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Fighting Back Against Melanoma

by Debra Black

Inspiration image

About 10 years ago, I was diagnosed with melanoma in situ, which is a very early stage of this type of skin cancer. Luckily, it was something that could be addressed with a routine procedure. However, because of that diagnosis, I knew I remained at risk for skin cancer and was advised to see a dermatologist at least every three months for a full body exam, which I did.

Seven years later, I noticed what I thought was a wart on the bottom of my foot. It started to hurt and bleed. I was diagnosed with a large (4.2 mm) stage II melanoma, but the cancer had not yet spread.

The fact that the survival statistics and the treatment options for people with melanoma were so bleak motivated me and my husband, Leon, to take action.

Fortunately, our good friend Michael Milken is especially knowledgeable about cancer. Mike had a serious prostate cancer diagnosis and established the Prostate Cancer Foundation. PCF has led the way toward enormous progress for individuals at risk and for those who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Mike’s father had died from melanoma decades earlier, and together we determined that we would strive to do for melanoma what PCF had done for prostate cancer. With that, the Melanoma Research Alliance, an organization focused on the diagnosis, treatment, and eventual cures for this insidious cancer, was founded.

I am a cancer survivor, and I do not take that experience lightly. Creating MRA, along with the support of my family and friends, has helped me get through this most difficult time. It also has given me an added purpose. I am grateful to be one of the lucky ones. I have been able to watch my four children become young adults and involved members of the community.

MRA is funding research so that there will be better options for all people fighting this deadly disease and for everyone who is at risk. Our hope and determination is to reach a time when no one suffers or dies from melanoma. Our goal is to bring together all who are stakeholders in the field – in academia, government, and industry, from all parts of the world – to collaborate in finding melanoma treatments and cures. This past year has been a breakthrough moment in melanoma research, with two new promising medications approved by the FDA to treat people with metastatic melanoma. However, there is much more to be done. MRA remains committed to fast forward research to defeat this disease.

If I have any advice, it is this: Do not lose hope. Instead, become an active participant in your health. Also, become educated. Learn from the experiences of others and insist that everyone you care about fully examines his or her body.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Debra Black is a melanoma survivor and co-founder and chair of the Melanoma Research Alliance, a nonprofit created under the auspices of the Milken Institute.

Visit the Melanoma Research Alliance website,, to learn more about the disease, the progress that is being made, ways to get involved, and what you can do to fight melanoma.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, January/February 2012.