por Mara Klecker
The idea for a walk to raise funds and awareness for melanoma came to Tricia Edwards in the hospital. She was there for her best friend, Kathy Bowers, who was undergoing yet another surgery. By that point in 2006, the cancer had metastasized to Kathy’s brain.
“I was feeling so helpless,” Tricia said. Kathy had originally been misdiagnosed with breast cancer and underwent chemotherapy and a mastectomy before doctors realized her cancer was actually melanoma. Tricia was Kathy’s caregiver and saw up close what melanoma can do to a strong, vibrant woman. During the spring and summer of 2006, Kathy began to lose mobility in her right side after a series of seizures. She was advised to consider hospice. Still, Kathy was determined to keep going and opted for rehabilitation to regain enough strength to restart treatment. But the melanoma was in multiple areas of her body.
As she sat next to Kathy that day in the hospital, Tricia became determined to help others learn about melanoma, to dispel the common belief that skin cancer isn’t as aggressive or deadly as other types of cancer.
She couldn’t have known then that though she would lose her best friend to the disease, she would gain a whole community of melanoma survivors and advocates through the walk she created – all working to provide support and create change in Kathy’s memory.
“This started as just some idea,” Tricia said. “It’s just remarkable to see what it’s become.”
The first KDB Melanoma 5K Run/Walk was held in Michigan in the fall of 2006, just six weeks after Kathy passed away, surrounded by friends, family, and her dog. Kathy, humble as she was, didn’t want the walk named after her, but agreed to have her initials be in the title.
“How I pulled off that first walk is baffling to me,” Tricia said. “But it gave me a sense of purpose that year.”
It still does, now 15 years later. Though the COVID-19 pandemic forced the last two walks to go virtual, the tradition is still going strong.
That’s a testament to Tricia’s dedication and the impact that each walk has on families, many of who keep coming back.
“There could never not be a KDB Walk now,” said Patti McCall, who has helped with the walk since the beginning. “There are so many people who come because of course they’ve been affected by melanoma, but also just impacted by the power of the walk itself. They look forward to it every year. It’s so inspiring.”
That first walk in 2006 was all about honoring Kathy, Patti said. It was cathartic to gather in her name, under a common purpose of supporting melanoma research and awareness.
“She was a remarkable woman,” Tricia said. “I’m so grateful that I knew her – through Kathy, I became a better person and I gained so many other wonderful people.”
The team of people who return annually to help put on the KDB Walk are now some of Tricia’s closest friends. Kathy’s family members, as well as her ICU nurse, still attend the walk as well. Some of the most committed members never met Kathy personally but are passionate about the mission of the walk.
Kathy’s name and memory are still at the heart of the event, but it’s grown to include so many other names and stories. The walk now draws dozens of teams who walk or run, often in matching t-shirts, in honor or memory of their own loved one and their melanoma journey.
Tricia said it’s humbling to see those faces come back each fall, sometimes even after losing their loved ones to the disease.
Patti said that’s one of the reasons she can’t skip a year.
“It’d personally be difficult for me to walk away without knowing how those people are doing,” Patti said. “We stay involved because of the people.”
Patti has participated in other fundraising walks but said she can’t even compare those to the KDB event. That’s because of the lasting relationships and traditions, she said.
Alongside the food and vendor tents, the face painters and the balloon twisters, each walk includes a memory board for families to add photos of those who’ve passed of melanoma. It’s bittersweet, Tricia said, to know that those participants chose to return to the walk as a way to honor and remember their loved one.
“We all want to fight for those we’ve lost,” Tricia said. “The best thing we can do is to cherish their memory and do our part to find a cure.”
That’s where AIM at Melanoma comes in. The KDB Walk has raised more than $674,000 for AIM.
“We’ve really grown together,” Tricia said. “AIM has been so supportive.” Though there is still no cure for melanoma, Tricia is heartened to see the new treatment options that have been approved since Kathy’s death.
“I’m so proud that we have been a part of that,” she said.