Taking Aim at Pancreatic Cancer

Lake Cowart is Overcoming the Odds and Giving Back

For Lake Cowart, what began as a fairly routine CT scan turned into 18 months of treatment for pancreatic cancer that is still ongoing. His journey included surgery and multiple treatments as part of an innovative clinical trial. Today, Lake, owner of an oyster business on Virginia’s bucolic Northern Neck, is winning the fight against pancreatic cancer, a particularly stubborn cancer that kills nearly 42,000 Americans annually.

“We found the lesion on my pancreas by accident,” says Lake, “and, initially, we followed it, not expecting it to be cancerous. When it began to grow, we did a biopsy and found out that part of it was malignant. Luckily, it had not spread to my lymph nodes. During the surgery and following treatments, the care that I received at UVA Cancer Center was tremendous.”

Lake’s surgeon, Reid Adams, has been by his side throughout the journey. Adams, associate director of clinical affairs and chief of the Division of Surgical Oncology, participates in a unique Pancreatic Cancer Program at UVA that offers screening for high-risk patients as well as novel treatment therapies for those who are diagnosed with the condition.

“Surgeons just don’t come any better than Dr. Adams,” says Lake, who has now felt the full impact of a cancer diagnosis and its life-changing force.

It’s inspiring to see the Cowarts push us forward to a better future in caring for pancreatic cancer patients. Research is absolutely the best path to that goal.
Dr. Reid Adams

As a result of the experience, Lake and his wife Ellen have made a broader commitment to fighting pancreatic cancer. They gave UVA a property valued at almost $200,000 and have pledged $10,000 a year for life to support pancreatic cancer research at UVA Cancer Center.

“It’s our small effort to contribute a portion of what we have to help others beat this disease,” says Lake. “It’s an opportunity to help other patients, and, hopefully, sometime in the future, find a cure for pancreatic cancer and save more lives.”

“This is a generous and heartfelt gift,” says Adams. “It’s inspiring to see the Cowarts push us forward to a better future in caring for pancreatic cancer patients. Research is absolutely the best path to that goal.”

Adams is part of an active research effort in pancreatic cancer, led by his colleagues Todd Bauer, MD, associate professor of surgical oncology, and Kim Kelly, PhD, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at UVA. Both Bauer and Kelly share a specific interest in understanding the fundamental mechanics of how cancer metastasizes, as a possible way to interrupt the spread of the disease. Kelly, along with Bauer, has already discovered a biomarker, or indicator, in the blood that’s a sign of cancer cells in more than 90 percent of all pancreatic tumors. The marker could become a critical element in early detection—and a way to attack the cancer before it can spread. Bauer also studies the molecular makeup of tumors with the aim of developing new, personalized treatments for pancreatic cancer.

“We have some unique and very promising research taking place at UVA aimed at improving the outcomes for patients with pancreatic cancer,” says Adams. “The Cowarts’ generosity will help create a path forward to new therapies, some of which we haven’t yet imagined.”


To get involved or start a conversation, contact Debbie Ryan, Associate Director of Development, Healthcare Philanthropy Program