News & Press

Rep. Kelly Cassidy: We Are Far From Done

Guest blog post by Illinois State Representative Kelly Cassidy, a melanoma caregiver, survivor and will be honored with a Courage Award at the 5th Annual Chicago Gala. Representative Cassidy recently sponsored HB 3113, which requires health insurers to cover an annual office visit and skin exam at no cost to the patient.

As I write this, I am reeling from the loss of my best friend and grandfather to my oldest son who died last night after a recurrence of melanoma. A guy who literally did everything right: screenings every 3 months, sunscreen, hats, all of it. But one slipped past the goalie. I know I am supposed to be telling my own cancer story, but this man fought to the last to be here, continue to make change in the world and be part of the lives of his beloved friends and family, including my sons. At my eldest’s high school graduation in June, he was weak, but determined to celebrate with us, promising to dance at his wedding, even though we knew what a long shot that was.

He lived as long as he did because of the work you all do. I stand here with my collection of scars for the same reason. The fact that he is not here with us means we are far from done, and I am determined to see it through.

My story is probably pretty typical. I grew up on an island in Florida in the 70s. Sunscreen was barely a thing and we were more likely to coat ourselves in baby oil in hopes of getting that perfect tan. I remember my mom having things removed but did not really absorb what was going on.

Several years ago, at a routine appointment with my internist, he was about to leave the exam room but turned back and said, “I’ve been meaning to ask you about that spot on your face.” To which I replied, “What spot?” He immediately asked the dermatologist that shares his office to step in. Dr. Romanelli said I needed to be seen as soon as possible. Long story short, my first experience of Mohs surgery took 5 rounds of cutting and a trip across the Northwestern Hospital campus to a plastic surgeon who stayed late in order to close the quarter sized hole in my face that the tiny, barely noticeable thing that wasn’t just a rogue pimple had left. After hearing about my childhood, Dr. Romanelli smiled and said that we’d be spending some time together. Thus began my journey of seeing my dermatologist at least as often as my dentist, and the same goes for my kids.

The next round of Mohs was not quite so dramatic, but given that these buggers were on my shins, they left quite a legacy with their nickel sized red divots. These scars have become a conversation starter and an opportunity for me to encourage regular skin screenings. At a recent pedicure, the nail tech asked me about them and mentioned a spot he was worried about because it had grown and changed color but he did not know if he was just being paranoid. I told him to see a dermatologist and a couple of months later; he shared his scar and his thanks for encouraging him to take action.

Getting HB3113 passed is just another way these conversations continue. Ensuring that folks have access to screening seemed like a no brainer. Thank you for the work you do to save lives.

The MRF is grateful to have dedicated advocates like Representative Cassidy fighting for policies that support melanoma prevention, early detection and life-saving research for more effective treatments. Learn how you can get involved in the MRF’s Advocacy Program, and please consider supporting these critical efforts with a tax-deductible donation today.