KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Allen Pannell didn’t plan to get into breast cancer research. He was deep into a doctoral dissertation on statistical models for the mortgage industry when his wife, Amy Foster, died of breast cancer in January 2014. That changed his focus.
“In simple terms, I lost interest in that based on what happened,” said Pannell, now assistant professor of analytics and director of the master’s in analytics program at Lincoln Memorial University. “Three and a half years earlier than that, I didn’t know a thing in the world about breast cancer.”
He was working on his doctorate in analytics at the University of Tennessee. Pannell was almost out of time when Foster died, but his three-member review committee agreed to let him change subjects.
"I did my dissertation on breast cancer,” Pannell said. “I'm thankful to UT for letting me do that, because I was in the business school in the analytics departments. Nobody in there had ever done anything on breast cancer.”
Four years became four months
Foster was 45 when she died, less than four months after their first wedding anniversary: Oct. 6, 2013.
"I remember it because we spent it in the Sevier County hospital,” Pannell said. “That was pretty much the first day of the end, based on what we saw there."
Pannell is sharing his story this October, which is recognized nationally as Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
His wife had been doing fairly well on one type of chemotherapy, but that changed when she switched to a different drug. The reason for the switch: the receptors on tumor cells elsewhere in her body differed from those on her original breast tumor. Doctors urged using a drug targeted to the metastatic tumors, Pannell said.
This, it turned out, was probably a mistake. Foster had been given an estimated four years to live; but after changing treatments, she only lived four months, Pannell said.
That choice is what he wanted to research. Russell Zaretzki, associate professor of business analytics at the Haslam College of Business and chairman of Pannell’s dissertation committee, approved the course change and helped design his statistical analysis, according to a UT news release.
Pannell, Zaretzki and Timothy Pannella reviewed all the relevant research they could find from before November 2014. Panella, also on Pannell’s dissertation committee, is an oncologist at UT Medical Center and associate professor at UT Graduate...