Survivor Council

Home About the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network Survivor Council

The Survivor Council is a group of volunteers created to ensure the survivors’ voice, experience and expertise are integrated into the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s programs and initiatives.

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Ralph Cheney

Ralph had an undiagnosed obstruction in his pancreas in 2004. After two bouts of pancreatitis and receiving a misdiagnosis, he went to a major pancreas center in New York City. There he had a distal pancreatectomy and splenectomy and was diagnosed with stage III poorly differentiated ductal carcinoma. Local doctors told him he had three months to live, but as of today, his scans have shown no evidence of disease.

Ralph has worked with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network since his diagnosis. He serves as a Survivor and Caregiver Network volunteer, a Community Advocate and a member on the Survivor Council. Ralph and his wife Mariann are the past recipients of the Randy Pausch Award and Community Representatives of the Year. Additionally, they received The Society for Surgery of the Alimentary Tract Public Service Award in Washington, D.C., in May 2015 for their work in the pancreatic cancer community.

Ralph is a former supervisor for Cardinal Health, a Vietnam combat veteran and a prostate cancer survivor. He is also a certified peer to peer mentor for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI) and suicide prevention.

Despite his illnesses and challenges, Ralph consistently delivers a message of hope to everyone he meets. An avid bass fisherman, he lives on Swinging Bridge Lake in New York with Mariann and their five Labradors: Ace, Caroline, Holly, Dina and Rosie.

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Dennis Cronin

Dennis Cronin was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2010. He and his wife, Kathy, are very active with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and its Pittsburgh Affiliate. Since 2011, they have championed a large team of family and friends (Faith Heals) for PurpleStride Pittsburgh.

Dennis is the Senior Vice President Treasury Services & Chief Risk Officer for the Highmark Health (Blue Cross/Blue Shield) group of companies and oversees the treasury functions. His employer has served as the presenting sponsor for PurpleStride Pittsburgh in previous years and other Highmark Health companies have also been sponsors at various levels.

Dennis lives in Pittsburgh with his wife and two children, Tyler and Nikki.

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Teona Ducre

Teona Ducre is a pancreatic cancer survivor, single mother of two (Grant and Sydney) and the executive director of Destroy Pancreatic Cancer (DPC) in Atlanta. A native of El Paso, Texas, Teona moved to the Atlanta metro area in 2013 and now proudly calls its trendy Midtown neighborhood “home.”

Teona was diagnosed with locally advanced adenocarcinoma of the pancreas on April Fool’s Day 2016. Since that day she has become a fierce advocate for improving pancreatic patient outcomes through education and outreach efforts with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and now as the executive director of DPC.

Teona is passionate about serving her community as a parent volunteer at her children’s high school. She loves to write, travel and is an avid sports fan. Her favorite teams are the New Orleans Saints, University of North Carolina Tarheels basketball team and her beloved Centennial High School Knights. Teona’s mantra, “cancer can’t steal my joy,” continues to inspire many and helps her remain optimistic as she advocates to end pancreatic cancer.

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Karen Pratte Kiernan

Karen Pratte Kiernan is a retired registered nurse of 38 years. She earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Saint Louis University in 1978 and a master’s degree in education from National Louis University in 1997.

Karen spent 23 years as a certified school nurse at a large suburban high school west of Chicago. After retirement, she was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer on March 2, 2017. Karen has a strong belief in continuing to teach children and teenagers a sense of empowerment in their daily lives. As a cancer survivor, Karen continues to fight the “beast” with the support of her oncologists, husband, family and dear friends. She is so grateful to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network because of the genomic testing done through its Know Your Tumor® precision medicine service.

She is currently receiving an immunotherapy treatment and responding well. The positive results include an elimination of chronic back pain, a return to her normal weight and a full head of curly salt and pepper hair.

Karen travels extensively with Lucy, her Australian Labradoodle. Lucy is an emotional support animal and a certified therapy dog who accompanies Karen on her travels and visits to her seven grandchildren. Karen and Lucy will volunteer at the hospital where she was diagnosed.

