The holidays can be challenging in many ways, and particularly when the previous year has brought the death of a loved one. Often, when someone dies of melanoma, the family elects to have donations made to MRF in that person’s memory. I am always moved by these decisions, that in the middle of a tragic event the people most affected by loss choose to use that event to help other people.
These memorial donations are critically important to our ability to fund research into more effective treatments. In essence, hope for current and future patients is often driven by the passion of those whose brother, mother, sister, father — even son or daughter — are now, tragically, beyond the reach of treatments and therapies.
As we wind down the year I thought perhaps I would drop a note to some of the families who have seen someone close to them die of melanoma this year. I can easily recall many of their names, their faces, their stories: Christie and Chris, Amy and Ted, and many, many others who have left their mark on me and on others here at MRF. I decided that maybe I would send a brief note to all the people who had directed memorial gifts our way.
So I asked the person who keeps our records on such things to give me a list of people whose death we learned of in 2011, and the names and addresses of their family members. The answer came back quickly, and —to me— was sobering: the list had over 350 names!
Quite frankly, I don’t know how to feel about this. The first and dominant feeling is a genuine heaviness of heart. Each name is a family torn apart, a community impacted, a network of people who will, forever, be changed by this untimely departure.
But with the heaviness comes a sense of deep gratitude, of genuine appreciation. These grieving families reached out through their grief and made donations to fund critical research totaling over $300,000. This funding means research will happen that otherwise would not have taken place. New information will be gathered and new data studied. And, most importantly, researchers will take a significant step on the long march toward a day when melanoma will be a far more treatable disease.
They say that this is a season for giving. It is also, it seems to me, a time to reflect on the gifts of the past year. As we think about 2011, I suggest we all remember the gift these families have given the melanoma community — the gift of hope.