Debbie Zelman
Debbie Zelman

In fiscal year 2015 (FY15), stomach cancer became a topic area under the Peer Reviewed Cancer Research Program (PRCRP) due to the tireless efforts of many advocates, led by Debbie Zelman from Debbie’s Dream Foundation: Curing Stomach Cancer. That same year, Debbie, a stage 4 stomach cancer survivor, joined the PRCRP Programmatic Panel as a member. Her story ( inspired many of the other panel members, other consumers, and the people who work and support the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs every day. From the time she was diagnosed in 2008 and was told she literally had weeks to live, Debbie Zelman became a fighter, not only for herself, but for the many other stomach cancer patients searching for help and treatments. Worldwide, nearly a million people a year are diagnosed with the deadly disease, and approximately 700,000 will succumb to it. Debbie saw a different path and that path became her journey as she fought to change the odds for all patients with stomach cancer. She underwent treatments, never giving up. By 2009, she founded Debbie’s Dream Foundation: Curing Stomach Cancer (, a non-profit organization dedicated to changing the destiny of those diagnosed with stomach cancer.

This past December, Debbie Zelman passed the battle to her organization, her family, and the researchers, scientists, and clinicians who are devoted to finding a cure. The PRCRP will not be the same without Debbie, but the panel remembers her and continues working toward a cure. Some thoughts about Debbie Zelman:

Debbie Zelman
Debbie Zelman and family

PRCRP Program Manager, Donna M. Kimbark, Ph.D.: “Debbie told her story to us, but more than that, she became an advocate for hope on the PRCRP Programmatic Panel. Through her medical struggles, she stayed amazingly strong and vocal about the needs of the stomach cancer patient community. Never did we see weakness; never did she complain. She always wanted to participate and stay engaged. And she did. She continued to push for better research and reached out to the scientific community to find and fund the best science for stomach cancer. It would be a hard thing, indeed, to match her energy and devotion as an advocate, a panel member, and, as her family has said, a wife and mother. Let’s all recall that there is a bigger purpose to our daily work on the PRCRP. It isn’t about the numbers or the papers (electrons) being shuffled back and forth; it’s about Debbie and people like her who have the soul of a warrior and the heart to match it.”

John Kirkwood, M.D. (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center) FY17 PRCRP Chair: “A huge loss from our program and family. She was the embodiment of our mission.”

Jonathan Brody, Ph.D. (Thomas Jefferson University): “She was an amazing fighter for our collective cause! This is very sad, and I will never forget her energy and spirit.”

Nancy Roach, Fight Colorectal Cancer: “She was so special and her legacy will live on.”

Paul Doetsch, Ph.D. (Emory University): “Debbie was a courageous advocate, not only for the stomach cancer patient community, but also for all other cancer patients. We are greatly diminished without her and will miss her thoughtful, humane approach to everything she did. We can be inspired by her passion and determination to defeat cancer as we continue to pursue our mission to lessen the burden of this disease through research that will make a difference. Debbie’s Dream will live on.”

Lopa Mishra, M.D. (George Washington University): “It is very sad news for me, especially because she was an amazing advocate for stomach cancer and accomplished a great amount during her time. I deeply enjoyed working with her and shall miss her dearly. I agree with the thoughts that Debbie’s Dream will live on and shall endeavor to do my best for that.”

Steven Silverstein, M.B.A. (Melanoma Research Foundation): “Debbie was one of the most passionate and inspiring people I have ever had the good fortune to meet. Her energy and drive was a beautiful thing to behold, as she quickly learned the working mechanisms of the research community, then conquered it by establishing such a powerful and impactful organization… This is a terrible loss for the whole cancer community… Personally, I find continued motivation and inspiration when I think of all that she was able to accomplish, with her good nature and positive views of the world. As we move forward with the work for the panel, and also in our daily work in the cancer field, I am sure we will keep Debbie in our hearts. She will live on in my heart, urging and inspiring me to help fight on for all the patients out there and to help find the elusive cures we all so desperately seek.”

In the words of our incoming chair, Dan Dixon, Ph.D. (University of Kansas Cancer Center), “Debbie is and always will be a great reminder of the mission of the PRCRP.”

PRCRP Mission: To successfully promote high-impact research for cancer prevention, detection, treatment, and survivorship

Last updated Thursday, May 26, 2022