Guest Post from the Polka Dot Mama

This week, we’re featuring a guest post from Tracy Callahan, who founded and leads the Polka Dot Mama Melanoma Foundation

T CallahanMy name is Tracy Callahan and I am the Founder and CEO of the Polka Dot Mama Melanoma Foundation established in 2015.

I was first diagnosed with early stage melanoma at the age of 38, and by age 40, I had been diagnosed two more times. I am the Mom of two amazing boys ages 8 and 10 and they nicknamed me the “Polka Dot Mama” because of my many moles. I consider myself fortunate that my melanomas were caught early. I know that this is not the case for many.

As a former research nurse, I knew and understood the importance of supporting and funding research. After my third diagnosis I decided to start blogging. I knew that I wanted to use my voice to raise awareness for this often unspoken about cancer. Soon after starting my blog, I reached out to the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA).  I knew right away that I wanted to align myself with them and work towards raising money for much needed melanoma research.

In March of 2015, I began planning a Gala. I knew that I wanted it to not only benefit melanoma research, but I also wanted to stay committed to keeping it locally sourced. In addition to being a melanoma advocate, I am also a foodie!

On May 1, 2016, we will host our first annual “Taste For a Cure: Chef’s Gala Benefiting Melanoma Research.” This unique farm-to-table gala will raise money to be donated to the MRA. We have been overwhelmed with the support of our local community. It has been incredible to see local chefs, businesses and sponsors donating their time, talent and services to help us raise as much money as possible.  As of February 4 (World Cancer Day) our event is officially SOLD OUT!

In addition to the Gala, the Polka Dot Mama Melanoma Foundation has been working with a local media company and has begun production on public service announcements as well as an awareness video that will debut at the Gala. We have been collaborating with multiple grass roots melanoma moundations across the country in hopes that together we can have a larger impact.

So many advancements have been made with the treatment options for melanoma in the last few years. It is my strong belief that we are on the cusp of not only finding more effective treatments, but also a cure.  The MRA is the largest private funder of melanoma research and I am truly honored to be a charitable ally of theirs.

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A Daughter Reflects on Her Father’s Battle with Melanoma

By Samantha Stinchcomb

This week, we feature a guest post by Samantha Stinchcomb, a student at the University of Delaware. When her father succumbed to melanoma, Samantha and her family and friends founded the Wayne Stinchcomb Big Orange Foundation to raise money for melanoma research and to educate her local community about the disease and the importance of early detection.

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Samantha with her dad, Wayne

At 13, while most girls were picking out a dress to wear to the 8th grade dance, I was busy picking out a quote for my dad’s tombstone. After 3 years full of long doctor appointments, harsh experimental treatments, extended hospital stays, little good news, lots of bad news, and hours of prayer, my father had lost his battle to melanoma.

It began in 2007 when my mom noticed a suspicious mole on my dad’s back. Starting with the initial dermatologist visit, my parents were always open and honest with my brother and me about what was happening. I can remember every single conversation we had after each doctor appointment or hospital visit. They tried to explain things as clearly as they could, but being only 13, I had a hard time understanding everything. In the beginning, it all seemed so simple: remove the mole and the cancer would be gone. I never expected we’d still be having those conversations three years later.

I specifically remember talking with my parents after they learned about immunotherapy. Considering I was struggling in my 8th grade science class, I didn’t really understand the concept. My mom tried to explain by comparing it to Pac-Man. She said the cells made in the lab would “eat away” at my dad’s tumors. It was our final option and, even though it was another experimental treatment, we had to have faith and pray it would work.

Initially, the treatment was going well. My once bed-ridden father, so weak he was only recognizable by his beaming smile, was becoming himself again. He was eating regularly, laughing a lot, and even leading my basketball team all the way to the championships as our coach. Christmas of 2009, my father had been declared three months No Evidence of Disease (NED) and my family couldn’t be happier.

However, just 10 short days later, our life got flipped upside down once more. My parents came home from a check-up completely silent. No one spoke but no one needed to; it was understood. The immunotherapy had been unsuccessful and the melanoma was beginning to attack other organs in my dad’s body. We were out of options and there was nothing else we could do. Three months later, at 12:37 am on April 27, 2010, I lost my father to melanoma.

Although not a day goes by where I don’t miss him, I now smile instead of cry because I know God chose my father for a reason. God knew who my father was, how many lives he touched in his short time here, and what those people were capable of. My parents’ friends founded the Wayne Stinchcomb Big Orange Foundation and has turned our tragedy into something amazing. Since Big Orange’s founding in 2010, there have been 11 new approved treatment options for melanoma, which we like to attribute in part to the $85,000 we’ve raised and donated to Melanoma Research Alliance. In addition to the funds we’ve raised, our advocacy and my father’s story has influenced many to get their skin checked and catch precancerous cells early.

People always say to me, “If only your father was diagnosed just one year later, he would’ve had treatment options,” but I don’t think about it like that. My dad was always the first one to try something new and the last one to give up. Whatever he did in life, he had to do it big and this rings true even for his battle with melanoma. The way I see it, my dad is one of the reasons all of these treatment options exist in the first place. Because of his journey and experiences with novel treatments, someone, somewhere is singing their daughter to sleep, kissing their wife goodnight, and waking up to a new day because they now have options when facing the monster that is melanoma.

A Daughter’s Take: My Mother’s Journey

This week, we’re pleased to welcome our youngest guest blogger, Sadie Kargman. Sadie’s sharing her family’s personal experience with melanoma and has committed to helping support MRA through fundraising. Read more.

