Melanoma Know More: Education Bolsters Battle Against Melanoma

Melanoma Know More: Education Bolsters Battle Against Melanoma

Andy Caress found a mole on the back of his neck in the fall of 2008. Soon thereafter, he was diagnosed with melanoma. Andy, a generous, talented and well-loved young man, grew up in Cincinnati, played tennis at Coastal Carolina University, and was a tennis pro in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Sadly, he passed away in August 2010 at the age of 24, nearly two years after his melanoma diagnosis.

Three months before his death, he started the Andy Caress Melanoma Foundation (ACMF). He told his mom, Candi Taggart, “My goal is that melanoma will never impact any person the way it has impacted me. I’ll achieve my goal by educating the world about how melanoma may be prevented and identified.” 

“He wanted to create awareness, educate others about prevention, fund research, and wipe melanoma off the face of the planet,” says Taggart, a partner with Porter Wright law firm. As Andy’s family and friends carried his mission forward, they met other advocates, including Philip Leming, M.D., a specialist in malignant melanoma. Leming was Andy’s first doctor following his diagnosis.

Although Leming, an oncologist and consulting physician at Cincinnati Cancer Advisors, was happy to see people like Andy and other families start foundations and/or sponsor fundraisers to raise money for melanoma research, he recognized that it would be more efficient for these individuals to mobilize as one unit to make a greater impact. That’s why he, along with Susan Kindel, M.D., who specializes in dermatology, and Michele Semona, founding board member, created Melanoma Know More (MKM), an organization designed to provide melanoma education, awareness, prevention, support, and research. ACMF, along with others, ultimately joined MKM to work toward their common goal. 

“We often hear about certain kinds of cancer such as breast and colon. As a result, screening for these cancers is more common while screening for melanoma is not,” says Leming. “The other thing is that it’s not something that’s directly related to the immediate exposure.”

The majority of melanomas are related to sunburn damage that occurred under the age of 20. This is why repeated sun education is so critical.

“When you’re young, you think you’re bulletproof,” says Leming. “Unless your family teaches you to be sun safe, you don’t think about what a sunburn will do 30 years down

the road.”

Also, almost all the melanomas that dermatologists see do not look like the pictures that typically appear in cancer pamphlets — the black mole atrocities, for example. Dermatologists are taught to recognize patterns and identify skin abnormalities that don’t fit the pattern. According to Leming, the group in the U.S. with the highest rising incidence of melanoma is men over 50. The group running a close second? Younger women who frequent tanning booths. 

Andy Kaminski was first introduced to MKM through his mother, Lisa, who was involved in countless nonprofit organizations, including MKM where she became a board member.

“Growing up, she constantly ingrained in us that we were very fortunate and that it was our responsibility to give back and help others,” says Kaminski. Ironically, Lisa was diagnosed with melanoma in 2014 and died from it three years later. At that point, Kaminski had been involved peripherally with MKM due to his mother’s board position. Following her death, however, he served in her board seat. He was named board president this year.  

“I’m excited for MKM to resume some of the events which have been dormant due to COVID, as well as begin a number of new events and opportunities,” says Kaminski. He notes that MKM partners with The Christ Hospital, St. Elizabeth Healthcare, TriHealth, and UC Health to offer free monthly skin cancer clinics throughout Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. They also partner with 3CDC as a sponsor of their weekly Workout on the Green program at Washington Park, and are piloting a program in partnership with Swim Safe Pools to provide free sunscreen stations at Greater Cincinnati pools.

“We’re looking forward to restarting — and, in some circumstances, starting — these programs to help spread awareness and serve the Greater Cincinnati community,” says Kaminski, who is a partner with KMK Law.

The nonprofit’s long-term goals are to continue providing and expanding these services while also serving as an unbiased resource for both melanoma patients and medical providers. 

“We hope to become the go-to source in the region to help educate and, ultimately, help provide better support and outcomes for patients,” says Kaminski.

Their annual fundraiser, Music for Melanoma, will take place on Sept. 29. The gala is important for two reasons. First, it honors the MKM founders and everyone else over the past 15 years who had the foresight to organize MKM and put countless hours into creating this resource for the community.

“Without them, we wouldn’t be where we are, and our goals wouldn’t be even remotely possible,” says Kaminski. 

Secondly, the gala will help bring awareness to the Founder’s Fund Endowment Campaign, which is key to making MKM a long-term sustainable nonprofit for the benefit of the community. 

“Currently, as with many smaller nonprofits, MKM, by necessity, has to focus on the short-term and the near future,” notes Kaminski. “Each fundraiser is crucial to our continued success and survival, so longer-term planning and goals are, unfortunately, relegated to the back burner. Through this endowment campaign, we hope that MKM’s continued survival will be assured, which will let us better serve the community by moving forward with our long-term goals and larger efforts while continuing to provide the services on which we were built.”

“As chair of the 15th Anniversary Music for Melanoma Gala, I am honored and dedicated to making this the best event in the city,” says Kathy Comisar, a melanoma survivor. “This event will celebrate advances in the research and treatment of melanoma and provide an exceptional musical experience. We have a lineup of top blues and jazz musicians from around the country providing exciting shows throughout the evening.  There will be an amazing auction including never-offered-before experiences, great food and drink, and great company. Fifteenth anniversaries are traditionally celebrated with crystal, and this evening will certainly shine.”

With a goal of raising $1.5 million, the Founder’s Fund Endowment Campaign seeks to raise funds to help MKM become a viable long-term nonprofit and to continue servicing

the community long into the future. Gala tickets, currently available for purchase, are $150 each. Guests may also purchase a reserved table of 8 for $1,200.

Andy Caress and too many others have had their lives cut short due to their battles with melanoma. That’s precisely why MKM is so important to Andy’s family. 

“We would like MKM to be the first place in our tri-state area where people turn for information about prevention, educational programs, advice about access to medical treatment, and compassion from those who have been impacted by melanoma,” says Taggart. “We want to support, in a significant manner, research directed to prevention, treatment and a cure.” 

Do you want to learn more about melanoma, donate to MKM, or volunteer at an upcoming MKM event? Visit For more information about purchasing tickets to MKM’s Sept. 29 gala, Music for Melanoma, call 513.946.7130.

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