Karen is living each day to the fullest and plans to attend the Womens’ Amateur at Augusta National in Georgia, enjoy a Canadian/New England cruise with her husband and family and spend a week with a dear friend at Julia Childs’ Cooking School in the south of France this fall. Karen is illustrating a children’s book and the writer is her 11-year-old grandson, Logan. The focus is about Karen’s experience and the reality of the positive and negative feelings associated with an illness.

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Roberta Luna

Roberta learned the importance of helping others from her parents at a very young age. The value of kindness they instilled in her as a child has continued to guide her through all the stages of her life. She has always enjoyed helping others but never knew how important it would become.

Roberta’s journey with pancreatic cancer began in 1964 when she was only nine years old. That was the year she lost her grandmother to the disease. She was not old enough at the time to know anything about cancer, nor how it would continue to affect her life some 30 years later.

She never imagined the very same disease would take her father, her mother, her grandmother and her uncle. Nor could she have imagined that on April 1, 2002, she would get diagnosed with stage III pancreatic cancer with an inoperable tumor, due to vessel and artery involvement. It was unimaginable that she too would hear the words, “I’m sorry…It’s pancreatic cancer…Go home and put your house in order.”

Roberta began volunteering with Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) in 2008 after attending her first National Pancreatic Cancer Advocacy Day. Hearing the stories and feeling the pain of others who were also devastated by this horrific disease, she soon realized that very few of those in attendance were survivors. Most were there because they had lost someone they loved to pancreatic cancer. She felt an overwhelming desire to speak for those who were unable to speak.

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” – Mark Twain

During her first Advocacy Day, Roberta knew she had found what she was meant to do. She had found her destiny. She began her relationship with PanCAN as a general volunteer with the Orange County Affiliate and soon jumped into the role of Media Representative.

A few years later, she became the Affiliate Chair and now looks forward to a new and challenging role that will help her reach out to more patients, survivors, their families and medical professionals. She is extremely proud to be part of the Survivor and Caregiver Network and a member of the inaugural Survivor Council!

Roberta loves spending time with her husband, two adult sons, three rescued cats and rescued Siberian Husky. She loves to cook, read James Patterson books and finds great comfort and peace in making one-of-a-kind rosaries. Her favorite “ah-ha” moments include completing her first half marathon, jumping numerous times from perfectly good airplanes, receiving the Randy Pausch Award in 2012 and seeing over 140 researchers present at the 2016 Community Outreach Leadership Training.

Roberta was a family law paralegal for over 25 years, but she finds what she is doing now so rewarding that volunteering has become her full-time job. Her family is very supportive and understanding of her deep commitment to be a voice for those with this disease, and to raise awareness for a cure.

As a survivor, Roberta strives to give hope to others so no other family must hear, “I’m sorry…it’s pancreatic cancer…go home and put your house in order.”

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Steve Nelson

A prostate cancer survivor with a strong family history of pancreatic and other cancer types, Steve Nelson chose to take a proactive approach to his health. He joined the Cancer of the Pancreas Screening (CAPS) study for high risk individuals in 2009.

The study, funded in part by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN), revealed troubling spots on his pancreas. Steve was able to monitor these through the CAPS screening protocol at Mayo Clinic. In 2017, scans showed cancer forming.

Taking yet another proactive step, Steve underwent surgery to remove a significant part of his pancreas, which removed the disease just as it was getting started.

For Steve, understanding and managing pancreatic cancer risk is crucial. As a representative of PanCAN’s Minnesota affiliate, Steve has shared his inspirational story with members of Congress, healthcare professionals and innumerable pancreatic cancer patients and their families.

Steve volunteers at PurpleRideStrides and enjoys teaming up with his brother Scott, who’s also a pancreatic cancer survivor and former member of the Survivor Council, to raise awareness and funds. By contributing to research and sharing his experience, Steve aims to improve outcomes for patients and show them and their loved ones that there is reason to hope.

