Three families in North Texas are taking steps to increase awareness of and research for melanoma. They all lost loved ones to the deadly form of skin cancer.
Donna Regen of Allen is part of a national public service campaign from the American Academy of Dermatology. In the radio and television spots, she talks about her daughter, Jamie Regan Rea, who died of melanoma three weeks shy of her 30th birthday.
Rea was diagnosed at age 20 and fought cancer for nine years before passing away in March 2007.
"She was one of those people who never met a stranger. And even when she was dying of melanoma, she always put on a smile. She didn't want others to feel bad for her," Regen told the AAD.
"Melanoma is such a freaky thing," described Ann Harris. "It's like those flowers you blow and it goes like this."
Ann Harris of Grapevine lost her daughter, Tracy Harrison, in Nov. 2008. It started with a mole removed near her breast. It was non-cancerous, but it returned three years later in 2007. And this time, it was melanoma. Again doctors removed it, but the cancer spread to Tracy's lungs a year later.
"Tumor after tumor after tumor, and there wasn't anything they could do," recalled Harris.
As Tracy's last days neared, she turned to her big brother Lance Harris with one final wish.
"In the last couple of weeks there, we were talking, just normal talk, and she said, 'I want you to tell my story.' I said, 'OK,'" he recalled. "I tried to think of what she meant by this, and that's when I figured we would do this foundation."
The Tracy Harrison Foundation for Melanoma Awareness, a 501c3 non-profit, is Lance's answer to his sister's request to "tell my story."
"It's purpose is to teach sun safety. You're gonna be outside, protect yourself," said Lance Harris.
Karen Watson, of Fort Worth, lost her sister on July 4 this year. Betsey Pheney Gordon, 50, was a single mother of four. The doctor first suspected a non-cancerous brain tumor, but Betsey's past pointed to something else.
"And we told him she had a melanoma removed 19 years ago, and he goes, 'I guarantee you it looks like that. It looks like cancer.' We went, 'How can that be?'" recalled Watson.
Watson said her sister got tremendous support from Cancer Care Services of Fort Worth. The agency's website describes its mission as providing help and hope to cancer patients and survivors and their families and caregivers through direct financial, emotional, spiritual and social programs, services and activities.
Watson asked that her sister be remembered through contributions to the agency. "We were overwhelmed with the generosity of Betsey's friends who've given to Cancer Care, so they can benefit other people," Watson said.
And Watson hopes talking publicly about her sister's death from melanoma prompts people to take melanoma more seriously.
"They've done a good job of telling people to use sunscreen, but they don't know why. They don't know how deadly it is," said Watson.