Matt Wilson has been a pancreatic cancer survivor since 2012. He joined the Delaware Affiliate on his one-year survivor anniversary to honor his family, friends and co-workers who supported him through all his tests, surgery and months of recovery.
Wilson hit the ground running by volunteering in a variety of roles with the affiliate’s first PurpleStride, the walk to end pancreatic cancer. In 2013, he was asked to be the State Leader at Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C., and was then asked to step into the role of Advocacy Chair.
In 2014, Wilson was awarded the Randy Pausch award. The award recognizes a core role volunteer who has contributed outstanding service that goes above and beyond what is expected to advance the mission of PanCAN, who upholds volunteer core values, and who is an inspirational leader and a role model in the pancreatic cancer community. The award is also given to someone who embodies the late Dr. Pausch’s optimism, courage and enthusiasm for life.
In 2016, Wilson was invited to become the Delaware Affiliate Chair. He resides in Wilmington, Del., where he is an Assistant Professor and Department Chair at Wilmington University. Wilson will graduate with a Doctorate of Education and concentration in Higher Education Leadership in May 2018.
Michele Wood started volunteering with the Boston Affiliate in 2010. She lost her dad to pancreatic cancer in 2007, and began looking for ways to change the disease’s low survival rate and lack of awareness. When she received an email asking for volunteers to come discuss the possibility of starting a Boston Affiliate, she knew it was meant to be.
It was only a matter of weeks before she signed on as the affiliate’s Media Relations Chair. She earned the Media Relations Chair of the Year Award in 2013, and the affiliate went on to win the Affiliate of the Year Award in 2015.
Wood has helped plan and execute PurpleLight, PurpleStride and other affiliate activities, and has participated in Advocacy Day. Her motivation to continue volunteering comes from the loneliness she felt when her dad was going through his diagnosis. She does not want others impacted by pancreatic cancer to feel the same way, and sees her volunteering as a way to be there for them.
Wood graduated from Franklin Pierce University with a BA in Accounting, and works full-time for a global medical company in its financial compliance department. She enjoys spending time with her two sons and husband, and recently discovered a love of running. She is working toward the goal of completing a half-marathon.