When he’s not doing part-time consulting or volunteering, Steve loves spending time at his Minnesota lake home with his wife and family, including nine grandchildren.

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Nick Pifani

Nick is married to the love of his life, Jennifer. They have a son (Nicholas), daughter (Samantha) and two dogs (Jersey and Penny). Nick is a long-distance runner who enjoys running marathons, half marathons and has completed an Ironman 70.3.

Nothing prepared Nick for the news he would receive when he ended up in the emergency room on March 7, 2017. Nick went to the hospital because he couldn’t eat, had extreme back pain and simply couldn’t wait for his upcoming gastrointestinal (GI) appointment.

The hospital completed several tests in a few hours. When the doctors came in to see Nick, they explained he had a mass on the head of his pancreas that required further study. Nick received an MRI the next day with a rush order on the results. He met with multiple pancreatic specialists and they all agreed with the diagnosis: Stage III inoperable pancreatic cancer (adenocarcinoma).

Nick began his first line of treatment, which was chemotherapy. After just three sessions, a CT scan showed the tumor was shrinking. But Nick’s body had a difficult time recovering from the chemotherapy, so his doctors limited his chemotherapy to six sessions. Nick then began five weeks of radiation with a low dose chemotherapy each Monday. After radiation, a new CT scan showed that the tumor had shrunk further and pulled away from the superior mesenertic artery and vein.

In October of 2017, Nick underwent a 10-hour pylorus preserving Whipple procedure. The procedure was a complete success and scans no longer showed any evidence of disease. Nick was released from the hospital just five days after surgery, and he was determined to go home and heal. Thirteen days later, Nick was the survivor speaker at the PurpleStride Philadelphia event.

Nick joined the Philadelphia PanCAN Affiliate in 2018 and is currently the sponsorship chair. For Nick, being an Affiliate member is an honor and a privilege. He attended his first National Pancreatic Cancer Advocacy Day in June of 2018 and will continue to advocate every year until the outcomes for pancreatic cancer patients are radically different. Nick has lost two cousins to pancreatic cancer and his uncle is on hospice care with stage IV pancreatic cancer. It has been difficult to watch family members and friends die from pancreatic cancer, but Nick carries their memories with him each day as a reminder that we must do more.

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Cathy Schwandt

Cathy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in February 2013. She had a great surgeon who looked at her scan and said, “I think you have a 95 percent chance of beating this.” That was all she needed to hear! Cathy underwent chemotherapy, radiation and, in August 2013, the Whipple surgery. She has had no evidence of disease ever since.

Cathy had never heard of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) until April 2013, when her friend told her that she had formed a team for a pancreatic cancer walk. Two days after her Whipple. Cathy’s husband and friends walked in PurpleStride Columbus and Skyped with her while she was in her hospital bed.

She went to her first affiliate meeting in December 2013. After attending a few meetings and connecting with another survivor in the group, Cathy went to National Pancreatic Cancer Advocacy Day and volunteered to become the Community Outreach Chair. She hasn’t looked back.

Cathy feels that she survived for a reason – to be a voice for this disease. In 1980, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was on the education committee of her local Susan G. Komen affiliate for many years. What she learned at Komen, she is putting to work at PanCAN. She wants to make purple the new pink, and this cause has become her passion. Her goal is to get other survivors involved to have their voices heard, believing it is their responsibility.

Cathy recently retired from the real estate industry. Not knowing what tomorrow may bring puts things in perspective for her. She believes we must do what we love and not put off until tomorrow what you can do today.

Cathy and her husband of almost 30 years plan on traveling over the next couple years, seeing this great country and trying to find a place to settle down for the next 20+ years where it is warm.

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Anne Shimabukuro

Anne Shimabukuro of Potomac, MD, was diagnosed with stage I pancreatic cancer in 2005. As an otherwise healthy 37-year-old, she was shocked at the diagnosis. But she was also fortunate to have caught it early, when abdominal pain, back pain and nausea prompted her to seek medical attention.

