Making Cancer HISTORY: Knowledge is Power - Reducing Melanoma's Impact through Education

Making Cancer HISTORY: Knowledge is Power - Reducing Melanoma's Impact through Education

Two weeks before their wedding in 2017, Alex Burkhart’s fiancée noticed a weird spot on his back. The 28-year-old Burkhart didn’t think much of it at the time. His doctor, however, was concerned. A biopsy confirmed it was melanoma. So, five days before the wedding, Burkhart underwent emergency surgery.

“At the wedding, guests were congratulating me and slapping me on the back. They didn’t know I’d just had a bunch of tissue cut out and 17 stitches,” Burkhart recalls. “I was lucky. They caught the melanoma in the stage before it gets into the lymph nodes and bloodstream where the probability of success diminishes and usually requires chemo.”

Two years ago, Burkhart joined the Melanoma Know More (MKM) Board of Directors. MKM is the only nonprofit organization in Greater Cincinnati with a mission to reduce the impact of melanoma through awareness, education, support of medical research and assistance to persons affected by melanoma. Burkhart is passionate about raising awareness about melanoma because he knows all too well how quickly it can progress to another level, even at a young age.

MKM serves the Cincinnati area by providing free monthly skin cancer screening clinics in collaboration with local dermatologists, Christ Hospital, St. Elizabeth Healthcare, TriHealth, and UC Health. In addition, the organization funds an annual research grant and continues to host numerous education and prevention-based programs.

“After celebrating our 15th anniversary, we’re building for the future by engaging new communities and spreading our impact through the Greater Cincinnati Area,” says MKM President Andy Kaminski.

Mike Guenther, M.D., a surgical oncologist at St. Elizabeth Healthcare, chairs the Medical Advisory Committee. He explains that MKM’s screening clinics connect patients with physicians experienced in treating melanoma.

“We’re also trying to coordinate their ability to get involved in clinical research trials that give them options unavailable in many places,” says Dr. Guenther. “This is so important to connect patients with doctors and teams that care about melanoma and know how to take care of them. The clinical trials piece gives us tools for tomorrow, perhaps better tools than we have today.”

Kate Christoff was just 12 years old when her mother died from melanoma. Last year marked the 30th anniversary of her mom’s death, and Christoff decided to join MKM’s board and chair the organization’s annual Music for Melanoma Gala.

“I enjoy event planning, so I was excited to plan the gala and promote it to my large network of relatives and friends also affected by melanoma,” she says. “As a woman of color, it’s important to me that MKM reach people of all shades to let them know they can be impacted by melanoma. This disease does not just affect those with fair skin.”

Music for Melanoma celebrates the advances in the treatment of melanoma, raises funds to support MKM’s mission, and most importantly, provides a fabulous evening of live music, great food and drink, a raffle, an auction and wonderful company. Gala tickets, currently available for purchase, are $150 each. Guests may also purchase a reserved table of 8 for $1,200 for the Sept. 28 event to be held at the Manor House.

Rich Roebuck’s wife, Susan, succumbed to melanoma four years ago. Roebuck’s son-in-law, Nate, organized a small group of golfing friends for a fundraiser in 2021 after people began meeting in person again after COVID. “The third annual Susan Roebuck Memorial Golf Outing, held in May, has continued to grow every year, and we are so pleased,” says Roebuck, an ophthalmologist and MKM’s board secretary.

As MKM builds on the last 15 years, the organization is focusing on some new opportunities. For instance, the Andy Caress Melanoma Foundation (which has since joined forces with MKM) distributed free sunscreen at tennis tournaments in years past. The board’s goal this year is to have an autonomous robot company distribute sunscreen at events. Last year they partnered with SwimSafe pools for a pilot program where they deployed sponsored dispensers to provide free sunscreen at area pools. After a great test run, they are providing an expanded version of that program this summer.

“As we look to the future, we think there’s an opportunity to bring together the melanoma community, doctors, nurses, hospitals, and patients to ensure their needs are met,” says Kaminski. “We’d like to host a forum where all of these groups can have their voices heard.”

As for Burkhart? The busy serial innovator, entrepreneur and college professor is proud of the big back scar that reminds him he beat melanoma because he caught it in time. Also, it can come in handy when telling tall tales around a campfire.

“When my niece and nephew were younger and wondered what caused the scar, I told them I’d been bitten by a shark,” he says with a chuckle. Now when I’m around them, I act like a shark and make sure that they wear sunscreen.”

Want to learn more about melanoma prevention, donate to MKM, or volunteer at an upcoming event? Visit For more information about purchasing tickets for MKM’s September 28 gala, Music for Melanoma, call 513-946-7130. Melanoma Know More is located at 1916 Central Parkway, Cincinnati, OH 45214.

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