Proactive Activists: Ralph and Mariann Cheney Receive the 2015 Surgery of the Alimentary Tract (SSAT) Public Service Award

The last time we checked in with Ralph and Mariann Cheney, they were recognized with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s (PanCan) Randy Pausch Award in March of 2010.  As prominent activists in the pancreatic cancer community, they continue to demonstrate their passion and dedication for the bettering of society. Now, five years after receiving the Randy Pausch Award, they have been awarded the 2015 Surgery of the Alimentary Tract (SSAT) Public Service Award for their continued advocacy, support, and leadership within the pancreatic cancer community.

Ralph was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer in January 2004 here at the Pancreas Center. From the beginning as Ralph was recovering from his surgery, Ralph and Mariann decided that despite the diagnosis, positive change could come from his disease and together they would fight it every way they could. Not only are Ralph and Mariann survivors as a couple, they are volunteers who provide comfort, hope, and most importantly, advocacy to so many whose lives have been forever changed by pancreatic cancer. 

Having served with Pancreatic Cancer Action Network as volunteers since its earliest stages, they have been an invaluable resource to the pancreatic cancer community in New York and on a national level. Their work with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network  helped to garner the support of 19 of New York’s members of Congress and both Senator Schumer and Gillibrand to cosponsor the Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act of 2012.  

This law, signed on January 2nd, 2013, calls on the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to develop a comprehensive scientific framework for the advancement of pancreatic and lung cancer research, and provides the NCI Director with the authority to develop similar frameworks for other deadly cancers.  In addition to directly meeting with members of Congress, Ralph and Mariann have also been instrumental in providing support and empowerment to the community as a whole.  

Since attending the organization’s Advocacy Day in 2008, they have offered guidance and provided leadership to the 106 fellow New Yorkers that have participated in the event since 2009.  They have fought tirelessly for action on the national and state level, motivated by the principle that fighting pancreatic cancer is a fight worth having and a fight worth winning.  It is easy to get wrapped up in one’s own pity, pain, or shame when dealing with such a grave disease as pancreatic cancer, but Ralph and Mariann’s strength and selflessness have trumped all self-absorption.  

They provide a source of inspiration for other survivors and their families, working with a tenacity that is only rivaled by their efficiency in demanding and achieving change. They have successfully engaged volunteers, survivors, family members, government employees, researchers, and health care professionals to create positive change. They exude a fine balance of warmth and resolve in all they do, and serve as both role models and pillars of support for the pancreatic cancer community.

The Cheney’s will be on Capitol Hill again June 23rd. They believe that a comprehensive collaborative approach in fighting pancreatic cancer and deep financial government support will provide physicians what they need to conquer this disease.  They are grateful to the physicians who are part of Ralph’s personal story.  Their work is dedicated to them, all cancer patients and their families.