After surgery which removed a third of her pancreas, Anne continued her treatment with chemotherapy and radiation, followed by more chemotherapy. Throughout treatment, she continued working full time as vice president of treasury at Marriott International, while taking care of her young family.

Her oncologist referred her to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s (PanCAN) website. In 2009, when PanCAN’s National Capital Area Affiliate began planning the first PurpleStride Washington, D.C., Anne began her active involvement as a PanCAN volunteer. Over the years, Anne has served as the emcee for PurpleLight and participated in National Pancreatic Cancer Advocacy Day. She even swam 1-mile in the Chesapeake Bay for PurpleSwim – twice!

Today she continues to help organize PurpleStride Washington, D.C. and represent the affiliate as its media spokesperson. Anne currently works as vice president of finance for PM Hotel Group.

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Michael Weinstein

On November 26, 2005, Michael’s life changed abruptly when he went to the emergency room. Two days earlier, he had a wonderful Thanksgiving with family, made even more special as both of his daughters were home from college.

Like most people, Michael tends to overdo things during the holidays, so it didn’t seem so unusual to end up in the ER with diverticulosis. However, it became quite a shock when Michael learned that he also had a tumor on his pancreas.

When Michael was diagnosed, his doctor said that his tumor was inoperable because of the location and the impingement of a major vein. After getting treatment for one year with various radiation and chemotherapy treatments and visiting numerous cancer institutions, it was determined that he had been misdiagnosed as to the specific cell type.

Michael then had to begin additional chemotherapy treatments for the correct cell type. In October 2007, Michael went to Houston, Texas, and had a bypass of the vein as well as the required resection of the tumor and related Whipple surgery.

After 12 hours of surgery, he had a bad reaction to a blood transfusion, and his lungs filled with fluid. He was clamped, packed in towels, wrapped in Saran Wrap and sent to the intensive care unit for the night. After being stabilized, the surgery was completed the next day.
Michael was unconscious for eight days and had a heart attack during that period. Even after he finally woke up, it was not easy. He spent another 40 days in the hospital with various infections.

Finally, after a 50-day hospital visit, Michael was released. Another 10 days later, he was able to leave Texas and return to New Jersey.
He remained cancer-free until his scans in August 2012 showed some spots on his liver and pancreas. Both areas responded well to treatment, and again he was cancer-free. Michael is now being treated for his second recurrence.

Michael was introduced to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) by his wife, Nancy, who discovered it on the internet while researching the disease. He joined the New Jersey Affiliate (now the North Jersey Affiliate) in January 2008, just after he returned from having Whipple surgery in Texas.

He has been the Advocacy Chair since filling the role vacancy in August 2009. Michael has attended and been the State Leader for New Jersey for seven National Pancreatic Cancer Advocacy Days. In 2011, he was honored to receive the Randy Pausch Award as well as the Advocacy Chair of the Year.

Michael has two grown daughters, Bethany and Marla, who along with his wife Nancy support his efforts with PanCAN by attending Advocacy Day and walking with him in the North Jersey and New York PurpleStride events. He lives in Millburn, New Jersey, and is a retired CPA who enjoys gardening, volunteering, and taking those afternoon naps.

 

In Memoriam

We honor Survivor Council members who have passed away, and celebrate their leadership, commitment and lasting legacy. We continue to Wage Hope in their memory and on behalf of everyone affected by pancreatic cancer.

Larry Clark, former mayor of Rancho Palos Verdes

Stu Jed, founding Survivor Council member

Ways for Survivors to Get Involved

PurpleStride
Join the fight against pancreatic cancer at our inspirational walk/run events. Find an event near you to raise funds and awareness.

Patient Central
Receive free personalized, comprehensive information and resources to help you understand and fight this complex disease.

Survivor and Caregiver Network
Share information, ask questions and gain support and inspiration by talking to others who have had similar experiences.

Wage Hope With Us

Join us to double pancreatic cancer survival by 2020.





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