Initiative aims to rally community support for those touched by pancreatic cancer

March 19, 2021
group photo of the Talbot family on the beach in Costa Rica
The Talbot family traveled to Costa Rica in early 2020 in memory of the late Hon. Francis F. Talbot. A pancreatic cancer patient at Hollings, Talbot had a trip to Costa Rica on his bucket list until he became too sick to travel. Photo provided

MUSC Hollings Cancer Center is joining forces with community partners to bring hope to patients fighting pancreatic cancer, and their families, and to advocate for increased research funding.

Pancreatic cancer is expected to become the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. by 2030, trailing behind only lung cancer, according to Denis Guttridge, Ph.D., a basic science researcher at Hollings and co-leader of the center’s Pancreatic Transdisciplinary Cancer Team. While significant strides have been made to improve outcomes from the disease, improvements are being made faster in other cancer subtypes, leaving pancreatic cancer in desperate need of greater awareness and research.

That’s why researchers like Guttridge are thrilled that Hollings is partnering with the Talbot family, longtime supporters of Hollings’ research efforts as well as the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN), to bring a state affiliate and PurpleStride awareness event to South Carolina. The first organization dedicated to fighting pancreatic cancer in a comprehensive way, PanCAN has spent more than two decades battling the disease through community outreach, patient services, advocacy and research.

Dr. Denis Guttridge 
Dr. Denis Guttridge

Guttridge said South Carolina is one of a few states in the U.S. that does not have an affiliate PurpleStride event to raise awareness and funding for pancreatic cancer research through PanCAN.

“Currently, our South Carolinians are going to Charlotte or Atlanta to take part in their events,” said Guttridge. “Given that Hollings is the only NCI-designated cancer center in the state, it makes sense that we’d throw our support behind this project to bring awareness about this deadly cancer to our own population.”

The South Carolina PanCAN initiative (called SCPanCAN) is being led by the Talbot family in memory of the Hon. Francis F. Talbot, a federal judge who lived in Mount Pleasant and was treated at Hollings for pancreatic cancer for two and a half years. As someone who has been touched by the disease, his wife, Jane Talbot, understands the importance of spreading hope and building communities of support across the country. The Talbot family supports PanCAN as a go-to organization for those dealing with this disease.

“By participating in protocol-changing trials and receiving forward-thinking treatments at Hollings Cancer Center, Frank was with our family for two and a half years. We learned that where there is research, there is hope.”
— Jane Talbot

“I wasn’t aware of PanCAN in 2008 when our family began battling my husband’s cancer. Unlike many patients and families who hear this diagnosis and don’t know where to turn or what to do, we were lucky to have a close MUSC connection and the ability to go directly to Hollings for our answers,” said Talbot. “By participating in protocol-changing trials and receiving forward-thinking treatments at Hollings Cancer Center, Frank was with our family for two and a half years. We learned that where there is research, there is hope.”

Judge Talbot’s desire to see more funding for research efforts resulted in the Hon. Francis F. Talbot Endowment for Pancreatic Cancer Research, which was established at Hollings in 2011. The family also hosts an annual Talbot Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Reception for patients, survivors and their families as a way to share the latest discoveries in research, diagnosis and treatments from pancreatic cancer physicians and scientists at Hollings. The reception was first held in 2014.

Another way Hollings has been more visible in working to advance pancreatic cancer research is through its recently established Pancreatic Transdisciplinary Cancer Team. Made up of physicians and lab scientists with expertise in a variety of fields — including basic biology, oncology, pathology, surgery, population science, bioinformatics and biostatistics — the goal of the team is to advance understanding of pancreatic cancer and to translate that information to clinical trials to improve patient care.

Dr. David Mahvi 
Dr. David Mahvi

The team is led by Guttridge and David Mahvi, M.D., a pancreatic cancer surgeon and chief of the Oncology Integrated Center of Clinical Excellence at MUSC Health.

Mahvi said it’s important for researchers, patients and families to work together to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer because of the profound impact the disease can have.

“Pancreatic cancer for certain impacts the patient, but it also impacts the family and friends of our patients. It can be a devastating disease,” he explained. “As we continue to make advances in the treatment of pancreatic cancer, we have the terrific problem of needing to find ways of supporting our patients and their broader families for longer and longer.”

A virtual interest meeting for those who wish to be involved with SCPanCAN and in launching a PurpleStride event in Charleston will be held on April 22 from 7 to 8 p.m. The meeting is open to the public.