One day at work a few years ago at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Muhammad (Shaalan) Beg, MD, a medical oncologist and gastrointestinal cancer specialist, encountered a group of “purple people” touring the laboratory of his colleague, David Boothman, PhD.
Beg was intrigued, and he sat down to listen in.
“The researchers leading the tour were going into great detail about very complex scientific topics, and I remember thinking, ‘There is no way everyone is following this,’” Beg recalled recently with a chuckle.
But to his surprise, the opposite was true.
After the lab presentations and demonstrations were finished, hands shot up – and the members of the tour group asked smart and probing questions, showing that they were not only fully engaged but also extremely passionate about the research.
This was Beg’s first introduction to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s Dallas-Fort Worth Affiliate of driven, dedicated and research-savvy volunteers.
He was very impressed. A few months later, he invited the group back for a clinical research tour, featuring presentations from a genetic counselor and a surgeon and information about clinical trials.
Today, Affiliate members visit UT Southwestern regularly for tours and updates on the scientific and clinical progress being made there in the fight against pancreatic cancer. Beg noted that a big attraction is the opportunity to see live cancer cells growing in dishes in the lab.
And Beg, similarly inspired, has since become involved with the Affiliate – serving as a co-chair of PurpleStride DFW 2015 and speaking at the local PurpleLight event just last weekend. He also participates in their quarterly volunteer meetings.
“Attending events with the volunteers puts everything in context,” Beg said. And the best part, he added, is getting to see his patients and their families outside the clinic.
“I remember a patient’s granddaughter showing me bracelets that she’d crocheted to sell to raise money for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. She asked me to tweet a picture of the bracelets to help her sell them. Of course, I was happy to do so!”
The volunteers are equally thrilled to have Beg join their efforts.
“I first met Dr. Beg as one of my mom’s primary pancreatic cancer oncologists,” said Zach Weismann, Affiliate Chair of the Dallas-Fort Worth Affiliate. “To later learn the extent of his involvement and leadership with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network has been extremely inspiring. Not only is Dr. Beg fighting every day on the frontlines, he also continues to support the organization in so many other ways – with his time, energy, participation and passion on both a national and local level.
“It has been a pleasure getting to know him personally and supporting all he has done for the organization here in Dallas-Fort Worth.”
Beg’s relationship with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network was further strengthened when he served as a key collaborator for two research grants awarded in 2014 and 2015, for which he teamed up with his colleague and friend, Dr. Boothman.
Boothman is a professor of oncology and pharmacology, and Beg regularly attends his lab meetings to provide the physician’s perspective of how to translate Boothman’s ideas into clinical practice. There are several clinical trials underway that test Boothman’s and Beg’s innovative treatment approach in pancreatic cancer patients.
Beg’s worlds collided even more when he attended the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s Annual Scientific Meeting in San Diego last August, which highlighted research progress of active grantees and brought them together to collaborate and share ideas as part of its Community for Progress. The meeting ran concurrently with the organization’s annual Community Engagement Leadership Training, and Beg flew to San Diego with the team of Dallas-Fort Worth volunteer leaders.
The highlight of the trip was sharing a cab with the volunteers and opting to eat out with them the first night, rather than joining his fellow researchers. Beg said the Scientific Meeting provides a wonderful opportunity to connect with others researching pancreatic cancer in labs and clinics throughout the country and to hear about their challenges and successes.
“It was great to see the investigators energizing the volunteers, who have the opportunity to speak with them firsthand about the latest research advancements,” Beg said. “But it works the other way, too – the presence of volunteers really helps energize the researchers and motivate us to work even harder in the lab and clinic.”
“I value the relationships I’ve built with local volunteers, and we share a mutual respect for each other’s efforts in the fight against pancreatic cancer.
“Each of my uplifting, inspiring volunteer experiences has helped me take even better care of my next patient. It’s an honor to be so closely connected to this community in many different ways.”
Do you want to get involved with your local volunteer effort? Join the fight today and get ready to be inspired!