“Love the skin you’re in” is their motto, “wear sunblock” their mantra.
Husband-and-wife team Yvonne and Alan O’Martin are executive director and chairman, respectively, of the Bradley O’Martin Melanoma Foundation, a charitable organization responsible for more than $120,000 committed to melanoma research at MD Anderson.
The couple, who live in Coppell, Texas, learned about melanoma in perhaps the most painful way: They lost their 27-year-old son, Brad, to the disease in 2005. Yet the O’Martins found the resolve to help others become “sun savvy” and sensitive to the need for more research dollars to help eradicate melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.
Yvonne O’Martin noticed an “unusual” spot on her son’s back one summer afternoon in 2002 when he dropped by to help with a backyard project. Yvonne relied on mother’s intuition and insisted Brad have it checked. Within days he was diagnosed with Stage II melanoma.
Under the care of Kevin Kim, M.D., associate professor of melanoma medical oncology at MD Anderson, Brad underwent a year of interferon treatments with encouraging results. The cancer returned, however, and the Stage IV prognosis was grim.
The O’Martins established the Bradley O’Martin Melanoma Foundation in his memory. Their mission is to fund clinical trials and research studies and to advance melanoma education, awareness, screenings and treatment. Kim, Brad’s oncologist at MD Anderson, volunteers as medical adviser, providing insight on research and treatment protocols.
The O’Martins raise money and awareness at a variety of community events and through the foundation’s Miles for Melanoma, a walk held each May, and Mulligans for Melanoma, an October golf tournament.
The inaugural 2008 tournament was in honor of Courtney Breeding of Aledo, near Fort Worth. Courtney’s Stage II melanoma was found during elective surgery. Cancer-free for two years, she comes to MD Anderson for six-month follow-ups.
“I became involved with the foundation because I wanted to do something to help raise awareness,” says Courtney, mother of three young children. “I’ve been so impressed with Yvonne’s passion, strength and sheer will to keep working until the word is out there.”
Courtney’s husband, Todd Breeding of Frost Financial Management Group, was instrumental in securing sponsorship for the fledgling event.
“Frost’s participation led to two other corporate entities, Siemens and Marshalls, matching their sponsorship,” says Yvonne. “It was an awesome moment for the foundation when we realized that corporate sponsors were committed to helping in the fight against this disease.”
Equally inspiring, she says, are the individuals who have “turned their own grief into positive action” by volunteering time and financial support. Yvonne finds comfort in knowing the foundation is “making a difference and helping save lives.”
“If we had known about melanoma, Brad might be with us now,” she says. “Hopefully one day there will be an effective treatment for this aggressive disease that claims the lives of so many young people.”