Hi, my name is Sadie and when I was only in second grade my mom was diagnosed with melanoma. At first, considering, I was only 8 I didn’t quite know what was happening to my mom. As the weeks went by I noticed a pattern, she kept on going to the doctors or having them come over and getting what I called booboos (shots). Later when she finally sat down and explained what was happing to her it struck me. I could lose my mother.

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Sadie with her mom and dad

When she was getting the treatment she needed I wanted to do everything I could to help my mom. Because I was so young the only thing I could do was be extra nice and try to make my moms life a little bit easier, and trust that the doctors were doing everything they could.

Luckily for my family, my mom was able to beat cancer. Now that I am older I am thrilled to be able to help those afflicted with the same disease that my mom had.

When it came to picking a charity for my bat mitzvah the choice was easy. I wanted to work with the MRA because the cause was so near to my heart. Not only am I committed to raising money for the MRA but I am also passionate about spreading awareness about melanoma.During my time at sleep away camp I am always encouraging other girls to wear sunscreen and protect themselves from the sun.

Hopefully through my partnership with MRA I can learn even more about melanoma and help raise awareness so others can prevent getting the same disease as my mom had.

 

To learn more and help support Sadie’s efforts, visit her fundraising page.

A Father Turns His Grief into Fundraising

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 and Ross

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.

Giving Thanks

By Logan Kastner, Director of Marketing and Development

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We have so much to be thankful for and to celebrate this year. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, it makes sense to pause and reflect on our mission, our progress and express our gratitude to our supporters who have helped us come so far.

MRA remains committed to accelerating the pace of scientific discovery by continuing to fund translational research in the field of melanoma. Since 2007, we have fully funded nearly $68 million in research, leveraged an additional $80 million from our partners, bringing the overall funding to more than $148 million to help combat this terrible disease.
11Therapies Approved
Eight years ago, only two approved treatment options were available for patients who were diagnosed with advanced melanoma. Today, we are delighted to now have 11 approved therapies available, and MRA has provided funding to study each one of these therapies This is tremendous progress, and we hear from patients regularly who are alive thanks to these new treatments.

The impact of our funded research doesn’t stop with melanoma.

MRA-funded research has also energized the entire field of oncology. Thanks to the success of immunotherapy, targeted therapies, and combination approaches, MRA has played a fundamental role in charting a new course in cancer treatments for over 30 different varieties of tumor types.

This unprecedented rate of progress would not have happened without the incredibly generous support of our founders, donors, and partners. Unfortunately, our work is far from over. We still have segments of the patient population who are not responding to the current treatment options available. This means we have more work to do and more research to support.

Together, with your support, we can continue our mission to fund vital research bringing us closer than ever before to finding a cure. We are grateful that so many patients will now get to spend the holidays with their loved ones. Thanks to all of you who have helped us get to this point.

Sports Authority Helps to Shine Some Light on Melanoma

By Jennifer Engel

Development Manager, Foundations and Campaigns

In recognition of Melanoma Awareness Month in May, Sports Authority deployed its fifth in-store donation and consumer awareness campaign to raise money for MRA’s research program and to educate customers on ways to reduce their risk of melanoma. Throughout the month, shoppers had the opportunity to round their purchase total up to the nearest dollar, with the remaining cents going directly toward melanoma research.

In just 31 days, Sports Authority customers at approximately 460 stores in the United States and Puerto Rico raised an incredible $278,000, which brings the retail chain’s total fundraising over five years to nearly $1.2 million to support melanoma research. Stores also housed important educational information about the risks associated with melanoma and recommendations on how patrons can protect their skin.

As one of the largest nationwide sporting goods retail chains, Sports Authority is in a unique position to raise the profile of MRA and its mission while encouraging the sale and use of sunscreen and sun-protective clothing.

We at MRA are thankful for the hard work of the Sports Authority leadership and corporate team as well as the store managers and cashiers across the nation who are the drivers of the campaign’s success. Engaging consumers—especially those drawn to active, outdoor lifestyles and recreation—in understanding the real dangers of melanoma and soliciting their support in the cause are essential to preventing new cases of melanoma.

The Sports Authority campaign is one of several MRA corporate fundraising programs in 2015. Through our alliances with companies, we’re able to amplify our reach to broader audiences with messages about the sun’s damaging rays, the importance of daily sunscreen use, and the need to be aware of changes in one’s skin.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released data about melanoma, and melanoma rates are expected to continue to rise. The need for awareness, prevention, and research to learn more about this disease is urgent.

Thanks to collaborations with partners like Sports Authority, and the support of our founders, MRA can continue to dedicate 100% of donations to our research program to develop better prevention, diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to combat melanoma.

Win a trip to Nashville in MRA’s Donation Contest

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If you’ve been following MRA on social media, you know we are trying something new in the fundraising space.  We’ve teamed up with Prizeo, an online fundraising startup, to create a contest for fans of MRA and/or American Idol that pairs rewards with altruism.  By appealing to American Idol enthusiasts, we hope to grow our community of supporters and to increase melanoma awareness, especially among young people

Each $3 donation to MRA through the contest earns you one entry in a sweepstakes for the grand prize: A free trip to Nashville later this month to see the summer’s final American Idol® Live! Tour show and meet Season 12 winner Candice Glover.  Want to give more?  Great!  Each additional $3 donation will get you another entry, plus there are extra prizes at set giving levels.  Larger donations to MRA will get you an e thank-you from Candice herself, a free BullFrog sunscreen and a custom-designed James Perse t-shirt.

Remember, MRA uses 100% of its publicly-raised funds to help speed the pace of melanoma research.  We are excited that this new contest-driven model allows MRA’s donors to win prizes while helping this important cause.

There are only two weeks left in the contest, so enter now and share it with your friends and family!

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Some of the MRA team meeting the Idols before their show in VA. This could be you!