Ross King lost his daughter, Jackie, to melanoma when she was just 22 years old. Since then, Ross has become a passionate supporter of melanoma research to help fulfill a promise he made to Jackie. Ross talked with us about his experience and what motivates him to take up the cause.
Tell us a bit about when you first learned of Jackie’s diagnosis.
Jackie had a mole on her back that was causing her pain because it was rubbing against her bra strap. When it started bleeding, she went to the dermatologist. The biopsy revealed that she had Stage 2 melanoma.
What were you thinking when you first learned about Jackie’s melanoma diagnosis?
Initially, I was not able to comprehend the severity of Jackie’s diagnosis because I did not know the four stage cancer rating system. The doctor told us that her records and initial biopsy were being immediately transferred to Emory University’s Winship Cancer Institute. I immediately knew the severity of her diagnosis at that moment.
Can you share with us a little bit about what the next few months after Jackie’s diagnosis were like?
Jackie had her initial surgery to clean the margins on her back where the mole was located on her 19th birthday – March 26, 2011. They also removed four lymph nodes from her neck. We were told one week later that one of the lymph nodes proved that the melanoma had spread to other locations in her body. After her recovery, she started to go back to her normal activities and began to embark on her adult life.
Then Jackie’s condition worsened. Can you tell us what that was like?
Jackie was having pain in her abdomen – which she attributed to working out too hard – but we soon learned that the melanoma had spread to her abdomen. Around this time, I became acquainted with the team at the Melanoma Research Alliance, who put me in touch with some doctors who were helping to develop new drugs, such as vemurafenib, to treat melanoma. Jackie was having a tough bout with radiation, which left her bedridden and unable to eat on her own. After consulting with these doctors, we decided to try a new drug for Jackie. Within three days of starting the new therapy, Jackie was moving around and able to walk up and down stairs.
What do you remember from Jackie’s last months?
Unfortunately Jackie’s cancer progressed, with her melanoma migrating to Stage 4. It became clear that we needed to move Jackie into a new medical care environment. We were introduced to doctors at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and decided to transfer her care there.
One day, I received a call from her mom telling me Jackie had taken a turn for the worse. I flew up immediately to be with her. Within 24 hours of arriving, the care team was talking about taking her to a hospice facility.
There were so many emotions during her two and a half weeks in hospice. It was painful, peaceful, and calming.
How are you honoring Jackie’s legacy?
After she was diagnosed, Jackie did a lot of advocacy work to bring awareness and attention to melanoma. She told me that she didn’t want her memory to be forgotten. So I made a promise to her to keep her legacy alive, and we’re doing that by fundraising for an MRA Young Investigator Award. I’m proud to say that we hit our fundraising goal just before the one-year anniversary of Jackie’s passing. We now officially have a Jackie King-MRA Young Investigator Award, but we’re not done. I want to keep raising funds for this important cause.
What’s your hope for the field of melanoma research?
I want to see a much more aggressive approach to drug approval, specifically in the area of melanoma. In five years, my resolute hope is that we’d be in a place where we could have a quicker process for getting therapies to the marketplace to benefit patients.
To make a donation in memory of Jackie King, please visit Ross King’s fundraising page.