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Melanoma Foundation Sounds Early Awareness Alarm

GC Residents team up with NYU Med Center for skin cancer prevention message

May is Melanoma Awareness Month and Garden City residents Maggie and Jack Biggane have been tireless champions of getting this message out to the public.

Twelve years ago, their 20-year-old daughter Mollie noticed a mole on the back of her leg that was changing. By the time it got checked out, it had metastasized and she died of melanoma six months later. To honor her memory and to ensure that no other parent suffers the devastating loss of a child from a preventable skin cancer, the Bigganes established the Mollie Biggane Melanoma Foundation. Through their organization, the Bigganes have brought their message of skin cancer prevention to a nationwide audience, targeting middle school and high school students about the dangers of sun exposure and mole identification. Three years ago they teamed up with NYU Langone Medical Center to present a free annual lecture on skin cancer protection and treatment to the public. The Bigganes also have PSA announcements running in NYC taxis and on the LIRR.

Melanoma is the most lethal form of skin cancer and is on the rise in this country, especially among young people. Melanoma is 95 percent curable if caught early but fatal if there is a late diagnosis. At the annual conference held in Manhattan, almost 150 people from Long Island, New York City, New Jersey and Westchester attended. Doctors and patients spoke on new treatments for melanoma.

Clinical Associate Professor of Dermatology Dr Elizabeth Hale gave the audience an overview of the types of skin cancer, ways to recognize melanoma and the Bigganes’ role in heightening the public’s knowledge of this disease. “The Bigganes are amazing, and because of their tragic and profound loss, they have spent tireless efforts in promoting awareness about skin cancer and melanoma. The key message that Mollie’s Fund imparts is that if it’s caught early, melanoma can be cured. They are increasing awareness, they are getting people in to get their skin checked and hopefully because of their efforts and others like them, we dermatologists can [diagnose] melanoma while it is still curable.”

Surgical oncologist Dr. Russell Berman gave a slide presentation that addressed melanoma treatment from a surgical point of view. Oncologist Dr. Anna Pavlick followed up by discussing current trends in melanoma treatments. Among the breakthroughs discussed were two new FDA-approved drugs that are now saving lives of people with metastatic melanoma who would have otherwise died without this treatment. She was equally effusive in her praise of the Garden City couple. “These [symposiums] have been so beneficial. [Because] of the Bigganes’s work [as] advocates for melanoma awareness, they have really helped spread the word,” Pavlick said. “We have a conference that had previously been very poorly attended that is now one of the best-attended conferences that we have here and just linking [up] with them has made us so much more of an entity in the community. Not only here to teach and treat patients, but to go out to the community and educate.”

Melanoma survivor Doron Katzourin told his riveting story of survival from a disease that would have otherwise taken his life had it not been recognized and treated early. After the lecture, the panel answered questions from the audience. Doctors who spoke for the foundation participate pro bono and feel that it is an important mission to bring this awareness to the community.

The conference was advertised in many newspapers around the tri-state area and spawned numerous quotes on Twitter. Melanoma survivor Amanda Sung tweeted, “I first found out about Mollies Fund in the NYC taxi cabs. It really made an impression on me. Because of the PSA, I realized that all of the risk factors applied to me. I ended up being diligent when it came to skin checks. A month ago I found a mole on my stomach. The doctor’s didn’t think it was such a big deal, but they removed it anyway. One doctor said melanoma was very rare in Asians. One week later, they called me to say it was malignant melanoma. I had an operation to remove it, and I’m all clear. Then I reached out to the Bigganes through their website just to let them know that their efforts helped me discover the melanoma early. The PSA I saw in the back of the taxi cab essentially saved my life.”

The Bigganes came away with a positive reaction to the conference’s results.

“Maggie and I spoke to several of the attendees who said our foundation had a lot to do with their coming here, with their identifying moles that were serious that not even their dermatologist picked up,” noted Jack Biggane. “The attendance was good and higher than most years because we did a great deal of advertising.”

Maggie Biggane also noted, “I think that the attendees are getting more sophisticated in terms of their questions. I think when we have a presentation like this, it bring[s] knowledge of melanoma and skin cancer to the forefront and [helps] educate the public. That is out mission and our goal.”

To learn more about melanoma and the foundation go to www.molliesfund.org.