Hirshberg Foundation For Pancreatic Cancer Research | November Cause of the Month
Mitch Stein, Chariot’s new Head of Strategy, chose Hirshberg this month in honor of loved ones recently lost to pancreatic cancer.
My name is Mitch Stein, I recently joined Chariot as the Head of Strategy and one of my first tasks was to select our November Cause of the Month. Having lost one my best friend’s mom and my mom’s best friend to pancreatic cancer in the past 3 years, the Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research was an obvious choice for Chariot’s special monthly DAF grant and fundraising effort.
These 2 women - Mary Fran Murray & Ellen Pyle - were absolutely electric figures in their families and communities. Despite never knowing each other and living in different states, they shared so much more than their diagnosis. They were both in the prime of their lives and energized everyone around them.
Mary Fran was a prolific artist who taught thousands of kids in local schools and led countless tours as an all-star
Ellen Pyle & best friend Marilyn Stein
docent at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Ellen brightened every room she entered with her unmatched sense of humor at work, at her sons’ school or with her dear friends. Both of their zest for life - that they continued to display long into their battles with pancreatic cancer - inspired everyone around them.
Pancreatic cancer is commonly known as “the silent killer” because it is so virulent, it is hard to catch early and it seems to strike so indiscriminately - taking away some of the best among us much too early. Imagine you or your loved one being diagnosed with something bearing this “nickname”... it can feel helpless and hopeless for everyone involved. It was heartbreaking for me personally to see my mom and then my friend Michael go through this same feeling right after one another.
Mary Fran and her son Michael
That’s exactly why the work of The Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research struck a chord with me. Their tireless efforts to fund research that is moving us closer to a cure and their events fostering community among people affected by pancreatic cancer create two lifelines that everybody needs: hope and support.
Elissa Oblath-Johnsrud has a similar story that brought her to the cause 25 years ago - her sister-in-law had just lost her father to pancreatic cancer when she heard about an opportunity to intern with the Hirshberg Foundation. She hoped to bring her background in biology to an organization needing to communicate complex science topics with human and empathetic language.
Elissa with the Hirshberg team at the 2022 Patient Symposium
After holding nearly every role in the organization, she now serves as the Director of Marketing & Technology, focusing on their “outreach to event participants and maximizing tools like Chariot that can help us make a larger impact in ways that are easy and convenient for our supporters.”
A big part of the reason Elissa is still with Hirshberg 25 years later is because of the clear impact she sees in the work. “We have four big events every year and being able to attend them and see our impact firsthand on cancer patients and their families keeps inspiring me and bringing me back for more,” shared Elissa. “Whether people are remembering a loved one or celebrating survivors, we’re all working towards a cure together, which still gives me full body goosebumps every time.”
Hirshberg shows up for people in so many different ways depending on where they are right now - whether that’s providing someone with resources when they’re going through a diagnosis, supporting families after they’ve lost someone or giving anyone affected by the disease an avenue to effectively fight for a cure.
Specifically for supporting newly diagnosed patients, Elissa is most proud of the full-time family support lead on staff. “Amy is incredible. She is always available to take calls with patients, answer questions over email and even make in-person visits. She lost her mom to pancreatic cancer so she is intimately familiar with every step in the journey and is an amazing personal guide to navigating this disease.”
Hirshberg was originally started after the founder, Agi Hirshberg, lost her husband to pancreatic cancer. She asked around about where she could make a donation to support pancreatic cancer research and found out there wasn’t actually wasn’t a dedicated fund - yet.
Renee Vachon, Heath Gregory, Jon Hirshberg, Lisa Manheim and Elissa riding ong stage at the 2023 TDP
“The money that we raise through our physical fitness events is deployed in ‘seed grants’ that help researchers get over the initial hurdles to be in a position to apply for long term multi-million grant funding from the government,” explains Elissa.
“Hirshberg was an early pioneer in funding pancreatic cancer research and has always prioritized collaboration around promising ideas and trials, even at their earliest stages. That’s how science works at its best.”
Hirshberg receives some donations from Donor-Advised Funds today, but they have always come with a major processing headache. “Chariot’s work to make Donor-Advised Fund gifts super easy for nonprofits means there’s so much less admin burden on the nonprofit to hunt down checks and figure out who a donor even was,” adds Elissa about the recent launch of Chariot’s DAF donation solution in their donation forms. “This means there’s more time for us to actually talk with donors and do the most important work of connecting with doctors or patients.”
Elissa with patients & supporters at Hirshberg's Survivor BBQ event
I am so grateful for the work that Elissa and the entire team at The Hirshberg Foundation is doing. I know that Mary Fran and Ellen would both appreciate how the energy they brought to life continues to be brought to the search for a cure to pancreatic cancer.
Chariot’s Cause of the Month is an initiative where a member of our team gets to select a nonprofit organization close to their hearts to support with funds from our company Donor-Advised Fund. We also spend the month encouraging our networks to support the Cause of the Month with us, especially if they have a DAF. Chariot’s DAF payment option makes it possible to support great organizations like The Hirshberg Foundation directly in their own donation form in under 10 seconds.