We’re featuring an interview with MRA Board Member and actress Jami Gertz on our blog. This was repurposed, with permission, from the blog of our partners at Neiman Marcus.
NM: How did you get involved with Melanoma Research Alliance?
JG: My sister-in-law, Debra Black, founded Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) with her husband Leon, after her personal battle with melanoma. During the early days after her diagnosis, we were all shocked to learn just how few treatments were available – and how little progress had been made over the years. Debra and Leon’s passion for advancing treatment options for melanoma patients led to the creation of MRA. I’m so proud of Debra and thrilled to be a board member.
NM: What are the greatest challenges that MRA faces with the rise of melanoma and the survival for those with advanced disease remaining static?
JG: There have been tremendous advances in treatment for melanoma in the last five years, including many new FDA-approved drugs. There has also been a lot of media attention about immunotherapy and personalized medicine for cancer treatment, which is really fantastic. But there is still a lot that we do not understand about why certain treatments work for some people and not for others. We have to keep working to ensure that we’re doing the best we can for patients with this terrible disease.
NM: How is MRA addressing these challenges?
JG: What’s unique about MRA is that thanks to Debra and Leon’s ongoing support, 100% of donations go directly to research. MRA has provided more than $60 million for melanoma research worldwide. The organization fosters collaboration among multiple stakeholders, bringing together researchers, the pharmaceutical industry, foundations, donors and patients to help accelerate progress toward finding treatments and hopefully a cure.
NM: Describe some of the ways in which we can protect ourselves from the sun’s damaging rays?
JG: One of the easiest things we can do is to wear sunscreen every day. It should be part of your daily routine, all year round. It’s also good to cover up with hats, UPF clothing and sunglasses. Fortunately, there are many new brands that are blending fashion and sun safety quite well.
NM: How has social media affected public awareness of melanoma?
JG: Social media can be an agent for good, and it plays an important part in melanoma awareness because melanoma is the second most common cancer among young men and women. My hope is that we can continue to share information about the dangers of melanoma so that everyone knows how important prevention and early detection are for survival.
NM: What is the biggest misconception about melanoma?
JG: I think people have a tendency to downplay the seriousness of melanoma and think it can be easily treated. While other types of skin cancers have lower death rates, melanoma is very serious and has the highest death rate of all skin cancers. And while genetics may increase your chances of getting melanoma, we know that exposure to UV rays is a major risk factor for this disease.
NM: How can we improve early detection?
JG: One way we can improve early detection is to really know your skin. Perform monthly skin checks to look for changes to your moles or freckles. If you’re familiar with your skin, you’re more likely to spot a change early.
NM: What is the most rewarding aspect of your work with MRA?
JG: MRA is truly making a difference for people with melanoma. In the last five years, there have been eight drugs approved for melanoma treatment, which is more than in the previous 30 years combined. It’s providing hope for patients with melanoma, and it’s also showing promise for patients with other types of cancers.
NM: What motivates you to continue to fight for this cause?
JG: My sister-in-law courageously battled melanoma and has poured so much of her time and resources into this very personal cause. She is my biggest motivation.
NM: I hope to one day…
JG: Live to see a time when we have found a cure for everyone suffering from melanoma.