Everyone’s life is marked by defining moments. A marriage, the birth of a child, or a job promotion would mark a happy or joyous defining moment. An illness or the loss of a job would mark a sad or unhappy defining moment. I would consider a stage four melanoma diagnosis a tragic defining moment.
Some people are fortunate and their lives are free of any tragic moments. For the Spiegler family our tragic moment came on February 8, 2008. That is the day when Peggy woke up and said to me, “I don’t feel horrible but something is not right.” Two weeks later we were in the doctor’s office at the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania and learned that Peggy had a stage four melanoma.
Peggy’s bravery in the face of such a dire diagnosis was typical of so many other patients that I have since come into contact with. I do not know where they get their strength. Her gallant fight to beat melanoma lasted only a few months. When she was diagnosed in 2008 there was not much in the arsenal of drugs to help her survive. I once read someone describe how a small platoon of soldiers were all killed by an overwhelming force. The writer said they were not defeated, they were overwhelmed. That is how I will always remember Peggy’s struggle.
After we lost Peggy our family decided that we wanted to do something to honor her name and help prevent other families from going through the same nightmare that we did. We had no definite plan in place but we reached out to our family and friends to help organize our first fundraising event. We have been raising funds ever since then.
In November of 2014 The Peggy Spiegler Melanoma Research Foundation met with six other foundations in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. The intent was to bring small grassroots foundations together to share resources, make our voice louder, and support each other.
As I sat at the table and listened to people tell their stories of how they had lost family members, I was amazed at the strength of these people. They were not going to let melanoma define them. They were going to fight back. I was energized by their strength. I sat there and revealed my innermost feelings to people that I had never met in my life, feelings that I had not shared with my family. I knew that it was safe to do this and that everyone there would know exactly how I felt.
The group of seven original members has grown to over 20 members and I am so proud to be a part of what that group, the Melanoma Action Coalition, has accomplished in two short years. MAC has also helped to redefine the mission of the Peggy Spiegler Melanoma Research Foundation. We are spending more and more time on education and prevention. Our free skin screenings and awareness programs are a big part of what we are doing now to help save lives.
Yes, our family and friends are permanently scarred by the Feb. 8th diagnosis, but we are out there fighting hard so that other families do not have to be defined by that same diagnosis.
Neil heads the Peggy Spiegler Melanoma Research Foundation and is president of the Melanoma Action Coalition