Susan Fazio and Peggy Spiegler, two ladies I never met, have made an impact on my melanoma battle. Plus, we have a few things in common. First, they were local gals, Susan from Blue Bell, Peggy from Cherry Hill. They were also a generation ahead of me, but their kids and I are the same age – Peggy’s son Adam and I have met several times through a mutual friend (including one very long bachelor party Poconos weekend), Chris and Cara Fazio are much more recent acquaintances.
Lastly, Susan, Peggy and I all had melanoma back when melanoma was a cancer opening act to its lung, breast, and colorectal cousins. Perhaps the only sad difference in our stories is that my disease didn’t metastasize until this decade, when breakthrough treatments became available. They never had the chance to get PD-1, and today their families remember them, instead of share time with them. Their legacy, however, lives on – and continues to help others facing this disease.
The Susan Fazio Foundation began after her brief battle with a very rare form of cancer – mucosal melanoma. Her family started the foundation for research, including a golf tournament they invited me to play in last week. At the golf outing, I stressed to attendees that this may be just another golf tournament or Monday off of work for them, but the money they raised that day has a real impact on research. When the tournament first started, PD-1 was still being tested in animals; now, a small slice of their research gave me the opportunity to play a round at a golf tournament instead of being remembered at one.
Still not convinced your donation is making a difference?
Maybe the Peggy Spiegler Melanoma Research Foundation will change your mind. Peggy’s Foundation was founded by her husband Neil, and her story follows a remarkably similar path as Susan’s. Neil told me a little about his wife, and her battle that ended in 2008. She is certainly missed by her family – her pictures still greet you when you walk into their house. And much like the way their cancer battles paralleled each other, their husbands and families decided to do similar things about the unfortunate turn of events that took away these ladies much too soon.
Neil began organizing small fundraisers to fund melanoma research. One fundraiser turned into two, then into multiple casino nights and river walks. In the first two years, the foundation raised $45,000 — a huge number for a small charity. But 45 large is a drop in the bucket in oncology research; what could that possibly do to save lives? Turns out, it can do plenty.
Say your $45,000 is given to an investigator to fund their research. That research turns out to uncover something promising, and the investigator applies for, and subsequently receives, a seven-figure scientific grant to further study those findings in a trial setting. All of the sudden, those $10’s and $20’s and $50’s and $100’s collected in donations at walks and fundraisers and golf tournaments have added up to pieces of a greater whole.
I didn’t ask him directly, but it wasn’t too hard to see that Neil misses his wife. It was the same look that Joe had talking about Susan, or Chris had talking about his Mom. “I wish she could see what we’ve done in her name; I hope we have honored her memory and what she meant to us.” While they never said those exact words; they didn’t have to. It was pretty clear to anyone who heard Neil or Joe or Chris or Cara talk about Peggy and Susan that the sense of purpose, of accomplishment, and of pride would be how those ladies would have wanted their families to remember them.
Those of us whose lives are extended, whose families aren’t starting memorial funds in our memories, wish they were here, too, so we could thank them for inspiring their loved ones to take action, however small it may seem. Those small actions, those small efforts, they are giving hope – they are contributing to making people better. All of the sudden, those efforts don’t seem so small anymore when the rewards are giving life to others. Thanks to the Fazios and Spieglers for carrying on Peggy and Susan’s legacy – you ladies would be damn proud of the BIG difference you are making.
The 6th Annual Talk While You Walk/5k Run for Peggy Spiegler occurs this Saturday in Cooper River Park in Pennsauken at 7:45 a.m. Come join others for a walk in the park and contribute to melanoma research in the process.
T.J. Sharpe shares his fight against Stage 4 Melanoma in the Patient #1 blog. Read more »