As May is recognized as Melanoma Awareness Month, I wanted to highlight CCF’s support for the Claire Marie Foundation, the only national non-profit focusing on the AYA population for skin cancer prevention and awareness. Founded by Marianne Banister, husband Rocky Wagonhurst, and daughter Hillary, the Claire Marie Foundation rose from the loss of their beloved 17-year-old Claire to melanoma.

I first met Marianne in 2021, who generously shared the tragic path that led to the launch of the organization. In 2011, at age 14, her younger daughter Claire discovered a change in an ankle mole she’d had since birth. In the nearly two months for the mole to be removed and biopsied, it had progressed to a Stage 3a melanoma indicating it was especially aggressive, invasive and unlike adult melanoma. It was determined that her melanoma was related to a change in hormones, not UV exposure. Claire battled valiantly for three years throughout high school, went into remission twice, juggled school, sports and college applications, all while enduring over ten surgeries, eight different types of drug therapies and radiation. Tragically, Claire passed away in October 2014.

The Claire Marie Foundation has one very specific mission– preventing adolescent melanoma through skin cancer screening. Diagnosis is up 243% since 1980, so awareness is more important than ever. Since 2016, The Claire Marie Foundation has screened 1,440 young people in Maryland and South Carolina. Of those, 16% required a biopsy or further evaluation for suspicion of melanoma with early-stage melanomas detected in two of the patients. Young women who are living healthy lives today due to early screenings can be viewed here: Lindsay and Cassidy and Molly.

CCF’s funding directly supports the cost of local planned screenings. At a recent screening in Baltimore, dermatologists provided skin checks on 58 young people. A third of them were referred to get a follow up or seek a biopsy. While we do not know if any will be diagnosed with a melanoma, we do know that these screenings are saving lives. Screenings are held throughout the year in the Baltimore area. Follow the foundation’s Facebook page to learn when the next free clinics are scheduled. Knowing that CCF funds are making a difference in early detection of melanoma and other skin cancers, often overlooked in the adolescent and young adult (AYA) population, makes me proud.

Since meeting Marianne, I have become more educated and aware of the dangers of adolescent melanoma, which is commonly overlooked. However, skin cancer is the one cancer we can actually see, which is why the focus is on screening is so critical. Nearly all other cancers are not visible, so early detection is more of a challenge. For other cancers, the focus must remain on treatment and research.

As a parent of three young adults, I share a concern about skin education and awareness. I imagine most of us did not know that melanoma is the #2 cancer in adolescents and #1 in young adults. I also learned that skin cancer, specifically melanoma, progresses more rapidly and aggressively in kids and young adults than in the adult population. Scheduling an appointment to see a dermatologist can often take 3-6 months. That wait time can be significant in detection and diagnosis, particularly for an adolescent.

However, the wait times aren’t the only barrier to early detection for pediatric and adolescent cancer. Many professionals who are the first to see and treat a child or adolescent with pain or other complaint is typically not focused on cancer as the cause. Pediatric cancer diagnoses remain much less common than the rate of diagnosed adult cancers. However, nearly 16,000 diagnoses a year is too many.  I have written previously about too many amazing children and young adults who received delayed diagnoses. CCF hopes to change that through increased awareness about the prevalence of childhood cancer.

CCF’s work is never done. We will continue to raise awareness and dollars to ensure kids and young adults receiving a diagnosis today have a chance at survival.

I am grateful to Marianne and the Claire Marie Foundation for raising awareness about the importance of melanoma early detection.

Learn more about the Claire Marie Foundation.

With appreciation,





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