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Caption: A new annual bike race in Pittsburgh, Rush to Crush Cancer, will raise money for cancer research at Hillman.

Brian Shanahan is dealing with pancreatic cancer and not naïve to long odds. He also knows the biblical reference to the cheerful giver, which he wholeheartedly embraces.

With gratitude for his ongoing treatment at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, the fintech entrepreneur and real estate developer and his wife, Karen, donated $3 million to the center that will fund research now and into the future. “Giving is living,” says Shanahan, who frames his generosity around his Christian faith.

Diagnosed in August 2020, Shanahan was immediately confronted with a disheartening statistic—pancreatic cancer is terminal in 93% of patients.

“Brian had a pretty advanced cancer—a tumor that was wrapped around critical blood vessels and was large,” says Amer Zureikat, professor of surgery and chief of surgical oncology at Pitt Med, as well as director of surgical oncology at Hillman. “But because he had a specific genetic mutation, we were able to tailor specific chemotherapy to the mutation and shrink the tumor to be operable.”

Zureikat will lead the Hillman arm of a trial the Shanahan gift will support. The study will investigate the use of a biomarker to identify the most effective chemotherapy for patients during the preoperative period. It will also investigate how a patient’s tumor genetics influence survival. That research will employ whole genomic sequencing, transcriptomics, radiomics and microbiomics.

The Shanahans’ other $1.5 million donation to Hillman will serve as seed money for an annual Rush to Crush Cancer bike race, the first of which will be held in spring 2023; it will be managed by the same organization that runs the Pittsburgh marathon. “Brian is so generous of his time and as a supporter,” says Zureikat.

Shanahan says the clinicians who treated him when he was most vulnerable, and who continue to treat him, have become like family.

He’s struggled through a few setbacks and remains on medication. To manage the fears he faces, he tells himself that like everyone else, he’s only got a lease on life: “I think what most people don’t always realize is that life truly is a gift, not a right.”   

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