Researchers share stories of their drive to fight pancreatic cancer

Kirsten Bryant, PhD, a cancer researcher and postdoctoral fellow at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Channing Der, PhD, a UNC Lineberger member and the Sarah Graham Kenan Professor of Pharmacology, shared personal stories of why they're driven to fight pancreatic cancer at a breakfast in Durham on Tuesday.

Researchers share stories of their drive to fight pancreatic cancer click to enlarge Kirsten Bryant, PhD, is a cancer researcher and postdoctoral fellow at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

When Kirsten Bryant talks about her father, she talks about his drive. He lived by the rule that if you’re going to do something, you do it to the best of your ability.

“My dad never lost his drive. It’s that drive that lives on in me,” said Bryant, PhD, a cancer researcher and postdoctoral fellow at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Speaking to pancreatic cancer survivors, advocates, researchers and others gathered for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s PurpleStride 2016 Raleigh-Durham Leadership Breakfast in Durham on Tuesday, Bryant shared her father’s fight with pancreatic cancer, which inspired her to pursue a career in pancreatic cancer research.

Bryant said her father was determined to be one of the 6 out of 100 people who live five years with pancreatic cancer. He endured severe side effects from multiple chemotherapy treatments, and even argued with his doctors to continue infusions when they advised the side effects were too great. But his cancer eventually developed resistance, and he exhausted his treatment options. After 11 months, he lost his battle with cancer.

Continuing her father’s fight, Bryant changed her direction in cancer research, and sought out the best pancreatic cancer research lab she could find. Now working in the lab of Channing Der, PhD, a UNC Lineberger member and the Sarah Graham Kenan Professor of Pharmacology, Bryant has received a grant through the network to investigate a way to try to starve pancreatic cancer cells of the nutrients they need to survive. At the breakfast, Bryant spoke about the need to inspire others to fight the disease. 

“My dad’s story reminds us that one person can have all the drive in the world, and that’s not enough to cure the disease; what we need is a concerted effort,” Bryant said. “that’s what we’re here today to build. I hope that by sharing his story, those if you who are new to this fight, will be inspired to fight pancreatic cancer.”

Bryant is not the only researcher in Der’s lab who is personally driven to fight pancreatic cancer. At the breakfast, Der spoke about the life-changing impact that his work in research and advocacy for pancreatic cancer has had on him. In 2012, he said he was invited by the network to get involved in advocacy for pancreatic cancer patients and research in Washington D.C. He met survivors and families who have lost loved ones.

“I heard their stories, and it moved me,” Der said.

Der was announced last year as a recipient of a $1 million grant for pancreatic cancer research from the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and the American Association for Cancer Research.

“I had no idea that the network would bring me into this community of purple that would so move me, and I’d become such a strong advocate…” Der said.

Both Bryant and Der were named Purplestride Honorary Chairs at the breakfast. The breakfast also included remarks from Pamela Acosta Marquardt, the network’s the founder, and leaders of the network’s Raleigh-Durham affiliate.