Randy Dobbs


Strong Voice Against Pancreatic Cancer

Written By Julia Brabant
November 2019

Advocate For His Daughter Elizabeth O’Connor and Prolific Fundraiser

For many people, becoming a grandparent marks one of life’s sweetest milestones. For Randy Dobbs, though, the birth of his fifth grandchild, while a blessing, set the wheels in motion for a series of life-changing events that would, ultimately, help shine a bright spotlight on one of the world’s most devastating – and underfunded, under-researched and undiagnosed – diseases.

Throughout her entire second pregnancy, Randy’s daughter, Elizabeth, struggled with illness and rapid weight loss, and after a premature childbirth, doctors chose to remove Elizabeth’s ovaries, having previously identified cysts they considered cause for concern. Upon doing so, though, they learned that what was really causing her symptoms was not ovarian cancer, as they had expected, but rather, pancreatic cancer that had metastasized to her ovaries.

Just about anyone who has ever experienced a Stage IV pancreatic cancer diagnosis can attest that what doctors typically talk to you about in the days following is quality of life, rather than quantity of life, and this was exactly what happened in Elizabeth’s case.

“It’s not the natural chain of events for a child to leave this world before her parents,” Randy said, of coming to terms with his daughter’s diagnosis. “You start asking yourself, ‘What can I do?? ‘What’s the solution?’”

Through a referral, Randy and Elizabeth were able to schedule a consultation with Dr. Daniel Von Hoff.

“From the day we met him, it was like he was a member of our family,” Randy said, noting that his approach was unlike that of any other physician and characterized by a constant determination to find “the next best thing” in pancreatic cancer treatment. “His approach to Elizabeth was one that actually brought hope, because he’d always be working on finding ‘the next best thing’ for treatment, detection and survival rates. He’s all-in.”

Inspired, Randy, a highly successful businessman, author and public speaker with more than three decades of success at the likes of General Electric under his belt, opted to go “all in,” too. He took the skills he’d developed during his 30+ years in business and finance and put them into practice raising funds and awareness for pancreatic cancer research. He joined the Advisory Board at the Translational Genomics Research Institute, and he used his wide network of connections to find donors and otherwise raise the national profile of the disease.

Comfortable on stage and in front of a microphone, he took on numerous guest-speaking engagements for the Seena Magowitz Foundation and other organizations with similar objectives, all the while advocating for his own daughter and assisting her as she battled her own illness.

In Elizabeth’s case, doctors determined that the root cause of her cancer was a PALB2 gene mutation uncovered after she had a DNA test done during her second pregnancy. Upon learning of her condition, Randy and the rest of the family underwent testing to see if they, too, carried the gene, and Randy found out that he did, in fact, have it, highlighting a need for periodic testing for signs of cancer.

Elizabeth’s situation is a rare one. She was one of only 10 women ever to receive a pancreatic cancer diagnosis during pregnancy – and she is the only one still alive today.

Both Elizabeth and Randy believe that Dr. Von Hoff was the difference. “When I say he’s ‘all-in,’ it’s not just on the medical side – he’s all-in with your family, your life, your survival,” Randy said. “Not many doctors are like that with patients while also working tirelessly to find a cure.”

Randy also notes that the hope Dr. Von Hoff brings also comes from the people working alongside him. “The other doctors, oncologists and nurses – his program is incredibly patient-centric, just as he is, and the people he’s teaching and training are the ones who will, one day, continue this battle.”


Read The Elizabeth O’Connor Pancreatic Cancer Story