Honoring Her Husband's Memory by Building a Better "Toolbox"

William Hawkins
Together, William Hawkins, MD, and supporter Jan Phillips are moving pancreatic cancer research forward. Jan Phillips and her husband, Doug, who died in 2007, have a long track record of helping others. The carousel horse in this photo was presented to the Phillipses in gratitude for their contributions to the Flora, Ill., community.

January 2011 – Doug Phillips always met challenges head-on. Whether it was learning to deal with life in a wheelchair after a paralyzing injury during World War II or proving the naysayers wrong when he pioneered cable television in his hometown of Flora, Ill., he persevered.

Throughout his life, when Phillips set a goal, he found a way to accomplish it. His unwavering confidence even won over a young student nurse, Jan, who became his wife just two weeks after they met in 1949. Phillips' determination was steadfast even in the face of pancreatic cancer, the disease that took his life in 2007.

“Pancreatic cancer was the only obstacle in life that Doug could not overcome,” Jan says. “Doug wanted to be sure researchers had what they needed to continue the fight even after he was gone.”

As a result, the Phillipses have been generous supporters of pancreatic cancer research led by William Hawkins, MD, Washington University pancreatic cancer specialist and a surgeon at the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center. Hawkins was Doug’s doctor.

“Doug Phillips was a remarkable man,” Hawkins says. “He was a fighter from the get-go and wanted to know all about the disease and its challenges. He was a bit perplexed to find a problem he couldn’t defeat – he wasn’t accustomed to that.”

Phillips wasn’t a candidate for surgery because the cancer had already spread when it was found. “He wanted to know what he could do to fight this,” Hawkins says. “I told him unfortunately we didn’t have anything in our toolbox. His response was, ‘Then let’s do something about the toolbox.’”

Phillips’ best option was a clinical study, but approval and funding for the study was still pending with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). By the time the FDA approved the study, Phillips had already died.

Now Jan Phillips wants to help fix the pancreatic cancer treatment “toolbox” problem and honor her husband’s memory.

“Dr. Hawkins took such good care of Doug,” she says. “I remember one weekend he came to the hospital on his personal time, wearing his running shoes, to see how we were doing. Now I use our money the way Doug wanted – to support the work of Dr. Hawkins and his team.”

“I can’t say enough about Jan,” Hawkins says. “She allowed me to take risks that have helped us make progress in major areas. I’ve been working hard and capitalizing on the trust she placed in us. We’re early in the marathon but grateful for the opportunity to honor Doug’s memory. Our progress is accelerating each year, and I’ve never been more optimistic about the future of pancreatic cancer treatment.”