Brian Stump: Turning Tragedy Into Hope
When Christine Stump of Powell, Ohio, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in August 2011, it came as a complete shock. “We thought no way, no how is this possible,” recalls her husband Brian. At age 47 and the mother of twin teenage sons Matthew and Michael, Christine was very active, volunteering at their school and in the community. Although she was experiencing abdominal pain and lack of appetite, “We believed it could be easily fixed.”
When initial tests revealed nothing, the Stumps went to Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) for an endoscopic ultrasound. It was there that doctors found a tumor in Christine’s pancreas. And it was there that the Stumps learned about the five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer “is the only remaining cancer with an average single-digit five-year survival rate,” of about 5 percent, observes Christine’s physician, Tanios BekaiiSaab, MD, section chief of gastrointestinal oncology at the OSUCCC – James. And that figure has scarcely budged since 1970, “although the number of people diagnosed with this type of cancer has increased.”
To this end, Bekaii-Saab has partnered with researchers elsewhere at Ohio State and internationally from the National Cheng-Kung University (NCKU) in Tainan City, Taiwan, and the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg to identify new targets in pancreatic tumors and develop novel agents to strike those targets and halt the progression of the disease. Spearheaded by the OSUCCC – James, the international collaboration is funded by grants from The James, NCKU, the government of Taiwan and philanthropic funds. “Our goal is to eventually develop and run multinational clinical trials to advance more effective treatments more quickly,” he continues.
The Stumps chose The James for Christine’s care because, as Brian says, “We liked the treatment plan and Dr. Saab is an incredible, caring human being.” Because the tumor was small and the cancer was thought to be contained, doctors performed what’s commonly known as a Whipple procedure, a complex operation that increases the fiveyear survival rate to about 20 percent. “The surgery was successful, and the doctors thought they got most if not all the cancer cells.” So by April 2012, Christine was undergoing chemo and had just returned from a spring break family vacation in Florida. “She was doing great.”
But as happens too often with pancreatic cancer, the disease took over. “Because pancreatic cancer presents itself as metastatic, some [cancer cells] can still stay behind, even if you catch it early,” explains Bekaii-Saab. It runs amok in the body and “can take life away very quickly.” On May 2, 2012, Christine passed away at age 48.
Both Brian and Bekaii-Saab view pancreatic cancer as the one cancer that’s been overlooked, not only in terms of research but also public awareness. “One of the biggest problems is that there are very few survivors,” continues Bekaii-Saab. “And family members are so depressed and traumatized” by their losses that they lack the motivation to go out and advocate for a more effective treatment and cure.
But not Brian and his family. He and his sons established the Christine E. Stump Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund, pledging an initial $100,000 that was matched by other donors for a total of $200,000 to Bekaii-Saab’s laboratory and the international consortium. They hope to raise $1 million through community and other developmental efforts and channel it directly toward pancreatic cancer research. Remarks Brian, “My kids are passionate about supporting this, to the point that Matt wants to focus on the study of genetics” in college, specifically epigenetics, a new and rapidly evolving field that examines hereditary changes in gene expression caused by mechanisms other than the underlying DNA sequence.
“My hope is that survival rates will improve in my and my sons’ lifetimes,” says Brian.