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.
Andrea Bauer-Kuczma began volunteering with the Pittsburgh Affiliate in early 2008 after losing her mother to pancreatic cancer in 2006 and relocating to the city from northwestern Pa. She served as the Media Relations Chair from 2008 to 2013 and then transitioned into her current role as the Affiliate Chair. Bauer-Kuczma was recognized for her efforts as Media Relations Chair of the Year in 2013 and Affiliate Chair of the Year in 2015.
From a young age, her parents taught her the value of volunteering – both with their church and the local volunteer fire department. Their emphasis on community involvement eventually led her to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network when she was looking to channel her anger and frustration about her mother’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Friends and family have come to know her as a voice for pancreatic cancer advocacy and awareness, and they were not surprised she chose to get married in November during Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. Purple was the primary wedding color.
Bauer-Kuczma has a BA in accounting from Mercyhurst University and an MBA in finance from the University of Akron. She currently works as a senior credit analyst for Sapa Extrusion and has worked in various financial roles for more than 10 years. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband, Kevin, and their two rescue dogs, Deacon and Greta. Outside of work and volunteering, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends and supporting Pittsburgh’s trifecta of sports teams – the Steelers, Penguins and Pirates.
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.”
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.
Danielle Gentry-Barth began volunteering with the Cincinnati Affiliate in 2009, a few months after losing her stepdad to a short six-week battle with pancreatic cancer. Danielle served in a core role position from 2009 to 2011 and then transitioned into her current role as Affiliate Chair. In 2014, her stepmom was tragically diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and passed eight weeks later. Gentry Barth’s mission is to change the course of this disease so that anyone diagnosed with pancreatic cancer has a fighting chance.
Gentry-Barth is a proud member of the Cincinnati Affiliate of volunteers that established the city’s first PurpleStride, PurpleLight and Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Night at Great American Ball Park. In 2011, the Cincinnati Affiliate received the Affiliate of the Year Medium Market Award and has raised over $1 million to date.
Gentry-Barth has spent her career working in the nonprofit sector. Currently, she is the vice president of development and marketing at Easterseals Serving Greater Cincinnati, an organization that empowers people with disabilities and disadvantages to find employment and live a full life.
She is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati, where she earned both a BA and MA. She has been involved in many professional associations, including the Association of Fundraising Professionals, where she served as Greater Cincinnati Chapter president in 2012.
She loves nothing more than being the mom of three amazing daughters, ages 18, 12 and 8, and mentoring a young girl, age 14. She describes all of them “as cooler than she will ever be!”
Kathy Grayson decided to volunteer and become her father’s voice after he lost his battle with pancreatic cancer in 2005. She joined the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network to help others affected by this disease and to make a difference by finding answers to so many unresolved questions.
Grayson became the Affiliate Chair for the Kansas City Affiliate in 2008. She’s proud of the accomplishments of her affiliate, including becoming Medium Market Affiliate of the Year in 2014 and surpassing $1 million in fundraising in the Kansas City area.
Grayson is a newlywed and enjoys spending time with her husband and cheering on her stepchildren. She works as a medical assistant for a busy orthopedic office, and she is also an independent consultant for Rodan+Fields. In her spare time, she enjoys cheering on the Kansas Jayhawks, traveling and catching up with friends and family.
Britt Hefelfinger joined the New York City Affiliate after losing her father to pancreatic cancer in January 2012, just weeks after her college graduation. She planned PurpleLight and PurpleStride events for two years, and in 2014 she led PurpleStride New York City to a $620,000 fundraising record. Next, she took on the inaugural role of Donor and Corporate Ambassador for the affiliate and has since grown the level of healthcare and pharmaceutical sponsorships as well as helped foster the year-round stewardship of top team captains for PurpleStride. She received the national award for Donor & Corporate Ambassador of the Year in 2016.
Hefelfinger is a native of Bucks County, Pa., and received a BFA in photography from Penn State University. As a distance runner, she can often be found with her sister participating in half marathons and PurpleStride events along the East Coast in their “I Bleed Purple” T-shirts. Britt also works as an event planner and fundraiser in New York.
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.
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.