Sharon Shelby’s son, Richard Lavine, was outgoing, ambitious and kind. And a bit goofy, endearing him to others, especially his younger sister, Amy, with whom he was attentive and patient. At 28, this bright young man was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He passed away a month after his 30th birthday.
When Richard was diagnosed in 1993, only 3% of patients survived the disease. Today, almost 30 years later, only 10% survive.
After Richard’s death, Sharon and her mother, Jeanne F. Shelby, committed to help further breakthroughs in pancreatic cancer research. Building on more than a decade of her mother’s support, Sharon recently gave MD Anderson Cancer Center $4 million in funding that she hopes will improve those odds.
“The grief doesn’t diminish,” Sharon says, “but doing something positive for others really helps.”
Dedication to leveraging knowledge
The family’s philanthropic commitment began in earnest in 2013 with Jeanne’s $3.4 million estate gift to MD Anderson, which has supported pancreatic cancer research in Richard’s name and funded the R. Lee Clark Prize. The award is presented annually to two faculty members who model the dedication to scholarship, service and social responsibility embraced by MD Anderson’s first president.
“Seeing Mother support what was important to her,” Sharon says, “had an impact on me. I feel the same way she did about helping others.”
Sharon’s own game-changing gift to the MD Anderson pancreatic cancer team includes establishing the Shelby-Lavine Pancreatic Scholars Program. This prestigious initiative will help MD Anderson recruit and retain the best and brightest pancreatic cancer researchers, promoting both individual scientific excellence and team science.
Sharon’s generosity will help in other ways. Her gift will enable the hiring of a dedicated pancreatic nurse navigator — an advocate to guide patients through the challenging cancer experience. In addition, her support will boost translational and clinical research through the enhanced collection and management of biological samples that are the foundation of this work.
“Sharon’s exemplary foresight and commitment has resulted in a gift that will greatly improve the MD Anderson experience for patients with pancreatic cancer,” says Anirban Maitra, M.B.B.S., professor of Pathology. “It also will allow our exceptional physician-scientists to learn from every patient.”
New discoveries in Richard’s name
Over the past few years, Sharon has visited with faculty, touring their labs and talking with them about their work. “Dr. Maitra,” she says, “is very good at describing the science.” This close-up view has helped her pinpoint specific areas she wants to support.
Sharon would like to see research focused on the early detection of pancreatic cancer and on clinical trials that will find new therapies to help patients. She’s excited that her gift will support the research of the Shelby-Lavine Pancreatic Scholars, with each new discovery honoring Richard.
Sharon believes that her family’s contributions to cancer research, inspired by her son, will be a part of their legacy. “When you’re blessed with so much, you want to give back."