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Bob’s Bobbers: Supporting the Melanoma Community in Honor of our Superhero

Guest blog post by Amy Wychulis Vallance, MRF supporter, team captain of Bob’s Bobbers and recipient of the 2023 Team Captain Excellence Award: 

This team was created to honor our superhero, my dad, Robert Wychulis. People knew him as Bob, “Flip” from his younger days, but mostly “Jojgee.” Jojgee is a Polish word for Grandfather and is spelled Dziadzi. My dad had a dziadzi and when he became a grandfather, naturally he became our “jojgee.”  

He was born in the small coal mining town of Shenandoah, PA. After attending Kings College in Wilkes-Barre, PA and serving in the U.S. Navy, he relocated to the Washington, DC area (Derwood, MD) to raise his family. He worked as an Investigator for the U.S. General Accountability Office and retired in 1995. He moved back to Pennsylvania in 2004 to a town outside of Shenandoah called Hazleton. 

There really aren’t enough words to describe what an amazing person he was. You have to use feelings when talking about him. When you were with him you felt ENLIGHTENED. He was so incredibly knowledgeable of subjects from politics, sports, fishing, the universe, religion. He was the smartest man I ever met. You were always learning when you were with him. You always felt SAFE with him. When he was with you, you knew he would do anything to protect you and keep you from harm. He also had the quick wits to talk his way out of any situation! You felt COMFORTABLE with him. He never took life too seriously; it really emerged from him. You could breathe a little easier with him around and you were ALWAYS laughing. He loved making people laugh, and boy, did we laugh. You felt CHALLENGED with him. He always had your brain working or was pushing you to do better. There was something about him that made you put in 110% effort. Everyone that met him liked him. He was able to talk to anyone and find a common ground. He could make a connection with anybody.  

My dad loved and cared for his family more than anything. He loved my mom through and through and had 54 years of marriage with her- the love of his life. He showed love every day through actions. And he had no greater joy than his grandchildren. He LOVED spending time with his family. When we weren’t together, there wasn’t a day that one of us didn’t talk to him on the phone. Jojgee also wrote letters to everyone. Not emails, not text messages – but LETTERS, and frequently! These letters are so special to us. You couldn’t make it through one without letting out a laugh. You still can’t. 

My dad took care of us every way he could – and he took care of himself. This man exercised every day. He loved jogging every day (on his lunch breaks when he worked), no matter the weather. He lifted weights, he stretched, he walked and he ate very healthy. He loved the outdoors and was always active. He kept current with physicals and health screenings and saw a dermatologist regularly. He never had a health scare, and he didn’t have to take ANY medication. He loved fishing, skiing and golfing; he was VERY athletic. He took an annual fishing trip to Canada every May, with my brother, for 30 years. He loved that time of year.  

It was at the end of 2017 and beginning of 2018 that he started having pain in his left shoulder and on his back. In the beginning, we thought it was arthritis, or pain from an injury (and surgery) he incurred skiing years ago. It was down in his shoulder blade where he had this pain. 

This is when we all wish we could go back and do something. He tried arthritis creams, massages, even acupuncture. Then he started dropping weight. In April 2018 he got up in the middle of the night and he passed out in the family room. My mom called the ambulance and he was taken to the hospital for a workup. The x-ray showed a mass on his lung. He also had some fluid built up at the bottom of his lung. The doctors were curious because he was not a smoker. They scheduled a bronchoscopy to go down into his lung and biopsy this mass. When they went in, his lungs were completely healthy and clear. They did a thoracentesis and drained the fluid from around the lung and sent that out for evaluation and testing. The fluid was clear. They then went straight in and got a biopsy from the mass that was sitting on the outside of his left lung, behind his shoulder blade. Melanoma. The PET scan showed that it had spread to other organs. Stage IV. The very thorough dermatologist could not find an original source anywhere.  

Shortly after that, he had a port placed and underwent immunotherapy treatments. My mom was the most amazing caregiver. He loved to sit in their side-by-side recliners and just hold hands watching TV. The follow up scans were not hopeful. They stopped immunotherapy by the end of 2018. He was put on steroids which helped his energy, but this gave us a false sense of hope. We had our last Christmas together that year and we will always cherish it. On January 31, 2019, he woke up and told my mom he wanted to take a shower, he didn’t want to eat and wanted to rest. She walked him to the bathroom to clean him up, get him dressed and he then rested in his bed. He was very weak, and this day was different than the rest. I talked to my sister, who was with him that day, around dinner time and she expressed that he was not well. Within a few hours I got the call that he took his last breaths in his bed, holding my mom’s hand and with my sister Karla at his side. I couldn’t believe it. He was just walking and talking that day. I look back and I’m thankful that his decline did not drag on.  

My dad’s passing was the hardest thing I have ever gone through. He was my world. So much of who I am and how I push myself to be better is because of him. I HAD to do something to honor him. I HAD to do something for all the incredible things he did for so many. This is when I looked into a foundation that focused on melanoma. I found the Melanoma Research Foundation’s Miles for Melanoma program and I thought this was perfect. He was an avid runner who promoted a healthy lifestyle. A 5K would be great, so I created the team. Coincidentally, he spent his career in Washington, DC and joined the Navy after high school. The fact that the race was at the Navy Yard in DC ON THE WATER – it was perfect.  

A month after my dad passed, I noticed a suspicious mole on my husband’s head, behind his left temple. He told me his dermatologist said it was okay. I knew better. I made him switch dermatologists and the new doctor biopsied it and we found out that it was melanoma! They did a surgery and found that the mole was much deeper than they thought; Stage II. We obtained an oncologist. He had to undergo a second surgery in which they removed part of his parotid gland and lymph nodes in his neck. Luckily, we caught this early! He has been monitored closely by his dermatologist and oncologist with lab work and x-rays. He has been cancer free since!  

Miles for Melanoma has become a staple for my family and me each year since my dad’s passing and my husband’s diagnosis. I do it for my dad. I do it for my husband. I do it for me. I do it for you. I do it for the ones to come and the ones currently battling. I have participated in many runs in the Washington, DC area. Miles for Melanoma is by far one of the best events. My goal is to continue raising funds each year and help grow this great event. Each year after the race we have a luncheon at my house to gather, relax, celebrate and remember my superhero. And each year I write a letter, not an email, or a text, but a letter to thank each person that supported our fundraising efforts.  

The generosity of community supporters like Amy Wychulis Vallance and Team Bob’s Bobbers make our work possible and drive new advances towards more effective treatments and, one day, a cure for melanoma. Please consider joining these efforts with a tax-deductible gift: