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Acton family works for pancreatic cancer cure

Miranda Loud of Watertown with one of the inspirations for her current NatureStage initiative, “The Elephant Project.’’ Miranda Loud of Watertown with one of the inspirations for her current NatureStage initiative, “The Elephant Project.’’ (Geoff Poister)
By Cindy Cantrell
July 11, 2010

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The last family picture that was taken before 47-year-old Jim Takacs of Acton succumbed to pancreatic cancer in November 2008 shows him at the bottom of a pig pile, sandwiched beneath his wife, Alison, and daughters, Rosemary, then 10, and Grace, then 8.

“He was in terrible pain this day,’’ Alison Takacs said of her late husband, who died just 6 1/2 months after his Stage 4 diagnosis, “but you would never know it.’’

On June 21 and 22, Takacs and her daughters took the photo to Washington, D.C., where they met with legislative aides during the fourth annual Pancreatic Cancer Advocacy Day. Sponsored by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, or PanCAN, the event drew nearly 500 patients, survivors, friends, family members, and others from across the country.

According to PanCAN, pancreatic cancer is the 10th most commonly diagnosed cancer and the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States. However, it has the highest mortality rate of all the major cancers: 75 percent of patients die within the first year of diagnosis, and 94 percent of patients die within five years of diagnosis. The number of new pancreatic cancer cases is projected to rise 55 percent between 2010 and 2030.

Takacs and her daughters joined other Massachusetts families in meeting with aides to US Representative Niki Tsongas and Senators John Kerry and Scott Brown on Capitol Hill. Although she has not yet heard from the White House, Grace wrote a letter to President Obama in May, explaining why she would be traveling to Washington, D.C., and offering to answer any questions he has about the disease.

“Our mission was to put a face on pancreatic cancer and share our story,’’ said Takacs, noting that the group also asked the legislators to cosponsor the Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act, which is pending in the House and Senate. “It was a very emotional experience, but my girls were glad they came. They wanted to do something. Someone has to.’’

For more information, visit pancan.org.

TWENTY QUESTIONS: In 2005, organist and mezzo-soprano Miranda Loud of Watertown was driving home from the Montreal Jazz Festival when she passed signs for a safari park in the Canadian countryside. She was surprised, however, when she encountered several elephants grouped around a male who had been penned off until the fences he kept pulling up in an effort to escape could be repaired.

“I was haunted by the way the elephants swayed back and forth, looking so sad,’’ she said. “It felt as if their souls were gone.’’

Since that time, Loud has been passionate about using the performing arts and film to connect audiences emotionally to the natural world and inspire sustainable living. In 2005, she founded the nonprofit organization NatureStage (formerly known as Rialto Arts), and has since created and produced five multimedia performances on a variety of environment issues.

For her current NatureStage initiative, The Elephant Project, she traveled to Thailand with a cinematographer for three weeks in March, supported by $20,000 in private donations. She is now raising an additional $50,000 to use the footage and interviews from the trip to create a series of short films, “Ele-Phantom: Twenty Short Films/Twenty Questions,’’ to be accompanied by a curriculum on ethics geared toward high school and college students.

“I hope this project inspires compassion and interconnection,’’ Loud wrote in an e-mail. “With each species that disappears we lose the wisdom that animal offers us, and with elephants it is priceless. They mirror our human life spans more closely than any other mammal. What can we learn from the elephant at this point in history when so much is at stake?’’

Loud is hosting work-in-progress screenings this summer in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine. For more information, go to theelephantproject.org.

NEW HORIZONS: After 14 years, Désirée Caldwell of Concord will be stepping down as executive director of the Concord Museum in September. She is the longest-serving executive director in the museum’s history.

Following her appointment in 1996, Caldwell led the creation of a changing exhibition program, overseeing more than 40 special exhibitions such as the Twining Teapot Collection from the Norwich Castle Museum in England; 17th- and 18th-century maps from Colonial Williamsburg; schoolgirl needlework from Winterthur Museum in Delaware; and White House presidential china from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Under her leadership, the Concord Museum also developed Concord-centric exhibitions, including “A Main Street Point of View,’’ illustrating changes in Concord’s business community; “Toys and Memories,’’ reminiscing about classic 19th- and 20th-century toys; “Concord Grape,’’ featuring pop culture advertising art; and “David Sibley’s Birds,’’ celebrating the Concord resident’s original watercolors.

Caldwell initiated a $10 million capital campaign, which recently passed the $9 million mark, and oversaw renovations and new installations in many of the museum’s galleries. Its permanent collection now includes more than 35,000 objects. She also led the museum through its re-accreditation by the American Association of Museums, a distinction awarded to fewer than 5 percent of all museums nationwide.

“The Concord Museum is one of the premiere cultural institutions in the Boston area. With its accomplished staff, unique collection, strong education programs, and loyal members and supporters, I am confident that the museum will thrive,’’ Caldwell wrote in an e-mail. “I look forward to continuing my work in New England’s cultural and fund-raising communities on the council at Historic New England, the Collections Committee at Old Sturbridge Village, and the board of Friday Forum, and as a corporator of Middlesex Savings Bank, and expanding my efforts to new areas.’’

WHO’S WHAT WHERE: Upper Newton Falls resident Elizabeth O’Connell, director of not-for-profit and public service programs and prelaw adviser at Wellesley College, has been elected president of the Northeast Association of Pre-Law Advisors. Her one-year term begins on Sept. 1. The Northeast Association of Pre-Law Advisors works to improve the skills of prelaw advisers and advocates the interests of undergraduate students and institutions in the counseling and admissions process leading to law-related careers.

People items may be submitted to Cindy Cantrell at cantrell@globe.com.

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