View CCF’s 2023 video on Claire Marie Foundation’s start and our early partnership

In 2011, Claire Wagonhurst was a typical 14-year-old – active at school, with friends, sports and her passion for art.  Growing up having regular skin checks, she noticed that a mole, one that had been on her ankle since birth, suddenly looked different. Its removal was delayed into the summer by the plastic surgeon’s office. “No worries,” they said, “Kids don’t get melanoma.” They were wrong. It took nearly two months for the mole to be removed and biopsied. By then, it had progressed to a Stage 3a melanoma indicating it was especially aggressive, invasive and unlike adult melanoma.

How did this happen? In short, she simply became a teenager. Hormonal changes, which occur in puberty, prompted the development of melanoma in Claire, a risk her family never knew was possible. They also learned that melanoma is the second most common cancer in adolescents and the most common cancer in young adults under 30. While UV rays and sun exposure are the primary cause, melanoma can also arise due to genetics or hormonal changes.

Through treatment and feeling sick, Claire maintained a busy high school schedule attending Notre Dame Prep. An accomplished artist, Claire was selected as a sophomore to study at Savannah College of Arts of Design and planned to study Interior Design at Georgia Southern University or the University of Alabama. Claire also loved athletics, competing in field hockey, cross country, and lacrosse, playing for both Notre Dame Prep and Skywalkers club team.  She managed to keep up her schedule around weekly appointments and treatment. Twice she was in remission, but the cancer was aggressive and returned.

Claire battled valiantly for three years, enduring over ten surgeries, plus MRIs, PET scans, a spinal tap, radiation and physical therapy on her legs post-surgery. She tried at least eight different drug therapies, including Keytruda, once it was approved after the clinical trials. As a minor, she had not been granted access to the clinical trials. With incredible loss, the family announced Claire Marie’s passing on October 16, 2014.

Claire embraced and celebrated life no matter the obstacles and refused to let her illness define her life, even in her last days. Her smile, strength and courage were inspiring to all who knew her.

In Claire’s memory, her family founded the Claire Marie Foundation, an organization with the mission to raise awareness and provide screenings to prevent adolescent melanoma. Learn more about the Claire Marie Foundation and CCF’s support.