Hear candid conversations between people conquering cancer – patients, their family and friends, and doctors and researchers working to help us all.
Her late father, Ted Beisel, passed away in 2021 from advanced-stage pancreatic cancer. This painful and sobering event inspired Liz to work toward conquering cancer in her father’s memory. The Olympic medalist partnered with Swim Across America to help fund a Conquer Cancer Young Investigator Award (YIA). Dr. Peter Yu, an early-career oncologist and researcher at NYU Langone's Perlmutter Cancer Center, received this grant in 2022. This helped launch his promising research project to improve treatment and care for patients with pancreatic cancer.
Liz tells Your Stories host Dr. Don Dizon how memories of her dad motivate her to raise vital funds for research, and Dr. Yu shares how and why he works to advance pancreatic cancer care. Together, they reflect on why it matters to accelerate research for every patient, every cancer, everywhere.
WHAT YOU'LL HEAR IN THIS EPISODE:
• A daughter’s meaningful memories with her late father
• Why seeking second opinions can be helpful and affirming
• Tips for patients and caregivers navigating a cancer diagnosis
• How an early-career researcher works to improve pancreatic cancer care
• Why donor funding is vital for research to continue
Second Opinions: Informed by Research
In the U.S., only 11%* of people with pancreatic cancer live at least 5 years after diagnosis. Patients with this disease can rapidly grow very thin, and the treatments are often taxing on the body. When Ted Beisel was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, a small tree on his family’s front porch suddenly began to wither. Liz recalls him making symbolic meaning of this tree.
“I remember a week before my dad passed, I brought him home from a chemotherapy appointment and he looked at the tree and said, ‘Elizabeth, I’m dying, just like that tree,’” recounts Liz. “That was really hard, as a daughter, to hear.”
Ted and his family opted for treatment at their community hospital. This minimized Ted’s travel time for appointments and helped ensure he had a strong caregiving network, making his treatments more tolerable. But seeking a second opinion at a comprehensive cancer center provided the Beisel family with affirmation that Ted was receiving the best course of care.
Research makes possible these affirming second opinions – and helped Liz and her father make more memories together.
“My dad wanted to stay local for his treatment in southern Rhode Island. We got second opinions at Dana-Farber in Boston, so we felt good about the treatment my dad was receiving,” says Liz. “[Seeking] a second opinion from an amazing institution like Dana-Farber pretty much confirmed that what we were doing in our local community hospital was the right thing.”
Just Keep Swimming
Still, more research is needed to help patients with pancreatic cancer live longer and reach the best possible outcomes.
“Liz’s father got two standard regimens, and those were informed by big clinical trials, but those [trials] were a decade ago. Since then, there haven’t been any major breakthroughs,” Dr. Yu says about the field of pancreatic cancer research. “Hopefully we can have better news through more research.”
After her father passed, Liz was moved to help improve care for patients with pancreatic cancer. She teamed up with Swim Across America and participated in a public charity swim to fund a Conquer Cancer Young Investigator Award for an early-career pancreatic cancer researcher.
“When I hear that it’s been 10 years since an advancement in the drugs that my dad was receiving, that makes me think for 10 years, researchers and oncologists have been working on this. There has to be something coming soon and that makes me excited to see what’s going to happen,” says Liz. “Doctors and researchers are not selfish. They want to help; they want this research out there. And the minute they figure it out, they’re going to publish it and it’s going to be in the world for you to use. And that really excites me, because Dr. Yu is one of those people.”
Targeting Pancreatic Tumors
Dr. Yu’s vital research – supported by the Swim Across America YIA in memory of Ted Beisel – may contribute to the next breakthrough in pancreatic cancer care.
Pancreatic cancer is capable of surviving and multiplying in regions of the body that have low levels of nutrients, making it difficult to detect and tough to treat. This is where Dr. Yu steps in.
“You can be perfectly healthy [with] no symptoms when pancreatic cancer is developing until it’s too late and already spread. My project is focusing on metabolism of the cancer cells and how they’re able to survive even in the context of [patients] getting these intense treatments, and how they’re resisting chemotherapy,” says Dr. Yu. “My goal is to uncover that energy source and how to stop that metabolism to improve therapies.”
Dr. Yu is using “metabolomics” – an emerging method for studying small molecules in malignant tumor tissue. He’s investigating how these elusive cancer cells convert nutrients into the energy they need to survive and spread. Dr. Yu’s work can help researchers better understand how pancreatic tumors manage to evade early detection and shield themselves from treatment.
This promising research can improve screening techniques, make treatment regimens more effective, and help to prolong the life of patients.
“Early detection likely would have saved my dad’s life, or at least extended it a little bit longer,” says Liz. “It’s so nice to know that whenever Dr. Yu has an answer... it could save somebody’s life, multiple peoples’ lives,” says Liz.
Research Takes a Team
Younger researchers often rely on donor funding to explore ambitious, potentially life-saving ideas and help patients make more memories with their loved ones. Raising support for this pivotal research takes a team.
“Donor-funded research is essential. It’s beneficial for helping young researchers turn promising ideas into high-risk, high-reward research. These types of projects help us expand on existing research and explore new things, which is the best way to find something we wouldn’t have thought of before. And that’s how we reach breakthroughs,” says Dr. Yu. “We are conquering cancer. It’s impossible for me, alone, to conquer cancer; only as a team, altogether, can we conquer cancer. That team includes donors, funding agencies, and most importantly, patients."
And collaborating to extend the lives of patients everywhere is at the core of all this dedicated duo is doing to conquer cancer.
“Everybody has a role on that team. I’m just happy to be a small drop in that bucket – to help those researchers and oncologists really make a difference,” says Liz. “If I have to keep swimming across America all my life, I will.”
When Liz Beisel’s late father, Ted Beisel, passed away in 2021 from pancreatic cancer, she partnered with Swim Across America to help fund a Conquer Cancer Young Investigator Award. Dr. Peter Yu, an early-career oncologist and pancreatic cancer researcher, received this grant in 2022. This helped launch his promising research project to improve treatment and care for patients with pancreatic cancer.
Liz tells Your Stories host, Dr. Don Dizon, how memories of her dad motivate her to raise vital funds for research, and Dr. Yu shares how and why he works to advance pancreatic cancer care. Together, they reflect on why it matters to accelerate research for every patient.