Julie Fleshman, JD, MBA
Julie Fleshman, president and CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, knows firsthand the impact pancreatic cancer can have on a family. In 1999, her own father was diagnosed with the disease. He was given few options for treatment and was told to go home and get his affairs in order. At that time, there were no organizations to turn to for information on the disease or to seek advice and support.
Four months after Fleshman lost her father, she made a commitment to change the course of the disease. She began looking for answers as to why no efforts were underway to increase the effectiveness of the limited treatment options and to increase the rate of survival of pancreatic cancer.
It was then that she discovered the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, founded in 1999 by a group of people who had also lost loved ones to the disease. Fleshman immediately starting volunteering for the organization and a short time later she was given the opportunity to dedicate her career to serving the pancreatic cancer community; she became the organization’s first full-time staff person in 2000.
Since then, Fleshman has led the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network from a start-up non-profit to the leading national organization fighting pancreatic cancer in a comprehensive way through research, patient support, community outreach and advocacy for a cure.
Its grassroots network has grown to 75 volunteer affiliates, and in 2006, its first international affiliate in Japan opened. The organization currently has more than 60 employees with offices in Los Angeles and Washington, DC.
In the meantime, the organization's advocacy and grassroots efforts have led, in large part, to a 400 percent increase in federal funding for pancreatic cancer research.
The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network has also meant that people faced with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer no longer need to grope for answers as Fleshman and her family did. Nearly 50,000 patients and families have been served through the group's Patient and Liaison Services (PALS) program, which offers patients and their families the most current information to help make informed decisions. PALS Associates can also perform personalized eligibility searches in its clinical trials database to match patients to clinical trials taking place around the country.
Under Fleshman's leadership, the organization has also created numerous other initiatives aimed at raising awareness and helping in the fight against the disease:
- A research grants program, begun in 2003, which by 2011 will have funded over $10 million in research through 66 research grants to scientists across the country;
- Advocacy efforts that led to the creation of the Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act, the first ever substantive legislation dedicated to increasing survival of pancreatic cancer patients. Once passed, the legislation will provide the National Cancer Institute (NCI) with the resources it needs to develop and implement a strategic plan for pancreatic cancer research.
- The formation of the Survivor and Caregiver Network, a group of dedicated survivor and caregiver volunteers willing to share their experiences and answer questions about their journeys with the disease. For patients and their families, speaking to others who have gone through similar experiences with pancreatic cancer can make a world of difference.
- The organization’s grassroots network of volunteers also helps to organize local events, such as signature PurpleStride walks and TeamHope® Marathons across the country to raise awareness about pancreatic cancer and the funds to find a cure.
In May 2010, Fleshman was recognized by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) with the 2010 Distinguished Public Service Award for her leadership and dedication to the fight against pancreatic cancer.
Fleshman and her colleagues at the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network understand the many challenges facing those affected by pancreatic cancer. But they also know there is reason for optimism – more research funding is available, more scientific research is underway, and comprehensive information for patients and families now exists.
And until a cure is found, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network army of volunteers will continue to follow Fleshman's example, turning tragedy into commitment – and hope.