Rush to Crush Cancer

Brian Shanahan

Brian Shanahan. A life well lived, a legacy that lives on.

On February 28, after a years-long fight against pancreatic cancer, Brian Shanahan passed away. His death didn’t capture headlines or generate social media buzz. But to his family and friends, his loss is immeasurable. To the many medical professionals that he pushed, challenged, and most of all inspired, he leaves an indelible impression as a courageous, passionate innovator, partner and, most of all, fighter. To the field of cancer research, he leaves a legacy of financial support that will make a difference for future cancer patients everywhere.

Brian was managing partner of PCG Capital in Pittsburgh. A devoted husband, brother, uncle, stepfather and grandfather. He was an entrepreneur and philanthropist. In the spring of 2020,  he began a difficult, remarkable and impactful journey that would test his strength and resolve, challenge his medical team, and defy the odds.

Not just a patient. A partner.

After feeling abdominal pain for several months, 50-year-old Brian saw Dr. Vincent Reyes, his family oncologist who had treated Brian’s father for pancreatic cancer seven years earlier. He was diagnosed with stage three pancreatic cancer, which is usually inoperable. But, as those at UPMC Hillman who cared for him would soon find out, “inoperable,” like other obstacles, meant nothing to Brian Shanahan.

After meeting with Dr. Amer Zureikat, UPMC Hillman’s chief of surgical oncology, Brian was told that the golf ball-size tumor was pressing against an artery, meaning an operation was only possible if chemotherapy could significantly shrink the tumor. As luck would have it, the tumor harbored a mutation that could be targeted by a maximum dose of a specific drug. Six months of intense chemotherapy later, Zureikat performed a successful Whipple surgery—a long, arduous and complex procedure.

In the weeks leading up to the surgery, and throughout his recovery and follow-up treatments, Brian made it clear he was no ordinary cancer patient–and no ordinary human.

Zureikat recalls, “From day one he said, ‘Amer, we’re gonna beat this and you’re gonna get me through surgery. You have to operate, do the Whipple, and get this cancer out.’ Brian was willing to fight this aggressively. He was totally invested in his care. He developed a close relationship with the entire team, pushing them to the limits of what medicine can provide to fight this battle. Pancreatic cancer tends to come back, so Brian was focused on the long term.”

Lauren Stitt, surgical oncology physician assistant, met Brian at his diagnosis and worked with him throughout his years of treatment, particularly over the past two years after the tumor reappeared.

She remembers how Brian “lit up every room he ever entered. He was so full of life and such a fighter. Even when he felt lousy, he thought tomorrow would be a better day. He made you want to be a better person, to do more. He was ready to take the cancer on, no matter what it threw at him.”

“It was never just about him. He wanted to make things better for everyone who came after him. He knew the medical community was lacking in clinical trials for pancreatic cancer, so that became his focus, his way of giving back. Brian always came to us with ideas. He’d say, ‘We need clinical trials. We need a novel approach. How can we make things better?’”

Rush to Crush Cancer. An annual event, a lasting legacy.

A former athlete, Brian Shanahan was instrumental in launching Rush to Crush Cancer, a bike event that features three routes of various lengths running through the city of Pittsburgh. Dr. Robert L. Ferris, director of UPMC Hillman, had conceived the event as a community-focused way to raise money for cancer research. Ferris shared, “I first met Brian in the middle of the COVID – 19 pandemic so it was a Zoom call. Immediately, I knew he was a force of nature. He was a bundle of ideas, energy, and enthusiasm, and he had the foresight and the vision [for Rush to Crush Cancer].”

In addition to providing considerable financial support, Brian was an ambassador for Rush to Crush Cancer. In preparing for the inaugural 2023 ride, Brian had said, “It’s incredibly important to me that we have a recurring, sustainable event that will grow every year.” He urged people to participate, saying that what they gave would “not only impact every person in Pittsburgh at some level, it may save your loved one’s life someday.”

This year’s event, which takes place May 19, and all the events to come, includes a route named in honor of Brian. The Brian Shanahan 15-mile ride is a flat, closed course that starts and ends at Stage AE on Pittsburgh’s North Shore.

According to Zureikat, “Rush to Crush Cancer couldn’t have happened without Brian’s support. This year’s event is emotional for me and his entire care team. We’ll be riding his route with mixed emotions, mourning his loss but privileged to have known this larger-than life figure. Even in his passing, Brian is pushing us to do more for our cancer patients.”

“Brian’s financial commitment to Rush to Crush helped us get it off the ground,” says Dr. Stanley Marks, chairman of UPMC Hillman. “He’s largely responsible for the amazing success we’ve already had.”

Beth Wild, president of UPMC Hillman, remembers Brian as “a smart businessman who invested in early-stage companies that became successful. He viewed Rush to Crush Cancer the same way. It was his gift that let us get it off the ground. It will return a hundred times over the years to benefit not only cancer patients but the entire region and scientific community.”

“In Rush to Crush Cancer, he started something that will have a long-term impact,” says Lauren Stitt. “We’re riding in memory of Brian, but also for every patient and every caregiver. We’re riding for all of them.”

Even in his passing, Brian is pushing us to do more for cancer patients.

Dr. Amer Zureikat

Chief of Surgical Oncology, UPMC Hillman Cancer Center